- Associated Press - Friday, March 4, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Federal legislation to transfer control and even ownership of federal land to states has got the attention of the National Wildlife Federation, a sportsmen’s conservation group whose president on Friday called for all sides to work together to manage public land.

“There is a legitimate frustration that needs to be addressed in a serious way. But the answer isn’t selling off land to private industry or giving back land to the states. The answer is actually having collaborative processes that work,” Collin O’Mara told The Associated Press.

O’Mara was in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation’s annual meeting.

One bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Young of Alaska would allow states to take control of up to 2 million acres of federal land and auction the land off to private interests.

Another bill brought by Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador would enable advisory committees appointed by governors to manage a total of up to 4 million acres of national forest land to encourage logging. The advisory committees would be made up of local elected officials and representatives from the timber, livestock and recreation industries.

States often turn out to be better forest managers than the federal government, Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis said at a House Natural Resources Committee subcommittee hearing last week.

“My concern here is, what we see on the ground in the states is just the opposite of what federal agencies believe from here in Washington,” said Lummis, a co-sponsor of Labrador’s bill.

Lummis plans to retire at the end of her term and the issue has gained life as nine candidates compete for the Republican nomination to replace her. Gillette veterinarian Rex Rammell has made transferring federal lands to states the top issue of his campaign, saying Western states including Wyoming would reap a windfall from controlling those natural resources.

“This isn’t a problem that requires an ideological solution,” O’Mara said. “It requires a pragmatic solution.”

Federal agencies often consult with state agencies on land management matters. For example, the U.S. Forest Service works with the Wyoming State Forestry Division on forest health projects that involve both federal and state land.

The federal government also consults with state and local governments as cooperating agencies when it conducts environmental reviews required by federal law.

“A lot of the mechanisms exist, except we need more collaboration, less litigation,” O’Mara said. “We need more funding flow restoration to actually get meaningful projects on the ground that are going to help wildlife habitat and rural economic development.”

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