Last week I joined leaders from throughout the west at the Utah state capitol to discuss transferring federally controlled USFS and BLM public lands to the states.
Several states and counties currently have task forces studying various aspects of transitioning from federal to state based public lands. Last week’s meeting provided an excellent opportunity to exchange information.
The necessity of making significant corrections in federal land management is no secret. Conditions are so bad here in Montana, Governor Bullock just declared over 5 million acres of national forest in need of expedited treatment due to declining forest health and imminent risks to the public.
Last year the Montana legislature enacted SJ-15 to require a bi-partisan study of problems with federal land management and identification of steps Montana can take to bring about proper corrections. The Chair of that study, Senator Jennifer Fielder, accompanied us to the Utah transfer of lands Summit.
Reports show states manage millions of acres of public lands in a responsible manner, while providing multiple use access for recreationists and sportsmen, and significant revenues for our schools and universities.
On the other hand, the U.S. forest service has been shutting down access, allowing fuel loads to reach catastrophic wildfire levels, and losing money at an alarming rate since the early 1990s. Since 2000, 6.3 million acres of Montana’s forests have been affected by the mountain pine beetle. 4.3 million acres of forest and range lands have been impacted by wildfire.
During the follow up press conference in Utah last Friday, Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke affirmed that forests and rangeland managed by states suffer less damage and watershed degradation from wildfire than lands managed by federal agencies. “It’s time the states in the West come of age,” Bedke said. “Were every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”
After decades of worsening conditions, and a mile high pile of failed federal policies, Montana must now decide if transferring federally held public lands will better care for our environment, grow our economy, and protect wildlife and public access.