The State Lands Board, the Board of Big Game Control and the Wildlife Board have agreed to see if they can resolve differences of opinion over wildlife management on state lands.
If that doesn't work, the next meeting of the agencies could very well be in a courtroom. The Wildlife and Big Game Control boards are at odds with the Lands Board on how best to manage wildlife on state lands.In a rare meeting Monday involving members of all three boards, as well as officials of the Division of Wildlife Resources and the Division of State Lands and Forestry, the boards agreed to negotiate.
But that's about all that the boards agreed.
"I want to keep this from escalating into a range war," said Dee Hanson, director of the Department of Natural Resources and peacekeeper at the meeting. "I don't want two of my divisions battling each other in court."
But Hanson and other state officials glumly admit that is where the dispute could end up.
At the core of the disagreement is a controversial draft "Wildlife Use on State Lands" issued by the Division of State Lands and Forestry. The draft is vehemently opposed by the Division of Wildlife Resources and various sportsmen groups. Among other things, it calls for the imposition of "user fees" for sportsmen who want to hunt or fish on state lands. It also suggests the possibility of leasing state lands to private hunting clubs.
In 1894, Congress set aside four sections of land in each township as a trust. A constitutional mandate requires the land be held in a fiduciary trust to generate revenue for schools.
"These lands are not public lands similar to Bureau of Land Management lands or Forest Service lands," said Patrick Spurgin, director of State Lands and Forestry. "It is a trust in a very real sense . . . (and) our duties are to manage them properly and prudently on behalf of schools."
Better management means maximizing revenues going into the School Trust Fund. Traditionally, that fund has been bolstered by livestock grazing fees and oil and mineral leasing fees.
The State Land Board and livestock groups have become concerned as the numbers of wild animals on state lands have increased in recent years. With more wildlife on state lands, there is less vegetation for cattle and sheep, and therefore potentially less revenue from grazing permits.
The State Land Board, as well as the beneficiaries of the school trust fund, support the idea of broader user fees to bolster the School Trust Funds.