More than half of westerners oppose transferring federal public lands, according to a comprehensive poll released Tuesday morning.
This is the seventh year for the Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation of the West Poll, which surveys seven western states on issues related to conservation, the environment, energy and the role of the government.
Wyoming residents oppose public lands transfer by 53 percent. All westerners polled oppose transfer by 56 percent.
“As leadership changes hands in Washington, D.C., and Congress votes in new budget rules removing any monetary value from public lands, voters in the Mountain West are sending a clear statement that they do not want to see a dramatic change of course when it comes to national public lands,” Dr. Walt Hecox, professor emeritus of economics at Colorado College and founder of the State of the Rockies Project said in a news release.
The results come on the heels of concerted efforts in Wyoming and in D.C. to transfer federal public lands to the states. Wyoming Senate President Eli Bebout recently killed a bill that would have amended the state Constitution to determine how federal lands would be managed if the state ever assumed control over them.
Another bill recently introduced in the Legislature, House Bill 293, would offer a time extension for developing a plan to manage transferred federal lands.
“At the end of the day, sometimes the Legislature forgets who they work for, and they do work for the people of Wyoming,” said Buzz Hettick, a Laramie hunter and chairman for the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “If the majority aren’t wanting something like public lands transfer, they should drop it. It gets tiresome. It really does.”
Nationally, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz is proposing selling 3.3 million acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The bill is based off of land identified in a 1997 report as eligible for disposal.
The total includes 694,000 acres in Wyoming. The report includes breakdowns by county – 40,500 acres would be available for sale in Johnson County, and 11,200 acres in Fremont County, for example – but does not have more details on the location of the land.
A letter at the beginning of the decades-old report sent by the Department of the Interior states that “many of the lands identified appear to have conflicts which may preclude them from being considered for disposal or exchange … Conflicts include high disposal costs, critical natural or cultural resources and habitat, mineral claims and leases and hazardous conditions.”
Chaffetz said on his website that “The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities.”
Hettick, the sportsman, said Chaffetz’ idea is “horrible.” He quoted an Outdoor Industry Association report showing outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in consumer spending nationally and supports 6.1 million direct jobs.
In Wyoming, outdoor recreation generates $4.5 billion each year in consumer spending and provides $300 million in state and local taxes.
According to Tuesday’s Colorado College poll, 68 percent of westerners want to protect sources of clean water, air quality and wildlife habitat while providing opportunities to visit and recreate on national public lands. Conversely, 22 percent said the government should focus on producing more domestic energy by increasing the amount of public lands available for oil and gas drilling and mining.
In Wyoming, 49 percent support the focus on water, air and wildlife habitat, and 39 percent wanted more responsible drilling and mining opportunities.
About three in five western voters oppose more energy production on public lands, the survey concluded. The same number support President Donald Trump’s statements that he opposes transferring federal public lands to the states.
Other notable results from the survey include:
87 percent of Wyomingites support the current flaring and venting rule that may be overturned by Congress;
75 percent of Wyomingites want to maintain national monument designations on public lands;
82 percent of westerners approve of the National Park Service, 76 percent approve of the National Forest Service, 76 percent approve of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 56 percent approve of the Bureau of Land Management;
Protect or preserve the country’s natural resources and environment was offered most frequently as advice to the new administration;
94 percent of westerners support improving and repairing infrastructure such as roads, bridges and historic buildings in national parts and other outdoor destinations;
71 percent of Wyomingites identified themselves as conservationists.