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In this age of political activism there lies an unused tidal wave of support for an elected official willing to stand up in defense of American public lands. We need that person, the next Teddy Roosevelt, to rise up.

In Wyoming, in 2016 alone we saw multiple affronts to our public land heritage in the forms of land exchanges, proposed constitutional amendments and an unproductive ideology. In response, sportsmen and sportswomen came in droves to the front lines to oppose the Wyoming State Land Boards proposed land exchange. A public land rally was held in Casper that was attended by 300 or more citizens, sending the message to our politicians to stop the rhetoric of federal land transfer. On the heels of several related bills in the 2015 legislature a proposed Wyoming public lands constitutional amendment attempted to open the door even wider to the transfer discussion. It was opposed by all outdoor enthusiasts, and subsequently killed. Wyoming has spoken: Keep our American public lands in public hands.

Our elected officials should use this groundswell of support for the betterment of federal lands. The transfer issue has pulled in people from multiple walks of life, various states and every corner of the political spectrum to come out and stand united in support of the 640 million acres of our nation’s public land. Instead of targeting our birthright and threatening our heritage, use this movement to fix the rough parts of our federal process and focus on improving local communications. Put this weight toward pressuring Congress to embrace federal lands and fund our agencies in a manner that insures that policies are implemented correctly and expeditiously. Lead by example with communication and education, so that the public understands the importance of their role in federal land management.

Land transfer is a divisive distraction from the tools that currently exist to encourage public participation. Recently released BLM Planning 2.0 is specifically designed to enhance early local involvement to help accelerate the planning process. Initiatives are in place that could use improvement to empower local government and citizen participation. The Federal Natural Resource Policy Account exists to help fund local government involvement with federal agencies, yet it remains continually underfunded by the legislature. Successful examples of local diverse citizen stakeholder groups such as the Greater Little Mountain Coalition, and the Bighorn Forest Roadless Collaborative are taking place all over the state, working with federal agencies to improve management on Wyoming’s public lands. Invest your time and energy into these, support these groups, engage, and watch as positive movement in federal land management occur.

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The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is another example of involvement at the state level to participate in federal land management directives. This initiative takes a second look at Wilderness Study Areas in individual Wyoming counties, asking counties to put together diverse stakeholder groups with the intention of coming up with a WSA specific recommendation for management. Here again is the opportunity to sit down with locals who have a vested interest in protecting the public land and take part in what will eventually become a land package bill to be considered by Congress.

We are growing tired of hearing the litany of reasons that the federal government is failing when we have a wide-open toolbox full of solutions that are underfunded, unsupported or unused. Wyoming is but a small fraction (5 percent — around 30 million acres) of the federal public lands that we, as Americans own, but it is a mighty large swath of landscape. The notion that we are willing to give up ownership of the rest of the 640 million acres, for a mere theory that Wyoming as a state can manage its 5 percent better, is unconscionable. Exposure and connection to all of what makes Wyoming unique is not an exclusive right.

Stop chasing the divisive ideology of wholesale federal land transfer. This heavy-handed push to transfer federal lands should not be legitimized nor be a platform for politicians to air their grievances with the federal government. You are putting in jeopardy our birthright as Americans. Focus on solutions and I promise you this, the groundswell that you have witnessed in opposition to your transfer proposals will turn in your favor. You will find that dormant tidal wave of support at your beck and call. Imagine the things a united Wyoming can do. Your bully pulpit is waiting.

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Jessi Johnson is public lands coordinator for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

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