Rod Miller: Legislators Should Quit Wasting Our Time With Worthless Federal Land Bills

Columnist Rod Miller writes: "In the clear, harsh light of the law, Wyoming can NOT legally take ownership of federal land within our borders, no matter how fervently sponsors of this bill wish otherwise."

Rod Miller

February 28, 20214 min read

Rod Miller
Rod Miller (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

They’re at it again! A bill, HB141, has been filed in the Wyoming legislature, intending to force the U.S. government to relinquish claim to federal lands in Wyoming.

This is the umpteenth time that this nonsense has raised its empty head. Past attempts have met with abject failure, and things won’t be a bit different this time.

We’ve all heard the indelicate expression, “Wish in one hand, defecate in the other and see which one fills up first.”

Permit me to spare the sponsors and supporters of this bill an embarrassingly fragrant and certain outcome. Wishing against reality is a futile exercise, so keep your hands in your pockets.

This feckless notion has been around a long time, since well before the Sagebrush Rebellion under Reagan.

It always fails to do anything but give boneheaded politicians a chance to strut around, pound their chests and cuss the feds. Sure, as a political move, its great theater and appeals to a certain base. But in the harsh reality of the world of law, its a waste of time.

Here’s why. The State of Wyoming’s sovereignty documents, our Constitution and Act of Admission, clearly say that Wyoming permanently forswears any claim to federal lands within our borders, other than those lands already granted for the benefit of our common institutions. Wyoming’s founders and Congress left a paper trail that bodes ill for HB141.

To wit: Article 21, Section 26 of the Wyoming Constitution, “. The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof…”.

And Section 12 of Wyoming’s Act of Admission, “The state of Wyoming shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose than as expressly provided in this act; and the lands granted by this section shall be held, appropriated, and disposed of exclusively for the purposes herein mentioned, in such manner as the legislature of the state may provide.”

So, to the sponsors of HB141 and to anyone who salivates over the prospect, I’ll suggest that they forget their pie-in-the-sky dreams of a Wyoming without federal land ownership.

Stop counting all the money that will never accrue to our coffers when we pull off this land grab. Give up any notion that your wishes trump the wisdom of Wyoming’s founders. Quit beating this poor, dead horse.

There are other valid arguments against transferring federal land to Wyoming. Such a move would extinguish our great public lands culture of hunting, fishing and recreating on federal land. That culture is part and parcel of our self-identity as Wyomingites, and if it were to disappear, we would be diminished.

If federal land was transferred to the state and then subsequently sold to improve Wyoming’s fiscal situation, we would encounter barbwire fences where we once found open land as the new owners enclosed their own little bit o’ heaven. We would sacrifice our independence to our bottom line, and that’s not a bargain I’m willing to make.

But in the clear, harsh light of the law, Wyoming can NOT legally take ownership of federal land within our borders, no matter how fervently sponsors of this bill wish otherwise.

So, I guess my advice to those legislators would be to enjoy the cheap headlines while you can, suck up all the beer folks will buy you for being a hardass fed basher, and score political points while the issue is hot. Then get back to your desks and do the real work that your constituents expect of you. Ride for the Brand, dammit!

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist