by Max Brantley
Ernie Dumas and I have been trading notes today about the legal authority by which the state Game and Fish Commission claims dominion over mineral rights on its land in the recent leasing of acreage for gas exploration. It's a cash-laden agency already thanks to the "conservation" sales tax, so awash in money it has more vehicles than employees.
Game and Fish cites the broad language of Amendment 35 to trump any efforts to claim mineral rights to state lands that should benefit all of Arkansas, not just hunters and anglers. (Remember, though wildlife conservation is a broad charge, Game and Fish is operated almost solely for the hooks and bullets crowd.) Game and Fish is willing to turn over a little money for environmental efforts, but not a dime for general revenue.
Dumas remembered when in olden days a committee of state officials oversaw leasing of public lands and the proceeds went to the general fund. The land commissioner now oversees that effort, but apparently it made no effort to intercede with Game and Fish.
At least one legislator isn't happy about the grab and is already talking a constitutional amendment to overcome Game and Fish if there's no other way to share the wealth. There are complications, however. It could be that federal money used to acquire some wildlife management acreage might require that mineral rights remain with the land for wildlife purposes. It's an issue that will get some serious exploring and worthy discussion. Game and Fish is constitutionally independent, but it must work with the legislature, which appropriates its money.