At least 15 counties have left the American Lands Council

But that doesn’t mean Western counties have backed down on land transfers.

 

The American Lands Council, one of the main organizations behind the current movement to transfer Western federal lands to state control, has seen more than a quarter of its member counties defect in the past three years, according to research by conservation nonprofit Western Values Project.

ALC’s website once showed that over 50 Western counties had purchased memberships, ranging from $50 to $25,000. As of this fall, at least 15 have not renewed. The Western Values Project says that based on conversations with county commissioners and county staff, about 10 more likely have also left ALC, bringing the total to an estimated 25. Although this defection may reveal a slowing of enthusiasm for the organization, it doesn't necessarily signal diminished support for the transfer movement overall.  

Three county commissioners founded the American Lands Council in 2012 as a way to rally support around the idea of large-scale land transfers. ALC and Utah State Representative Ken Ivory, the group’s former president, have helped raise the land transfer issue to a major topic of debate in several state and federal elections this season. Those in favor of a transfer cite over-regulation and mismanagement by agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land management. Opponents of a transfer say it’s not legally defensible and would also put public lands in jeopardy of being sold for development or energy extraction. 

 

The conservation-minded nonprofit Western Values Project has been compiling research on which counties currently have ALC memberships and which have opted out. This map combines information from the Project's direct correspondences with county governments, and research by HCN. If you have more up-to-date information about your county, please email us: [email protected]

Several commissioners in counties that have not renewed memberships say they still support ALC but don’t have the budget for it. “A large part of the decision to no longer maintain a membership was financial in nature,” Jerry Ewen, commissioner in Big Horn County, Wyoming, says. “Wyoming county governments have had to scale back their budgets a great deal the past couple of years, and the future looks like it will bring more of the same. This decision was made easier by the fact that the company has had a considerable amount of negative publicity.” (Ivory came under fire last year for fraud accusations related to his ALC work, but was cleared of the allegations.)

Box Elder County, Utah, Commissioner Stan Summers said his commission needed to put its funds toward other things as well. Summers still fully supports ALC ideologically and sees federal overreach as one of the biggest reasons Box Elder is struggling financially. Summers says a mining company wanted to set up a potash project recently that could have brought a much-needed influx of business. But there was too much resistance from the BLM, Summers says, and the company recently decided to abandon the project. “It’s not that we didn’t support (ALC),” he says. “It’s just that there are other ways to help our constituents.”

But other counties let their memberships expire for reasons beyond just tight budgets. Esmeralda County, Nevada, Commissioner Nancy Boland, says her county is no longer a member because ALC focused too much on federal land transfers. Boland says that they first joined because ALC provided information on federal land management and accessible backgrounders on laws and regulations. “But then the emphasis of this organization shifted to promote one single thing and the general information stopped,” Boland says. “It was no longer of value to us. Hence we stopped our membership.”

According to 2014 tax records, ALC earned $259,189 of its $336,524 in revenue that year from memberships, though it’s unclear how many were from counties (businesses and individuals can also buy memberships). At least 10 counties are currently members, and as many as 28 more may also be members, according to the Western Values Project. Last year, ALC stopped sharing its list of member counties publicly.

Elko County, Nevada, Commissioner Demar Dahl says county memberships at ALC aren’t the only barometer of the health of the land transfer movement: “The idea was always with American Lands Council to expand the support base beyond the counties. County support is not as important or sought after as before.” Instead, Dahl says focus in his state has shifted to backing HR1484, a federal bill introduced by U.S. House Representative Mark Amodei, R-Nevada. The bill would transfer millions of federal acreage in Nevada to state control.

Dahl says HR1484 would put no new restrictions on those lands for recreators and prospectors, and most of the land would not be sold off. But critics of the bill say that without formal restrictions, the state of Nevada would likely sell land or lease it for development in order to meet a fiduciary duty to earn revenue for its beneficiaries — Nevada citizens.   

And the prospects for the wider movement took a hit this fall when a dozen Western state attorney generals released a report finding that the core legal arguments Utah has made to transfer lands were deeply flawed. In one section, the report stated: “Equality of sovereignty is an important constitutional principle that can help prevent federal intrusions upon the sovereignty and independence of the states. Court precedents, however, provide little support for the proposition that the principles of equal footing or equal sovereignty may compel transfer of public lands to the western states.”

Nevada’s attorney general, Adam Laxalt, was reportedly the only one who dissented in the vote to approve the report.

Representative Ivory, as well as Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder, who is the current CEO of ALC, did not respond to requests for comment.

Tay Wiles is an associate editor of High Country News. Email her at [email protected]  

High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • ANCESTRAL LANDS ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER
    Starting Salary: Grade C, $19.00 to 24.00 per/hour Location: Albuquerque or Gallup, NM Status: Full-Time, Non-Exempt Benefit Eligible: Full Benefits Eligible per Personnel Policies Program...
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...