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Guest Opinions

Use of State Trust Lands

The Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners (SBLC) has the responsibility for the supervision and stewardship of approximately 3,529,527 million surface acres and 3,944,159 million sub-surface acres of state trust land. These lands were granted to the state to generate income in support of the common schools. In order to fulfill this purpose, the SBLC manages these lands for many different types of uses, including, for example, mineral production, agriculture purposes, commercial development and recreational purposes.

Recently the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) has seen increased interest in state trust land for recreational purposes. Although the Board has long extended the public the privilege of using legally accessible state trust land for hunting, fishing and casual recreational day use, other recreational uses require specific Board authorization. When granting these authorizations, whether it be by Temporary Use Permit, Special Use Lease or some other appropriate mechanism, all applications are thoroughly reviewed by staff at the OSLI to determine if the application meets the SBLC’s Trust Land Management Objectives. 

The recent increased interest in using the state land for recreational purposes presents the SBLC with the opportunity to take advantage of income generating compatible uses of trust lands while at the same time still ensuring that the lands are protected for the long term benefit of the trust land beneficiaries. One example of this is the permission the SBLC has granted to entities to develop off-road trail systems for motorized and non-motorized uses, open play areas and exclusive use motocross tracks. 

Recently, Big Horn County applied for a special use lease to establish an off-road trail system and open play area covering 640 acres of trust lands located 5.6 miles northeast of Lovell. While the lessee is Big Horn County, the management and maintenance of the area will be the responsibility of Wyoming OHV Alliance, Inc. The staff at OSLI performed an analysis of the use of the land and the impact to the land and established rental fees consistent with the fair market value of the use of the land. This lease was approved by the SBLC at their Feb. 6, 2014 board meeting.

With this particular parcel, the terrain is rough with clay breaks and numerous draws. The soils have limited vegetation. With the void of vegetation and the hard clays, this terrain was of particular interest for off-road vehicle use because it challenged the rider and allows the rider to have a better free riding experience. At the same time, the lack of vegetation meant that the lands were minimally useful for grazing purposes and supported very few AUMs. Thus, OSLI, in consultation with the grazing lessee, determined that use of this parcel as an open play area for off-road motorized vehicles was minimally invasive and wouldn’t degrade the trust asset beyond reason. It also determined that recommending a lease to a responsible user group that could be implemented in conjunction with existing mineral and agricultural leases created a compatible use scenario, which was the highest and best use of the parcel. Creating compatible use and leasing scenarios is one way the SBLC strives to generate maximum sustaining yields from its trust assets.

This recent lease highlights another opportunity for the SBLC to generate additional income. If recreation can be accommodated along with other leasing and uses that generate revenue, the Board can expand the uses of state trust lands and in doing so create additional recreation uses for residents and visitors. However, as with all uses, it is important to remember that if these opportunities are abused and lead to the damage of trust assets, the uses cannot continue. We must always remember that state trust lands, while abundant, fund public education and generate revenue to support the beneficiaries. If they are abused, no matter the use, no matter the entity, the lease will be terminated. 

By keeping the focus on the diligent care of state trust lands, building and fostering compatible uses of these lands, we can create opportunities for industry, agriculture, commercial entities and recreational groups, all the while bringing in revenue for our school children and beneficiaries.

For more information on the Office of State Lands and Investments, visit lands.state.wy.us.