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Valuing Our Western Public Lands Report

Western Public Lands


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A significant portion of the land area of Wyoming – nearly 50% – is public land. These public lands include national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, wilderness areas and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Wyoming’s public lands feature a diverse range of landscapes, including great grasslands of the east, the central basin deserts and badlands, and the many mountainous regions.

Wyoming’s public lands support a wide variety of activities, from recreational pursuits such as camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking to natural resource development. They also provide clean air, clean water and picturesque scenery, resources enjoyed by all Wyoming residents and visitors who flock to Wyoming from around the world. Wyoming’s public lands also provide habitat for hundreds of wildlife species, from popular game species like elk, deer and pronghorn, to the rare lynx and grizzly bear.

Assessing the Economic Value of Public Lands

Public lands have a substantial impact on the Wyoming economy. These lands support a booming tourism and outdoor industry. People travel to Wyoming from around the world to see and explore its natural marvels, such as the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, and to camp, hunt and fish on thousands of acres of pristine wildlife habitat. In addition, the natural amenities offered by Wyoming’s public lands attract new businesses and a skilled workforce, which boost economic growth in communities located near public lands.

Wyoming’s Public Lands Support a Booming Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Industry

Outdoor recreation and tourism are a vital part of the Wyoming economy. The Wyoming Office of Tourism reports that the state hosted over 8 million overnight visitors in 2012. Travel spending by all domestic and international visitors in Wyoming was approximately $3.1 billion in 2012, which supported 30,500 jobs with earnings of approximately $759 million. Local and state tax revenues generated by travel spending were about $128 million.  The Outdoor Industry Association has found that active outdoor recreation contributes more than $4.4 billion annually to Wyoming’s economy, supports 52,000 jobs across the state, generates $250 million in annual state tax revenue and produces $3.6 billion annually in retail sales and services across Wyoming - accounting for 17 percent of gross state product.

Wyoming’s Public Lands Provide Opportunities to Hunt, Fish and Watch Wildlife

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that over 775,000 people hunt, fish or watch wildlife in Wyoming each year, spending over $1.1 billion on wildlife-related recreation.

Wyoming’s Public Lands Influence the Economic Structure of Nearby Communities

Like other western states with a large percentage of public lands, Wyoming is outpacing the nation in economic growth.  The competitive advantage offered by its public lands attracts talent, investment, and businesses to Wyoming, contributing to its high rate of employment income growth.

Wyoming vs. Non-Western U.S., Percent Change, 2000-2011. Source: Headwaters Economics. West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote Wyoming Jobs and Higher Incomes. November 2012. http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/west-is-best-value-of-public-lands-wy/


Wyomingites Value Public Lands

Public opinion polls prove that people and businesses come to Wyoming and choose to stay because of the quality of life tied to public lands. Wyoming residents enjoy spending time outside on public lands. A 2013 bipartisan poll conducted by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project showed that a majority of Wyoming voters (67%) hike regularly, and 58% are regular campers. Sixty-nine percent (65%) of voters in the state plan to visit a national park this year. These Wyoming residents recognize the economic and intrinsic value of public lands and want to see these lands protected for future generations.

Wyoming Voters Recognize That Public Lands Support the Economy

Wyomingites clearly value the impact public lands have on their economy – 94% say they are an essential part of Wyoming’s economy and 74% agree that the state's public lands help attract high quality employers and good jobs.  Wyoming voters have a great appreciation for the state's public lands, with 78% saying public lands in the state support the economy, provide recreation opportunities and enhance quality of life, rather than being a fiscal burden and preventing creation of jobs in traditional industries.

Wyoming Voters Oppose Proposals to Sell Off Public Lands

Wyoming voters strongly oppose selling off public lands as a way to reduce the deficit, with only 28% supporting selling off the land, compared to 66% who oppose it. More than half (53%) of voters in the state say they are strongly opposed to selling public lands for that purpose.[1]

Elected Officials Are Out of Touch

Far too many of Wyoming’s public lands are under attack by Congress and the state legislature. For example, throughout the 112th and 113th Congresses, elected lawmakers introduced dozens of bills that sought to roll back protections for public lands. In addition, Wyoming is one of seven western states that have passed, introduced, or explored legislation in the past year demanding that the federal government turn over millions of acres of federal public lands to the state. If the sponsors of these proposals succeed in their aims, these lands will be used in whatever way the new owner – state or private – wants to use them. This generally means maximizing private profits through resource extraction rather than managing for the long-term benefit and use of the public. To learn more about why these proposals are problematic, read the full report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life.

Attempts to Transfer Public Land Out of Public Ownership

Wyoming’s “Transfer of Federal Lands Study,” which passed the state legislature in early 2013, would require the state attorney general to study “possible legal recourses available to compel the federal government to relinquish ownership and management of specified federal lands in Wyoming,” and would establish a task force focused on the land transfer.[2]

Several bills proposed in the U.S. Congress would force the sale of public lands in Wyoming:

  • American Land Act (H.R. 1017, 113th Congress), by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX). This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to sell 8 percent of their respective federal land to the highest bidder, annually until 2017. This year alone, the two agencies would be forced to sell off nearly 36 million acres of forest and public land to corporate interests.
  • Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Acta.k.a. “Land Division Act” (H.R. 2852, 112th Congress), by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to give away, free of charge, 5 percent of their lands to each Western state. This would leave 30 million acres in the West vulnerable to more resource extraction and development.
  • Disposal of Federal Lands Act (H.R. 1126, 112th Congress), by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). This bill would force the Bureau of Land Management in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming to sell off “excess” public lands to the highest bidder. This bill was also incorporated into the House budget bill in the 113th Congress.

Attempts to Weaken Protection of Public Lands

For decades, cornerstone conservation laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) have protected public lands and natural resources. Recently, many members of Congress have been working to dismantle these vital protections and open public lands to increased resource exploitation and development. For example, in the first session of the 112th Congress, House Republicans voted 191 times to weaken environmental protections, halt wilderness designations, and remove protections for wildlife. For a list of some of the legislation that poses significant risks to our public lands, read the full report, Valuing Our Western Public Lands: Safeguarding Our Economy and Way of Life.

Why the Disconnect?

Why is there an ideological gap between the actions of our elected officials and the values of their constituents? Clearly the power and influence of industry lobbying and campaign contributions plays a role. But the Colorado College State of the Rockies poll offers an additional explanation: the majority of voters in western states are not aware of their representatives’ view on public lands issues. Indeed, survey data indicates that while most Wyoming voters take a positive view of a candidate who supports protecting public lands and espouses pro-conservation positions, many (40%) say they are not sure what position their member of Congress has taken on protecting land, air and water.

Get Involved

It’s up to individual citizens to hold elected officials and decision makers accountable to the values that define Wyoming’s public lands heritage. The most important thing you can do is let decision makers know that you are paying attention. To have your voice heard and demonstrate your commitment to preserving our public lands:

1.      Inspire your children and grandchildren to become the next generation of conservation leaders by taking them outside to hike, fish, hunt, and watch wildlife. Visit OPL’s Wyoming Resources page for information about visiting Wyoming’s public lands.

2.      Join local, regional, and national groups like the National Wildlife Federation that fight for your priorities. Visit OPL’s Wyoming Resources page for a list of wildlife and conservation groups that work in Wyoming.

3.      Take advantage of opportunities for citizen involvement in decisions affecting our public lands: public meetings and hearings with decision makers, public comments periods, town hall meetings, and other forms of citizen engagement.

4.      Reach out directly to your elected officials through letters, phone calls, or social media platforms. Tell them you value our public lands. Your representatives are duty-bound to listen. Visit the links below to find and contact your elected officials.

Contact Elected Officials About Public Lands Issues

Click here for Resources about Wyoming's Public Lands and Wildlife


Center for American Progress, Goad, J. and Kenworthy, T., State Efforts to ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/GoadLandsReclaimBrief-1.pdf

Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, Conservation in the West Poll http://www.coloradocollege.edu/other/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewest/

Headwaters Economics, West Is Best: Protected Lands Promote Wyoming Jobs and Higher Incomes http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/west-is-best-value-of-public-lands-wy/

Outdoor Industry Association, The Outdoor Recreation Economy, Arizona http://www.outdoorindustry.org/images/ore_reports/AZ-arizona-outdoorrecreationeconomy-oia.pdf

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation – State Overview, Preliminary Estimates http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/ref/collection/document/id/858

U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce Minority Staff, The Anti-Environment Record of the U.S. House of Representatives 112th Congress, 1stSession http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/image_uploads/_Anti-Environment%20Report%20Final.pdf

Wyoming Office of Tourism http://www.wyomingofficeoftourism.gov/

[1]Weigel, Lori and Dave Metz. Conservation in the West Poll - Wyoming. The Colorado College: State of the Rockies Project. January 2013. http://www.coloradocollege.edu//other/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewest/statereports/WyomingReport.pdf

[2]Transfer of federal lands-study, State of Wyoming H.B. 0228, available at http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2013/Engross/ HB0228.pdf; Laura Hancock, “Wyoming may look at ways to manage federal land,” Casper Star-Tribune, February 26, 2013, avail- able at http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/ wyoming/wyoming-may-look-at-ways-to-manage-federal- land/article_bc9040d9-cd5e-516b-a203-5240a67c62ef. html?comment_form=true.