Federal Land Transfer Proposal Gaining Ground

While out-of-state funded environmental special interest groups are launching a fear campaign against the idea of transferring some federal lands into state hands, the idea appears to be gaining momentum in Montana. 

The Daily Inter Lake notes that the state legislature has even been holding interim committee meetings in Helena.  Meanwhile, backers of the proposed Obamacare Medicaid expansion appear to be having secret, back-room meetings.  More on that story below, but first- here’s an excerpt from the Inter Lake coverage:    

It is a pursuit of varying degrees. National Park Service lands and wilderness areas, for instance, are not part of the discussion. And proponents are not even settled on what lands would be suitable for transfer.

“I don’t see this as a light switch where all the sudden the land is dumped on Montana,” (State Sen. Jennifer Fielder) said in an interview. “I do think we need a logical transition period … to be reasonable about what we can handle.”

(Speaker of the House Mark Blasdel) envisions an incremental approach, taking five to 10 years, for the state to assume management of some federal lands.

Fielder notes that the Forest Service timber program has been losing money, in terms of cost inputs compared to revenues generated, since the early 1990s.

The Inter Lake also lauded the concept with this editorial mentioning state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC)- Federal land transfers: How the West was won back?

But the DNRC manages 599,000 forest acres far more productively than the Forest Service manages 17.1 million acres in Montana under its multiple use mission. State timber sales generate an average of $8.9 million per year, while the Forest Service generates an average of just $1.6 million a year in Montana, at a net loss when cost inputs are considered.

It truly is astonishing that Sanders and Lincoln counties have the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the state when they are rich in precious metals and have the most productive forests in the state. Problem is, most of that land is under federal management, and over time, federal timber sales in the region have declined to a point where the timber industry has nearly vanished.

There is clearly a steep climb ahead for transfer advocates, but they are beginning to make a case for the concept.

While the out-of-state funded environmental groups are launching a fear campaign against the proposal, I find it interesting that legislators are discussing the idea in open, public meetings.  Meanwhile, backers of the proposed Obamacare Medicaid expansion are apparently meeting in secret. 

That’s what State Sen. Debby Barrett (R-Dillon) has to say in The Hungry Horse News:  Montana Bill Drafting Washington DC Style

Last week, we learned that legislators, health care lobbyists, and the Governor’s Office have been quietly gathering in secret meetings to devise a Medicaid expansion bill to be enacted by the 2015 Legislature — or even earlier if there is a special session of the Legislature.

This series of non-publicized meetings, which violates both the Montana Constitution and Montana’s open meeting laws, are being championed by Montana’s “transparent” governor and some legislators who are actively campaigning in primary races on the government transparency bill they sponsored and the governor signed into law in 2013.

When legislators allow lobbyists to write bills behind closed doors in secret meetings, the public is left out. This is a dangerous loophole being exploited by Gov. Bullock and the so-called “responsible” Republicans, that hearkens back to the days of the “Copper Collar.”

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