If Wyoming officials want more say in how their federal lands are managed, they ought to craft influential state- or local-level plans rather than trying to altogether wrest away control.
That’s the upshot of a $75,000 study on how realistic it would be for Wyoming to manage the bulk of its federally owned public lands. The document was released to the public Tuesday.
“In essence, our recommendation is to work to phase more management to the state gradually,” the study says, “with the ultimate goal of providing the state and local communities with more influence over federal land management activities while avoiding inheriting the crippling bureaucracy, costs, and litigation…”
Jackson-based Y2 Consultants completed the report for the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments. Authors of the 357-page report include Brenda Younkin, Abigail Moore, Janessa Piteo, Marley Vaughn, Russell Burton, Chuck Butterfield and Vince Roux.
The study, triggered by legislation from the 2015 session, concluded the scope of federal lands — 48 percent of Wyoming’s land area — and workload of the hundreds of federal employees who manage them were major hurdles, but, at the same time, were not the greatest impediments to state-level management.
“The enormous variance in acreage, personnel, and infrastructure is not the greatest challenge to a transfer of management,” the Y2 Consultants team wrote. “Ultimately, without significant changes to federal law, the greatest challenge would be that the state would be inheriting the same bureaucratic maze of overlapping, entwined, often conflicting federal mandates established in the labyrinth of laws and directives laid out by Congress.
“The land management trials, conundrums, and conflicts encountered,” the study says, “would largely be the same for the state that exist under present management.”
Y2’s report doesn’t contemplate the transfer of title of federal lands to the state of Wyoming.
The federally owned lands assessed in the report total approximately 25 million acres, and are administered primarily by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Reclamation. About 5 million acres of designated wilderness, national conservation areas, national parks and other classes of land the Wyoming Legislature directed Y2 Consultants not to investigate weren’t included in the assessment.
In Teton County that means Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, the National Elk Refuge and Teton and Gros Ventre wilderness areas were left out of the analysis. But Bridger-Teton land leading south from Snow King, the Leidy Highlands and the Palisades Wilderness Study Area were included.
The study identifies mammoth gaps in the expenses Wyoming and federal land managers incur in operating and overseeing their respective properties.
The Office of State Lands Investments’ 96 full-time employees manage approximately 3.5 million surface acres, primarily School Trust lands.
The BLM and Forest Service, which hold title for nearly an order of magnitude more Wyoming turf, employ well more than a thousand full-time employees in the Equality State. The Bridger-Teton National Forest alone, Y2 Consultants pointed out, employs more than 200 full-time employees — double the lands office’s entire staff.
A land management transfer, the consultants found, would not be a moneymaker for Wyoming.
“Without significant changes to federal law,” the study says, “we would not anticipate any substantial gains in revenue production or additional sources of revenue with any transfer of management — certainly not enough to offset the enormous costs such an endeavor would likely entail.”
Federal land management incurs so much expense because of complicated layers of regulation and federal law. Y2 Consultants labeled it “an incredibly complex puzzle of interwoven and sometimes conflicting pieces.”
Without acquiring the deed, Wyoming would have to adhere to those same federal statutes and rules, whether the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act or National Environmental Policy Act triggers them.
In 2014 alone the BLM in Wyoming handled 1,500 NEPA actions, including environmental impact statements, environmental assessments, categorical exclusions and determinations of adequacy, the study says. That same year the BLM processed 56 requests through the Freedom of Information Act, another one of the time and resource-intensive federal laws that Wyoming would be obliged to adhere to were it to take over management.
In the “land use planning” chapter, the study lays out a long list of steps the Forest Service and BLM must follow under federal law when crafting legally required management plans. In Wyoming, by contrast, there are zero statutory requirements for the state to complete comparable land management plans, the document says.
Short of new legislation the burden of abiding with the federal laws would go with any transfer of management authority.
“We believe the resources of the state would best be utilized if directed at tackling smaller pieces of this puzzle,” the Y2 Consultants team wrote. “Numerous impediments from the straightforward to the extremely complicated make the prospect of such a state takeover of the management of federal public lands unlikely to succeed.”
The transfer from federal government to state, the consultants said, would face “fierce opposition legislatively” and would likely not achieve better-managed federal lands that are more reflective of the concerns of local communities.
Instead the study recommends state and local communities become more involved in the management of federal lands through existing mechanisms like state-level Natural Resource Policy Plans. Those plans — which federal land managers must meaningfully consider — describe local government and citizenry’s preferred environmental conditions, be it for livestock grazing, travel management or oil and gas extraction.
“These plans would allow for more timely and robust influence of federal land management actions across the state,” the Y2 study says.