BILLINGS — Montana officials are looking into taking control of federal lands in the state, although they say the proposal is complicated and potentially expensive.
Gov. Steve Bullock opposes taking over management of millions of acres of federal land within the state’s boundaries. But the Montana Republican Party has endorsed the move, and the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is studying it.
The more the agency reviews the idea, the more complicated it gets, which is why Bullock’s administration is working to make the current system work, department spokesman John Grassy said.
“There’s a whole new sector of land management that would be needed to manage public lands,” Grassy said.
While it’s not clear how Montana could go about taking over U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands, doing so could cost the state around $367 million a year after factoring in potential revenue from the land, the Billings Gazette reported.
The move has been discussed in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah, where lawmakers are considering suing the federal government to take control of U.S.-owned land. In Montana, the state GOP included it in its latest platform.
The GOP resolution says, among other things, that a takeover would benefit residents by allowing more logging in forests to reduce the risk of fires. That would create jobs, reduce air pollution, increase access to public land and give local governments a greater say in land management, the resolution says.
About 29 percent of land in Montana is federally owned. Not counting the state’s 3.4 million acres of designated wilderness, the state potentially could lay claim to about 21.6 million acres. That’s about four times as much land as is managed by the state.
Chris Mehl of Headwaters Economics said the independent, nonpartisan research group has not attempted to calculate the cost of the land takeover because the costs and expenditures fluctuate each year.
“It’s very difficult to get your hands around it in a reputable way,” Mehl said.
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