The collapse in oil prices has not dampened their interest or what many call their “outlandish” economic claims. Despite grassroots public support, those who want to take the public lands are now very active in the many new Republican dominated state legislatures.

In Wyoming a land transfer study bill has just passed the state senate. This bill commissions a study of a federal land transfer to the states.   House Bill 209, not only sets up a study, it tells the federal government that by 2017 it is to give all title to the public lands except national parks and wilderness areas to the state of Wyoming. This bill has passed a House committee and it provides no guarantee that the state of Wyoming would not just sell off the acquired public land to billionaires, oil companies, and whatever. Story in the Casper Star Tribune.  Public lands transfer legislation advances.  By Trevor Graff.

In Idaho a special committee of the legislature that held public hearings around the state has received a final report which recommends transfer of federal title to the state of Idaho. The idea was not very popular at the public hearings. Nonetheless, this recommendation was made, but with sideboards. The transfer would not include wilderness areas, national parks or monuments, and Indian reservations. Idaho has no national parks, and but one national monument. They would be run through a trust that would protect the environment and public access to some degree as well as promoting economic activity on the lands (about 60% of the state). The report recognized there was little public support in Idaho for selling the newly acquired federal estate. Unlike some other states, the report doesn’t recommend suing the government to get the federal lands.  It says suit “would be a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, without a great deal of certainty as to the outcome . . . .”

Interestingly, the report concludes that managing what are now federal lands in Idaho would not likely result in an economic bonanza. Idaho would most likely receive negative net revenue for its management, although a high market price for timber could reduce the loss considerably.  An unofficial study from the University of Idaho said their figures showed Idaho could lose up to 111-million a year managing what had been U.S. public land.

Legislators did seem less militant about the matter now than back in 2013 when the committee was formed. They hoped a land transfer could be done on a collaborative basis.  Democrats in the legislature, a small minority of members, opposed plans to seek the U.S. public lands.

In Montana, Republican bills on the land transfer have been introduced and the Republican caucus is trying to alleviate concern that the lands might be sold off.

In New Mexico and Montana, there have been protests from hunters and anglers over legislative efforts to take the public land for the state.  New Mexico currently has no such bills.

The Nevada Land Management Task Force seems to want federal lands in the general vicinity of Interstate 80, which crosses northern Nevada. This task force was not paid for by the citizens of Nevada, but by the counties from which all the members came.

We have discussed the Utah situation in great detail in past articles on The Wildlife News.

Tagged with:
About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

27 Responses to Public land takers advance in Western State Legislatures

  1. Joseph C. Allen says:

    Perhaps federal lands in question should be declared a national monument under the Antiquities Act. That would rain on their parade!

  2. Nancy says:

    “In Montana, Republican bills on the land transfer have been introduced and the Republican caucus is trying to alleviate concern that the lands might be sold off”

  3. Larry says:

    The article is completely wrong in one regard: a significant slice of Yellowstone National Park is in Idaho. Makes you want to question the rest of the article.

    Nonetheless I align with the substantial majority in Idaho, not including our Governor and much of the legislature, that doesn’t trust the state to own Federal Lands. We know they’d sell them off.

    • MAD says:

      The National Park Service reports that 96% of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, 3% in Montana, and 1% in Idaho. I’m not really sure I’d call that 1% a “significant slice.”

  4. Leslie says:

    I have written my WY legislators and senators re:HB209 and SF56. Does no harm to express one’s displeasure and disapproval directly, though it may not make much difference.

    Larry, I would not say ‘a significant slice’ of YNP is in ID. Its only a tiny sliver really. 95% is in WY and most of the rest is in MT.

    • Larry says:

      Depending on your opinion of size doesn’t matter: it is much more than zero as claimed in the article. If you hiked it as much as I have you might have a different opinion on it’s size.

  5. jerry collins says:

    Until we dump every sitting politician in the county, and install all new blood (someone who has never held public office) the wealthy corporations are going to continue to gobble up and destroy this country. If we get another Bush, Clinton, or Obama clone for president, I will leave this country and never return.

    • Larry says:

      Alas there does not appear to be hope of changing the system in our lifetimes. IMHO the figurehead in the White House is only interesting because of their entertainment value. It is the invisible people surrounding them, including the corporate sponsors, that determine what happens throughout the Federal Government. It will only change if enough animosity builds up to call a convention of the states to create constitutional changes. Interest in that seems to have waned since “The Freedom Amendments”.

      Time to start packing.

      Fortunately I suspect there is enough public opposition in Idaho to prevent the rich folk from grabbing the public lands. Management of state lands isn’t so hot: most are posted with no trespassing signs…the only place you find them in Idaho. But we do need to keep an eye on them because there are enough in positions of power (including our Governor) who will try to sneak by whatever they can.

      I hated voting for Otter because of this but the only alternatives were nut cases this time around. My wife encouraged me to take the advice of a good friend this time around: “Don’t vote! It only encourages them to run.”

      • Nancy says:

        “Don’t vote! It only encourages them to run.”

        That was funny Larry 🙂

        “Many of the greatest things man has achieved are not the result of consciously directed thought, and still less the product of a deliberately coordinated effort of many individuals, but of a process in which the individual plays a part which he can never fully understand” Friedrich Hayek

        • Nancy says:

          Add to that:

          “Nearly two decades ago, during dinner with the late Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, I asked him if he had the power to write one law that would get government out of our lives, what would that law be? Hayek replied he’d write a law that read: Whatever Congress does for one American it must do for all Americans. He elaborated: If Congress makes payments to one American for not raising pigs, every American not raising pigs should also receive payments. Obviously, were there to be such a law, there would be reduced capacity for privilege-granting by Congress and less influence-peddling”


        • timz says:

          Nancy, why are you honoring this ignoramous

      • timz says:

        “I hated voting for Otter because of this but the only alternatives were nut cases this time around”

        You mean his Dem opponent with a proven track record in business and education. Granted he had no DUI’s, broke no environmental laws and worst of all failed to win a tight jeans contest, and was not involved in prison and education scandals, but a “nut case’.
        I think the consensus is you are the only nut case here.

  6. Thanks, Ralph. As a Nevada and Arizona hunter and angler, and former western state lawmaker, I say NO! Keep our lands public!

    Don’t be fooled. ‘Transfer’ is lobbyist/politician code for ‘privatize’, which means NO ACCESS for you or your friends and family.

    Western States have a lot of problems, and lawmakers should focus on solving them, not creating expensive new problems with this unconstitutional bad land grab scheme.

    DP, Boulder City NV

  7. Linda Horn says:

    Ralph, if I remember correctly you mentioned states having to pay for their own fire fighting and restoration (providing they cared enough to restore)if they ended up with our public lands. I don’t know what 2012’s Whitewater-Baldy Fire in New Mexico ultimately cost, but it had reached $6 million on May 31 when it was 0% contained.

  8. Sam Parks says:

    They can demand all the federal land they want. It’s never, ever going to happen. First of all, it’s in violation of most of the state constitutions. As part of their original statehood, most states had to include in their constitution that they shall make no further claims to federal land. Second of all, the BLM and NFS aren’t simply going to hand them over. Especially considering how unlikely it is, given the changing demographics of the country, that the Republican party will ever hold the white house again.

    • WM says:


      I was (mostly) with you until the last sentence. I suspect, however, if the federal government passes a law that says it is offering up lands to states, one would have to see whether that is a state “claim to federal land” or an offer, which may not infringe on a state constitution.

      With the sweep of both houses Congress in the mid-term going further R, it is most optimistic to believe the White House will stay D, especially if HilBillary get(s) the nomination nod.

  9. Louise kane says:

    Am I missing something
    Just because Wyoming wants federal lands doesn’t mean they will get them
    Why would congress sell federal lands back to the states
    At what advantage

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Louise Kane,

      A note about “selling federal lands back to the states” This controversy is not about selling. Wyoming wants the lands for free.

      It is not about lands back to the states. The states never owned the vast majority of these public lands.

      • Jay says:

        Not only did the states not own the lands, they were often times purchased, or acquired, on the back of the Federal government and its Army (Montanans would still be running from the Blackfeet Indians without the US Army protecting them). And furthermore, all these western states that piss and moan about federal land ownership wouldn’t even be inhabitable in the modern way we’re accustomed to if it weren’t for all the navigation/transportation, utility, and water projects paid for and built by federal dollars.

      • Louise Kane says:

        I understood that the states never owned them. I thought they were trying to buy them
        why is there any discussion about this at all
        Its like a child screaming give me your ice cream now to a big adult, any sensible adult would tell the child to take a time out.

  10. monty says:

    Many newcomers to the west moved here for physical freedom and open space that is only found where there are large blocks of federal lands. I don’t think there are enough red votes to steal this land. The only reason they want this land is to degrade it!

  11. Brett Haverstick says:

    One of my greatest concerns with the recent rhetoric surrounding federal land grabs is the shift in philosophy or tactics promoting a possible collaborative solution, instead. We can thank certain conservation groups for opening up this pandora’s box.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Yes. Collaboration always means an outcome close to the status quo.

    • JB says:


      Fundamentally, governments are responsible for adjudicating different interests of their citizens. Sometimes this is easy because the “right” course of action is easily identifiable, the law clearly delineates the appropriate action, and/or a strong majority supports an action. Adjudication is more complicated when these conditions are not present. Discourse-based approaches (collaboration) are tools for addressing social conflict in the latter case, and they’ve been used with some success both in managing public lands and wildlife populations.

      Discourse-based approaches to managing resource conflicts are especially useful for agencies with multiple-use mandates. It seems to me that the folks who are upset about the use/outcomes of such approaches are really just mad that the law doesn’t favor them (i.e., that there isn’t a ‘dominant-use’ standard). If you believe you’ll prevail in the courts, then agreeing to collaboration is dumb. Point is, I think people are fixated on the process (collaboration) when what they’re really mad about is the law, and whining about the process isn’t going to get you what you want when the law doesn’t favor your side.


February 2015


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey