Legislative Pulse: Wyoming Wins Wolf, Monument Battles

Published October 19, 2017

Editor’s Note: Wyoming state Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan) has served in the state legislature since 1995, including in the Senate since 2003. Burns currently serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is a member of the Air Transportation Liaison Committee and the CSG West–Canada Relations Committee.

Burnett: Wyoming has had to fight for years to manage its wolf population without federal interference. Why did Wyoming have such problems, and does the state’s experience offer any lessons about the Endangered Species Act?

Burns: Wyoming has always taken a different position than its surrounding states. While we didn’t like the introduction of Canadian gray wolves into Yellowstone, it became apparent, after a number of court decisions, they were here to stay.

That being the case, we set up a two-tiered system of management in Wyoming. About 30 percent of the state, in the northwest which contains 85 percent of the wolf-viable habitat, was made a “trophy area” where hunting of wolves was regulated and a minimum number of wolves would be preserved. In the rest of the state, wolves were given “predator” status and could be killed on sight.

This solution gave ranchers the chance to protect their livestock while assuring the federal government a sustainable number of wolves.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to the plan, but environmental groups sued. After 22 years, millions of dollars in legal fees, and multiple court decisions, wolves were finally delisted in Wyoming this year.

Burnett: In 1950, Congress amended the Antiquities Act to prevent presidents from declaring any future national monuments in Wyoming without congressional consent. In light of some of the controversial national monument declarations in Western states in the past 20 years, do you think a similar prohibition on national monument designations should be enacted nationwide to ensure states have a say in the management of public lands within their borders?

Burns: It’s ironic Wyoming was the state with the first national monument, Devils Tower, in light of the fact we’re the only state subsequently free of any president’s unilateral declaration. Alaska has a partial ban.

Given the political nature of recent uses of the Antiquities Act, including not informing the local state’s governor before the monument declaration in their state, I think the act definitely needs to be amended to give other states the same protections against unilateral monument declarations as Wyoming has.

State input into federal land management is a separate issue for another time.

Burnett: Wyoming joined 27 other states in suing to block the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan in federal court. The courts have blocked the plan, and President Donald Trump is moving to overturn it. Do you support Wyoming’s decision to fight the plan?

Burns: Yes, I absolutely support Wyoming’s decision as well as President Trump’s efforts.

I find the public arguments on anthropogenic climate change to be a sad reflection on the state of discourse in society today. An interesting scientific theory has been mounted on the high altar of politics and worshipped as if it were the tablets from Mount Sinai.

Anyone who questions, doubts, or suggests an alternate theory is demonized and marginalized. This isn’t the way science is supposed to work, and one does not need to be a scientist to know it. Science is not an appeal to authority.

The mania against fossil fuels has been going on for 30 years now, without any realistic alternative energy solutions being provided. Even if the alarmists are correct about the effects of carbon dioxide, I’ve never heard of any serious consideration by the federal government of analyzing the costs of adapting to it as opposed to fighting it at the expense of bankrupting entire segments of our economy.

Instead, we’ve seen the wholesale politicization of ever-increasing aspects of our lives.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

Official Connections:

State Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan): https://legisweb.state.wy.us/LegislatorSummary/LegDetail.aspx?LegID=901; [email protected]