Laramie Boomerang (Sept. 28)
By Nuria Mathog
A Monday night hearing at the Albany County Public Library drew more than five dozen community members, many of whom criticized a land exchange proposal that could cut off public access to state lands in Albany County.
The meeting, hosted by leadership from the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, focused on a potential land exchange between Bonander Ranches, LLC, and the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners. The proposal involves trading nearly 1,041 acres of state trust land in northern Albany County for 295 acres of Bonander’s Moskee land in eastern Crook County, about 12 miles southeast of Sundance.
The land in Albany County is located between Esterbrook Road to the north and Bear Creek Road to the south.
Jason Crowder, an assistant director with the state lands office, acknowledged 3,131 acres of adjacent land in Albany County would be “isolated from public access” if the exchange is completed.
“That is something that we have made clear to the board since we started this transaction through this process,” he said.
The state trust land in Albany County was appraised at $1,034,000, compared to the Moskee land’s appraisal of $1,032,500. According to the state lands office’s detailed analysis of the exchange, in 2016, the Albany County land generated $761.36 through grazing and agriculture leasing.
If the exchange is approved, the state would retain all mineral interests that it currently has in that area, Crowder said. The analysis also indicates Bonander’s mineral rights to the Moskee land would be transferred to the state.
“For the Moskee land, the potential that we see is at $724.52 annual return from grazing use,” Crowder said. “We see the double dip, triple dip, maybe … the timber production, the outfitting. We also use some commercial uses, like cell towers or weddings and things like that. So, we don’t know what those exact uses are, but we see the potential in that area.”
According to the analysis, because the state currently owns the parcels in Albany County, this land is not subject to property taxes at the moment. If the exchange goes through, the land would generate an estimated $6,384 in taxes for Albany County.
While the lands commission was initially scheduled to vote on the exchange at its upcoming October meeting, because of the amount of public feedback, the item will instead be moved to the board’s Dec. 1 agenda, said Bridget Hill, director of the state lands office.
Members of the public can submit comments on the matter through Oct. 5, Hill said, adding the agenda and materials will be placed on the office’s website one week before the December meeting, allowing the public to view her recommendation.
Several state departments already weighed in on the proposal. In a letter submitted May 20, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department noted the parcels in Albany County are within the Laramie Peak Elk Herd Unit — Hunt Area 7 — and losing this land could inhibit management of the herd.
“The State lands parcels proposed for exchange in Albany County provide public access to over 6,400 acres of National Forest Lands and 1,600 acres of State-owned lands and are important for public hunting opportunity, including elk, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, and blue grouse,” the letter states. “Loss of these parcels would reduce public hunting access.”
Ultimately, the letter concludes the exchange would create “an indirect loss of public access” to more than 8,000 acres of land in the Laramie Range, affecting both hunting opportunities and wildlife management, and encourages the state lands board to consider exchanging landlocked parcels to avoid loss of access to contiguous portions of State and Forest Service lands. Conversely, in a letter dated May 17, the Wyoming State Forestry Division expressed full support for the exchange, stating the properties have “high potential to continually produce forest products” and would facilitate access to other state parcels.
“The Moskee parcels have also been identified as a high priority for acquisition under the Forest Legacy Program administered by Wyoming State Forestry; this exchange moves the State towards that goal,” the forestry division’s letter states.
During the public comment session at Monday’s meeting, which lasted more than an hour, many audience members spoke out strongly against the exchange.
Chamois Andersen, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said her organization opposed the proposal, calling it a “terrible idea” and asking the state lands commission to vote no on the exchange.
“Outdoor enthusiasts will lose access to nearly 4,000 acres in the Laramie Range,” she said. “These are acres of land that we value for recreational opportunities — hunting, fishing, climbing, mountain biking, trail running. There’d be no trespassing signs put up, and to me,that would be extremely unfortunate.”
She also raised concerns that further fragmentation of the Laramie Range would be of “considerable harm to wildlife populations” and recreational users would lose out, including people from outside the county.
“It is that important, and those folks are spending important dollars in Albany County,” she said. “There’s a trickle effect; economists call this the multiplier effect. And when they come in and recreate in the Laramie Range, they come to Laramie and Cheyenne and Guernsey, and they spend dollars on hotel rooms, outdoor equipment. And those tourism dollars are very important, and I’d love the state lands board to better consider with their revenue criteria tourism dollars that are generated from access to places like the Laramie Range.”
Emmett Nelson of Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said he had personal experience in the area in question.
“I heard my first elk bugle up there, I had my first encounter, close encounter with a bear up in the area — really holds a special place to me,” he said. “Last year, I had the opportunity to take my dad, who’s 63 years old, from Minnesota up there and watch the sunrise. Pretty special. Hope to be able to do that with my kids that are 2 and 4.”