National debate erupts over transfer of public lands

by Senator Jennifer Fielder, R-Montana State Senate District 7

JenniferFielder240It’s a big idea and it’s rightfully reaping big debate nationwide. Can and should states assume control of the federally held public lands within their borders? Many colleagues throughout the west have been studying the issue intensively, and we now believe there’s no reason why we can’t.

The primary arguments against transferring federally controlled public lands to the state seem to be coming from those who do not fully understand the issue or from special interests that stand to gain from continuation of failed federal policies. Of course,valid concerns exist and are being carefully assessed.

The challenge is to get the facts on the table, put protections in place that are consistent with Montana values, and prepare our state agencies for an orderly transition. We have to educate decision makers and compel Congress to honor the Constitution and the terms of our statehood enabling acts which require federal title to be extinguished. 

One of the clear advantages of shifting to state based ownership would be placement of decision making authority into the hands of Montanans.

Montanans, not Congress, the President, or any other state, would decide how much access, use, protection, and production we would want to see.

I cannot imagine any collection of people who could possibly care more about Montana’s public land, water, air, citizens, scenery, wildlife, and economy more than Montanans do. There is no question the 27 million acres of federally controlled public lands in Montana have an impact on every aspect of our lives. The same cannot be said of decision makers from states like New York, New Jersey and Florida.

With the national government facing insurmountable debt, the likelihood of Congress selling public lands to the highest bidder is imminent. In fact H.R. 2657, a bill authorizing the sale of hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands, passed out of a Congressional committee earlier this year.  They can sell the lands without our input, and they are undoubtedly under pressure by foreign debtors to do so. That is a big concern for me.

On the flip side, a multitude of economic studies reveal drastic differences between state and federal financial management capabilities.

Nevada’s recent analysis shows a positive net revenue gain up to $1.5 billion per year for their state if they take over management of the public lands within their borders, even while maintaining existing recreational access, grazing, mineral, or other use rights.

The Nevada model for transfer of public lands would leave Wilderness, Indian Reservations, Military installations, National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and Dept. of Energy facilities under federal jurisdiction. Utah’s proposal is similar.

Montana’s study of federally managed public lands clearly shows Montanans want more multiple use access to public lands, not less. We want to reduce wildfire fuels, increase economic production, and maintain a healthy environment. These values are consistent across the western U.S. But the fact is federal agencies continue to systematically do the opposite of what we want.

If we shift to state based management we will see jobs and economic vitality return to Montana. We will see priorities consistent with Montana values.

I support allocating the largest portion of resource production revenues directly to local governments, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars annually for Montana roads, schools, law enforcement, emergency services, utilities, etc. This would more than make up for dwindling federal PILT and SRS funds.

With a responsible balance of protection, use, and production we could also bolster our state wild land firefighting department, reduce wildfire fuels, keep access roads and trails open, purchase new public access easements, develop recreation sites, enhance wildlife habitat, and probably reduce taxes too.

A thorough review of available data leaves me with no doubt our state would be better able to deliver positive results for our citizens than a distant federal bureaucracy can. Whether it is access, use, protection, economic production, or firefighting capabilities, Montanans are much more apt to set the priorities that are right for our state than Washington DC is.

Next week the Montana legislature’s Environmental Quality Council and our SJ15 Federal Lands Study Group will hear from a number of western states that are actively pursuing corrections in federal land management.

This meeting is open to the public and will take place May 14th in the State Capitol at 3:30pm. As Chair of Montana’s study of federal land management, I continue to gather extensive information, assess a variety of solutions, and welcome your comments or questions. You can reach me by email at

To learn more about this and all the issues I am working on or to sign into my communication network visit Complete information about transfer of public lands can be found at


Senator Jennifer Fielder

Montana State Senate – District 7 (1000)

Copyright (c) 2013 by PolyMontana LLC or by the author. All rights reserved.


  1. 1
    J Doug Swallow says:

    Something needs to be done to strip the government agency of, first their guns, and then their intrusive ability t harm people’s lives.

    BLM Federal Thugs attempting to steal another Rancher’s Land in Texas
    April 16, 2014
    Tommy Henderson, a lifelong rancher in Texas, is locked in a vicious battle with the BLM who is trying to seize his 90,000 acres or land. Unlike the showdown in Nevada – where BLM officials claim Cliven Bundy has failed to pay them, what in my opinion are illegal land fees to begin with – Henderson has faithfully paid all federal fees, taxes and even has a legal deed to the disputed land.”

    This is not the only case of the actions of a despotic federal government that is out of control:
    “In an unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court rules that landowners have a right to direct, meaningful judicial review if the EPA effectively seizes control of their property by declaring it to be “wetlands.” The Court rules in favor of PLF clients Mike and Chantell Sackett, of Priest Lake, Idaho, who were told by EPA — and by the Ninth Circuit — that they could not get direct court review of EPA’s claim that their two-thirds of an acre parcel is “wetlands” and that they must obey a detailed and intrusive EPA “compliance” order, or be hit with fines of up to $75,000 per day.
    […]The Sacketts’ parcel is 500 feet west of Priest Lake, separated from the lake by a house and a road.”

    Since I spent a season mining gold on Jack Wade Creek in the Forty Mile district years ago, I know this area very well.

    “EPA taken to task in Chicken over armed gold mine raids
    September 14, 2013
    CHICKEN — Some 40 people gathered in a community hall in this remote Interior Alaska community Saturday to throw questions at federal bureaucrats about a series of environmental raids last month that included armed agents in search of alleged water polluters.
    On Saturday, it was the EPA on the defense as Alaskans, joined by Gov. Sean Parnell, brimmed with outrage over the August scare tactics of a task force that had arrived armed, wearing body armor, and according to the miners, at least, unnecessarily intimidating. They swarmed into area mines, not stopping to explain what they were doing there until confronted by confused and wary miners.”

  2. 2

    I support transferring land in Montana from the feds to our state. That is also why I encourage everyone to begin finding good Republican candidates to run for Governor. The governor plays a key role with this issue. Jennifer, and everyone working on this issue. Thank you.

  3. 3

    This is not the first time things like as happen. In 1905 a rancher was grazing his cattle on so called forest service land. Pres. Teddy Roosevelt order the cattle be removed. The rancher and the state sued the feds, it went before the supreme court, and the court ruled in favor of the government. Under the 14th Amendment , in 1905 the supreme court found out they had jurisdiction over all American citizen. The 14th Amend. turn all the people into federal citizens. Before 1905 there were very little federal for some one to violate. The first federal prison was built in a military prison, and it took 35 years to be completed. All most every bad decision by the supreme court has been base on the 14th Amendment. Scroll down to another case

    Frank Robbins bought 100,000 acre ranch in Wyoming, back around 2004. One day he was out in the field and he saw two man crosses property. He stopped the two-man and asked who they were they told him they were BLM employees and they wanted to get to the other side of his property. He told them anyone crossing my property should asked my permission they said they did not have to ask for permission.The BLN man started to harass Mr. Robbins doing everything in there power to make his life miserable. He called the County Sheriff and brought up charges against the BLN men, this case went to the county District Judge and he denied Mr. Robbins his rights. So Mr. Robbins brought it to the state Supreme Court, and they denied him his rights. So Mr. Robbins hired to top lawyers from Harvard University and they were both professors and they brought it to the Supreme Court.The Supreme Court ruled that if we allow Mr. Robbins to win this case it would set up a presidents which would stop all BLM people from crossing private land. You can read his case for yourself just go to Robbins versus Supreme Court, it is a very interesting read.

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  5. 5
    J Doug Swallow says:

    It is surprising fredh that you mention a person that I know, Frank Robbins. I had forgotten about this happening to him on Owl Creek west of Thermopolis, Wyo. I became acquainted with him through a childhood friend who had moved on to the Shoshone assignment ranch called the Brooks Place below Mr. Robbins home on Owl Creek. He employed Brian Stoll, my friend, to do various things for him, such as drilling water wells and also guiding at his hunting camps in the fall and they became very good friends to the point that Frank delivered the eulogy at Brian’s funeral in Riverton in May of 2002. It appears that Harvard Lawyers are not all that great if they lost this case for
    Frank; but, maybe there was no way it could have been won. Frank also has to do battle with the BIA because the Arapaho Ranch headquarters is not far from where his ranch is.

    Here is the link to the judge’s findings in this case.
    Wilkie v. Robbins – 06-219 (2007)

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