Greetings WAC Community,
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. – Psalms 19:1-3
What is the value of our public lands? That was a question that a subcommittee of the Wyoming State Legislature discussed this past Wednesday in Cheyenne. A proposed amendment to the Wyoming State Constitution is being considered that would guide what the state would do should the federal government decide to turn over the public lands it owns within the boundaries of Wyoming to the State.
While it’s hard to believe that the people in Massachusetts, for example, would ever want to give up land to the control of a state that is driven so much by fossil fuel energy development, it is what a few of our legislators want to see happen. More than 100 people showed up at the hearing opposing the amendment. Some suggested that if ever the federal government did give the State of Wyoming the national public lands, Wyoming should reject it.
The subcommittee refused to hear testimony opposing the proposed amendment and would only accept wordsmithing input, despite Governor Mead already saying that the state cannot afford to manage federal lands, which was also a conclusion of the $75,000 study commissioned by the State Legislature. At a November hearing on this amendment, people had been promised that they would be given time to discuss it at the December 14th hearing, that didn’t happen, making those in attendance angry, including some who had traveled on icy roads for hours to get there.
One wordsmithing was about the word value. The language is that exchanges collectively cause no more than a de minis loss or gain in value. Rep. Stubson said that all values can be given a monetary value. Really? So an appraiser would put as much financial value on land where bird watchers go for recreation as for uranium mining? An appraiser would put as much value on land sacred to Native Americans as for an easement for a gas pipeline?
Public lands now can be used for mining and easements, but at least there are federal safeguards allowing public input and environmental assessments prior to those decisions which do not exist in this amendment. Neither does the proposed constitutional amendment prohibit the outright sale of the lands. Language was added by the subcommittee to prohibit sales except for public health and welfare or to public entities for public purposes. The latter already is allowed, but “for public health and welfare” could be to balance the state budget.
The Wyoming Association of Churches at our annual meeting unanimously passed a resolution opposing public lands being transferred to the state. Let your legislators, many of whom are new, know that you oppose the constitutional amendment and why. Our public lands are why many of us, including me, live in Wyoming. Let’s not lose them.
In the meantime, email soon to the members of the Select Federal Natural Resources Management Committee bringing this bill and ask them to shelve it. They will be voting by email within the next few days. While they may have already decided, they need to know there is strong opposition. They are:
Sen. Eli Bebout, chair, Eli.Bebout@wyoleg.gov
Rep. Tim Stubson, Tim.Stubson@wyoleg.gov
Rep. JoAnn Davidson, JoAnn.Davidson@wyoleg.gov (Thank her for voting against it earlier)
Sen. Larry Hicks, Larry.Hicks@wyoleg.gov.
Sen. Gerald Geis, Gerald Geis, Gerald.Geis@wyoleg.gov
Rep. Norine Kasperick, Norine.Kasperick@wyoleg.gov
Fear not. Be bold. Do justice.
P.S. The Wyoming Association of Churches appreciates your many financial gifts for our justice work in Wyoming for the oppressed. Click here. Or mail your contribution to WAC, PO Box 1473, Laramie, WY 82073.