Is another senator backpedaling?

  New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, R, reluctantly conceded last month that his bill on public-land grazing needed at least clarification. Hunters and other recreational users of the public lands apparently made their opposition clear: They cannot live with legislation that puts ranchers above everyone else (HCN, 8/21/95).

Now another Western Republican, Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming, may have heard a similar message. Thomas' land-transfer bill, which would allow states to acquire 270 million acres of land now managed by the Bureau of Land Management, is silent about public access. That omission has prompted sportsmen and conservation groups to criticize the measure for potentially kicking them off public lands they have hunted, fished and hiked for decades.

In a recent interview with the Casper Star-Tribune Thomas said he "may re-evaluate" the issue of guaranteed public access to the lands. But he continued to insist that because BLM lands are not a "public heritage," they are less worthy of federal protection than national forests or parks. Thomas said he doesn't expect Congress to act on the land transfer bill until next year.

*Paul Larmer