If elected Wyoming governor, Republican Taylor Haynes intends to take back federal lands and could open Yellowstone National Park to drilling, grazing and mining, he said.
Haynes, who describes himself as a conservative and a scholar of the Constitution, said the U.S. government can own only 10 square miles of land, Washington, D.C., for the seat of government, as described in the U.S. Constitution under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17.
In addition to constitutional reasons, the state should own federal lands to better manage the resources -- Haynes specifically criticized the federal government’s management of U.S. forests -- and generate more revenue for the state, he said.
“There are thousands of drilling permits in the federal system” awaiting approval, he said.
Among federal lands, Haynes includes the portion of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park and Devils Tower National Monument. He also wants the state to own U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.
“We will manage every square inch of Wyoming,” he said.
Phil Roberts, a history professor at the University of Wyoming and author of “Cody’s Cave: National Monuments and Public Lands in the 20th Century West,” said Haynes’ plans could be unsuccessful.
Roberts’ book describes a 210-acre national monument turned over to the state government.
“The results were disastrous,” he said in an email. “To make a long story short, who has ever heard of Shoshone Cavern National Monument? Anyone advocating that federal land be ‘returned’ to the state wants to ignore (or make us forget) the case and make believe that such a failure never happened.
"Even though the site was quietly handed back to the federal government in fairly recent times (1977), the lesson apparently hadn't been learned that turning federal land over to states and local entities has potentially disastrous results.”
The Wyoming Constitution, in Article 21, Section 26, states that Wyomingites gave up claims to federal lands in exchange for statehood, Roberts said.
The state was established after the Civil War, lost by people who advocated states’ rights, and it wasn’t created in the states’ rights tradition, Roberts said.
“In short, such attention-seeking assertions clearly aren't well-thought-out or grounded in any successful historical precedent,” he said. “Besides, I'm sure Mr. Haynes, like the other gubernatorial candidates, has more important real-life issues to address.”
Haynes’ plan is likely implausible, said Jerimiah Rieman, Gov. Matt Mead’s natural resources policy director. Mead is seeking re-election as a Republican. The primary is Aug. 19.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, who is also running for the GOP nomination, did not respond to messages from the Star-Tribune.
“The governor has led an achievable and rational approach in dealing with these federal land issues, and he has led state agencies in asserting in state primacy,” or regulatory control over specific aspects of land management, Rieman said.
Rieman noted that Mead had crafted an energy policy, which he described as balancing development with the environment.
The general election is Nov. 4. The Republican winner will face Pete Gosar, a Democrat, who called Haynes' plan a distraction.
"I think that talking about things that can’t happen or aren’t going to happen doesn’t help us solve what needs to happen in our state," he said. "That doesn’t help us with Medicaid expansion. That approach doesn’t help us with gender-based wage inequality or worker safety or the cuts to the hunting and fishing that have gone on in Wyoming over the last few years.”
'Personality of Wyoming'
If elected, Haynes would send federal government agencies a certified letter and invite them to attend a meeting in which he will explain his plan. He said they must be gone by January 2015, when he would takes office.
“Then in whichever county they attempt to have any official activity, they will be arrested for impersonating a law enforcement officer in Wyoming,” he said.
Haynes doesn’t expect Wyoming jails to be crowded with federal employees. Most will accept job offers that he intends to extend to federal employees, he said.
“They live here. They have families here. They have lives,” he said. “They’ll have the opportunity to use their expertise for the state.”
All the lands would be up for lease for mining, drilling and grazing, but the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality would set priorities to protect what Haynes described as the “personality of Wyoming,” such as beautiful forests.
The state would first consider permits that had been awaiting federal approval on lands with current energy development, he said.
Down the road, the state may put the national parks and monuments up for lease, Haynes said.
“It depends on the need and the national defense situation,” he said. “Those would be last on the list.”
Haynes wants to change how mineral royalties are distributed. Companies pay royalties for production on federal land.
Currently, mining companies send payments to the federal government, and the feds distribute the state portion. Haynes wants companies to send payments to Wyoming directly, and the state would not share with the federal government, he said.
“And if (companies) refuse, we will shut them down, so they won’t refuse,” he said.
Haynes said he successfully decreased federal intervention in Wyoming in a fight in the late 1990s that kept Preble’s meadow jumping mouse from federal protections by arguing that the federal government lacked trespass rights on ranch property.
Haynes, a physician and rancher, also argued with the government research. In 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Endangered Species Act protection for Preble’s populations in Wyoming but reinstated those protections in 2011.
Haynes believes that his work caused the federal government to back off from Wyoming for years, he said.