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Wyoming Lawmakers to Study Taking Back Federal Lands

An interim state legislative task force in Wyoming has directed staff to compile a report for two committees assessing the prospects for the state attempting to take back federally managed public lands, possibly following a tack Utah took last year. Any federal-to-state transfer of land control would be applauded by the oil and natural gas industry as drilling permits historically have taken exponentially longer to receive from the federal government. 

After hearing from various industry and state representatives during a day-long meeting, the four-member Task Force on Transfer of Public Lands ordered the study be completed and sent to both the agriculture and minerals interim committees, along with the state legislature's Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee.

Due by Dec. 1, the report is supposed to reflect what the task force heard from various witnesses in Thursday's and an earlier meeting, along with proposing that the state legislature next year establish a formal select committee to study the issue and determine whether the state should seek ownership of the federal lands, or just management control of them, a legislative staff attorney told NGI Monday.

A select committee also will look at the legal ramifications. A memorandum from the Wyoming attorney general's office earlier this year raised doubts about state attempts to reclaim control of federal lands.

A co-chair of the task force, Rep. David Miller told local news media the lawmakers are not interested in the state assuming control of either Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks, and a take-back would not necessarily include an ownership change. In examining a take-back of federal lands by various western states, "national parks" have never been on the table, the staff attorney said.

Miller and his three colleagues on the panel also indicated an eventual take-back could be a case of the state just assuming management of the lands while the federal government maintained ownership, although the staff source indicated that is still an issue for a select committee when it is formed next year.

While a section of the Wyoming Constitution prohibits the state from staking a claim on federal lands, it also includes a promise from the federal government to return some lands to the state, according to a Utah lawmaker, Ken Ivory, who is spearheading that neighboring state's efforts begun last year to wrest control of federal lands (see Daily GPI,March 26, 2012).

Energy and other industry associations appearing before the Wyoming task force complained about requests for drilling permits on federal lands taking from nine months to more than a year. In contrast, they said similar state permitting takes only a few weeks.

Last year when Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed state legislation (HB 148) seeking to have the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) turn over to his state the public lands it manages there were expectations in some quarters that Utah's move would be the opening shot in a legal war between several western states and the federal government. That still has not happened.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead's office said he had no immediate comment on the task force action but might have more to say later in the week.

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