GREAT FALLS (AP) — A growing movement to transfer federal land to state control in western states is being debated in Montana and other states amid concerns from conservation and sportsmen groups over who should control millions of acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and whether the land should be developed.
Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, a Republican from Thompson Falls, wanted a study of land transfer from lawmakers, but her proposals have languished in committee.
More than 40 transfer-related bills have been introduced in state legislatures in the West this year, said Jessica Goad, advocacy director for the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities, a conservation organization tracking the issue.
The Arizona Legislature approved a transfer study bill, and Wyoming extended and funded a previously approved study commission that's looking into state management.
A strong majority of Montanans oppose transferring American public land to state control because it would be too expensive and probably unconstitutional, Goad said.
You have free articles remaining.
Fielder said decisions should be made by people closest to the issue, but she said there is more to the debate. "The other reason is we're experiencing such economic and environmental devastation as the result of very bad federal policies," Fielder said
Martin Nie, a professor of natural resource policy at the University of Montana's College of Forestry and Conservation in Missoula, said there have been previous attempts where Westerners sought more local control of federal land within their borders.
He called supporters of the latest movement the "new rebels." There is a national interest in federal land ownership, including protecting watersheds and fish and wildlife, Nie said.
Resistance also is coming from conservation groups and hunting and angling organizations worried land used for recreation will be opened to development and possibly sold.