- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The movement to get the federal government to cede land to Western states has taken hold in Wyoming’s U.S. House race.

Gillette veterinarian Rex Rammell has made it his core campaign issue.

Wyoming would benefit from having full control over federal lands including Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Rammell said.

“I guarantee you if I was in charge of Yellowstone, it would be making money,” he said.

Rammell, 55, is among nine candidates seeking the Republican nomination to replace Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis, who plans to retire at the end of her current term.

Federal land accounts for just under half of Wyoming’s total area. Only Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Utah and Nevada have more federal land in proportion to their size than Wyoming.

To date, the idea of taking control of federal land hasn’t caught fire in mainstream politics in Wyoming like in Utah, where some lawmakers want to sue the federal government to make it happen. A bill that would have given the federal government three years to transfer land to Wyoming failed to get introduced in the state Legislature last week.

Even so, Rammell said nearly everybody in Wyoming he talks to supports the idea.

“I have no reason to believe that state leadership wouldn’t support it, if it were in front of them,” he said in an interview Thursday. “If somebody was pushing them.”

Federal lands transfer could be accomplished by an act of Congress, by a Republican president’s executive order, or through the courts, he suggested.

The federal government goes much too far in restricting the use of natural resources on and beneath federal lands, Rammell said.

“There is so much money in natural resources that if the state had control of the land, I don’t see any revenue problems ever again. I honestly don’t,” he said. “And that includes management of the land - however the state wants to appropriate the use.”

Rammell moved to Wyoming in 2012 but says he’s familiar with the Cowboy State after growing up in Tetonia, Idaho, and more recently in the Rexburg, Idaho.

“My whole life has been spent in eastern Idaho, western Wyoming. That’s what I call home,”

He made headlines in Wyoming a decade ago after elk escaped from a game farm he owned less than 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park. The escape raised concern the elk could spread disease and their genes to wild elk.

Rammell wanted to trap the elk but Idaho wildlife officials, saying there was no time to lose, held a special hunt instead. That incident and unsuccessful real estate ventures in Jackson Hole propelled Rammell into politics.

In 2008, he got 5 percent of the vote as an independent in the Idaho U.S. Senate race, losing to then-Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, a Republican. Two years later, Rammell got 26 percent in the Republican primary for Idaho governor, losing to incumbent Gov. Butch Otter.

Rammell expressed sympathy with the frustrations, though not the tactics, of the recent occupiers of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. They, too, sought more local control over federal land.

He said he’s acquainted with the family of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, whom authorities accuse of leading the occupation, and regrets not traveling to the refuge to try to end the standoff before one of the occupiers was killed in a confrontation with the FBI and state police.

“What I would have told them is, ‘Guys, this is not the way to do it.’ A small group of protesters cannot take on the federal government. It’s going to end up badly. And it did,” he said.

Other Republicans running for the U.S. House include former Fox News commentator Liz Cheney, state Sen. Leland Christensen, state Rep. Tim Stubson, and Northwest College professor Mike Konsmo.

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