Legislators hear about federal lands issues in committeeWritten by Saige Albert
“The agenda and purpose of this committee is to look at the overreach of the federal government through rulemaking,” explains Committee Chairman Eli Bebout. “What they are up to is certainly not good news for the West.”
Bebout notes that the committee took testimony from a wide array of groups to understand the challenges facing landowners.
“There wasn’t a lot of action they are able to take,” comments Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, noting that the committee members, however, sought to stay up to date on issues landowners deal with.
“A big concern we’ve had is with the Clean Air Act and issues with EPA,” Bebout continues. “Some of the most egregious overreach is in EPA’s changing of the Wind River Reservation boundaries where they have no authority to do so.”
He notes that EPA further exacerbates the change of boundary by implementing a 50-mile buffer zone, creating more bureaucratic red tape to deal with concerning the Clean Air Act.
“We also deal with the regional haze issue,” Bebout says. “Unless there is a forest fire or dust blowing, I look out at blue sky. It is going to cost us millions to deal with this issue, but we’ve made some progress.”
In a similar action, Bebout says the EPA’s regulation of coal-fired power plants is also disruptive to Wyoming.
“Our primary purpose at the meeting was to discuss the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule,” says Magagna. “I gave them several suggestions, including sending in comments by Oct. 20.”
He notes that the Waters of the U.S. rule is concerning to landowners across the state, and legislators expressed interest in sending comments.
“They also discussed sending letters of support for several pieces of legislation pending on Congress that would keep the EPA from moving forward with the rule,” Magagna adds. “The committee directed the Legislative Service Office to work on comments and letters of support.”
“The State Engineer’s Office also did a great job pointing out all the inconsistencies and problems with the rule,” he says.
Though the comment deadline has passed on EPA’s interpretive rule defining the 56 ag practices that are exempt from the Clean Water Act, Magagna, Wyoming Association of Conservation District Executive Director Bobbie Frank and Nephi Cole, a policy advisor for Governor Mead, all discussed the rule.
As a continuing concern on the committee’s radar, the Wyoming Basins Rapid Eco-regional Assessment was explained and discussed further.
“Bob Means of BLM discussed the assessment,” says Magagna, noting that there is concern across the state from a variety of entities on the documents.
The Wyoming Basins Rapid Eco-regional Assessment seeks to provide a summary of various uses across the Wyoming Basin. The goal of the document is to improve land resource management planning, allowing more input from communities.
“There was a lot of discussion about how the documents tie into resource management plans,” Magagna explains. “Representative Blake made the point for the second time that while the document is supposed to be good, overall look at land uses, they ignore grazing and wild horses.”
Resource management plans
In a closely related topic, the committee discussed recent success with the Lander Resource Management Plan .
“Several county commissioners, as well as the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association’s Pete Obermueller and Gregory Cowan, did a presentation about the work county commissioners are undertaking to develop socio-economic data on a county-by-county basis,” Magagna explains.
The long-term broad scale program aims to provide easier access to data for land management planning processes occurring across the state.
Jerimiah Reiman from Governor Mead’s Office updated committee members on the 27 court cases the state is involved in, providing a list and in-depth discussion on the biggest topics.
Reiman was followed by updates from the Forest Service, which included a review of planning efforts and endangered species.
“Joe Alexander of the Shoshone National Forest Service gave updates from the Forest Service, not only in the Shoshone but in the Bridger Teton, as well,” Magagna explains. “Joe also gave the legislators a good update on a new biological opinion on grizzly bears in the Upper Green River Basin that is anticipated to be finalized soon.”
The new biological opinion promises more flexibility in grizzly bear management, allowing increased take on a rolling basis.
“Other things in terms of conservation measures that were unacceptable to sheep and cattle producers were largely removed,” Magagna adds of the opinion. “Hopefully it will give us some time to get the bear delisted.”
Magagna also discussed issues on the Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep conflicts on Forest Service lands throughout the state at the meeting.
As the committee continues to address federal lands issues, Magagna notes they have planned a late October meeting in Casper to discuss issues similar to those on the July 18 agenda.
“The legislature also charged the committee with dealing with the issue of taking back federal lands,” he continues. “They are planning to have a separate meeting which will be focused entirely on the issue of control of federal lands.”
Bebout adds, “We all need to step up and talk to our congressional delegation.”
From the legislative standpoint, Bebout mentions he is involved in the formation of coalitions and groups to fight against federal government action.
“Everyone needs to be working with Farm Bureau or the Stock Grower’s and others to help out,” he continues. “This has to be an uprising of the entire country to get things turned around. We are facing serious issues, and tough issues, and we are doing what we can to protect our state.”