Wyoming and Utah Vying for Control of Federal Lands

Posted by: Caitlin Camilliere on Feb 21, 2014

In our nation, the federal government controls about 672 million acres, or 30%, of land. Nearly all this land is found west of the Mississippi River. Some western states are seeing a movement to transfer federal land “back” to state control. States could benefit from potential economic gains through the switch of federal to state lands. Many in these states, including in Wyoming and Utah, are in favor of this swap, particularly in light of management difficulties during last fall’s government shutdown. Others believe that this gain would come at the cost of some of the nation’s most rugged and pristine recreational landscapes.

The federal government owns nearly half of all the land and two-thirds of mineral rights in Wyoming. Extraction companies are required to go through a permit application process that takes months on federal lands. This same process could take weeks if the land were switched from federal to state ownership. In Utah, an increase in natural resource extraction on publically controlled lands would benefit the state’s economy in the form of royalties, sales taxes. But it could also irreparably damage lands prized for their recreation values. Housing and business development, and increased logging, drilling, and grazing property would permanently change these states’ backcountry areas.

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Photo: NOLS Archives

NOLS classrooms crisscross both states, from Sweetwater Rocks in Wyoming to the Dirty Devil in Utah, which provide some of the nation’s best backpacking, climbing, and canyoneering, on BLM, Forest Service, and National Parks and Monuments lands. While rallying energy for states to acquire federal lands does address some citizens’ concerns, it fails to take into account the other 300 million or so Americans who also have a stake in federal lands.At this point the movement is mostly political, and changes seem unlikely. NOLS will continue tracking the discussion as it goes on.