Western Legislators Discuss Public Lands Transfer

When a Nevada rancher sparked a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing his cattle without paying fees to the federal government, it highlighted once again the longstanding debate over ownership of federal lands in the West.

 Policymakers from eight Western states gathered April 18 in Salt Lake City for a legislative summit to discuss the transfer of public lands from the federal government back to the states. Some state leaders believe they are better prepared to manage the land and will do so in an economically and environmentally responsible way.

The map below from the American Lands Council illustrates in red  how much land west of the Rocky Mountains is managed by the Federal Government. 

Among the items that were discussed to facilitate such an exchange was an interstate compact.  Crady deGolian, Director of CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts attended the meeting and spoke to the legislators about the history of compacts and some of the opportunities and challenges such an arrangement might present. 

Approximately 40 current interstate compacts manage shared natural resources, meaning there is considerable historical and legal precedence for this type of interstate agreement. A compact would not be without significant challenges, however, if the impacted states decide to pursue a one. The primary obstacle would likely center on Congressional consent. While not all compacts necessitate consent, an agreement that returns federally controlled lands back to the states almost certainly would require Congressional signoff.

The attendees also raised questions about compact governance and financing. Specifically they asked what typical compact governance models look like and how compact commissions are normally funded to try and gain a better understanding of how a public lands compact would potentially operate.

For a complete recap of the meeting please click here.