The Code of the WestCatherine Thagard

 

In Wyoming, the western way of life goes much deeper than immortalizing Steamboat, the legendary bucking horse, on our license plates or dusting off our cowboy hats during Frontier Days in Cheyenne. In 2010 the Wyoming legislature adopted the Code of the West as the official State Code. One of the ten articles of this code admonishes all Wyomingites to “Remember that some things are not for sale”.

Recently, our State Senators lived up to that high standard. While other states were having rallies and raising a lot of dust over the possibility of transferring federal public land to the states, the Wyoming legislature thoughtfully and quietly rejected a bill that would have opened the door for the privatization and eventual sale of our federal public land. Hunters, anglers, wildlife advocates, outdoor enthusiasts and the nearly 70% of Wyoming voters who believe our public lands should continue to belong to all Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief when HB209 – Transfer of Federal Lands, failed.

By rejecting this bill, our elected legislators fulfilled their duty to represent the concerns and desires of Wyoming’s citizens, and to resist the influence of out-of-state lobbyists from Utah and our other neighbors in the West who are pushing the idea of transferring federal public lands to state ownership. For the past six weeks, many concerned sportsmen and women such as myself, traded our Stetsons for suits and ties, our hunting boots for high heels and spent time in our capitol talking to legislators about the value of our public lands and our deep concerns not only about the origins of this new Sagebrush Rebellion, but it’s potential impact to the Wyoming way of life.

We talked to them about the differences between Federal and State land management policy, which are as vast as the Rocky Mountains and rolling sagebrush hills they cover. The federal mandate for the management of public lands gives consideration to all uses of the land, including hunting and fishing. By contrast, state lands are to be managed to return maximum revenue to the state school trust. Make no mistake – state lands are not public lands. The Wyoming State Land Board has the right to restrict access and activities (camping and campfires are currently prohibited), and public access is described “as a privilege and not a right”.

Sportsmen talked to our Representatives and Senators about how HB209 would have removed protections that were put in place to assure public input and public access to our land. If HB209 became law, it would have put the decisions on the management and eventual sale of these lands solely into the hands of a few select legislators.

Brazenly, HB209 called for the sale of our public land. In fact it went so far as to specify how the proceeds from selling off the land would be distributed. But I am hopeful that here in the cowboy state, we have learned from past mistakes. At statehood, Wyoming was granted 4.2 million acres of state lands and has to-date sold over 700,000 acres. Nearly 1/4 of these once public lands are now private, inaccessible behind “No Trespassing” signs and locked gates. There was nothing to suggest that the state would do anything differently this time around, and I am proud that our elected officials had the foresight to consider the immense value of these lands beyond their sale price, and defeat HB209.

To those sportsmen and women who joined me in the capitol building these past weeks, to those hunters and anglers who contacted their elected officials and expressed their fervent desire to keep public lands in public hands, and to the legislators who not only listened, but refused to consider selling our public land off to the highest bidder, I tip my hat to you. Our State Code, the Code of the West, calls on us to “Ride for the brand”, and I can proudly say that in defending our Wyoming traditions, values and way of life by defeating this bill, it has been my sincerest pleasure to ride with all of you for the Wyoming brand.