Opinion by Ryan LanceWritten by Saige
By Ryan Lance, Director, Office of State Lands and Investments
State land is distinguishable from federal public land because it is held in trust and managed for the exclusive financial benefit of Wyoming public schools and other beneficiaries. Historically, state trust lands in Wyoming were closed to public access. Over time, the Board of Land Commissioners determined that it would grant the privilege of public access to trust lands, but only where the land is legally accessible.
As most private landowners know, the rules established by the Board dictate that anyone crossing private land to reach state trust land must have the permission of the private landowner before accessing that land. No off-road vehicle use, overnight camping or open fires are permitted on state trust lands and motor vehicles must remain on established roads. Any activities that would damage state lands, roads, improvements, or the property of the state’s lessees are also prohibited. Failure to adhere to these rules has resulted in the Board closing or restricting the use of state trust lands.
Because the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) fields numerous inquiries requesting information about which lands are legally accessible, it has designed a State Land Access Website tool with the aim of providing detailed access information in an easy-to-use, publicly available format. Private landowners, sportsmen, grazing and other state land lessees and other government agencies can simply go to the OSLI website and, with a few clicks of a mouse, gather the necessary information to ensure they are in compliance with the Board’s rules and avoid needless conflict. All too often, the Board is in the position of mediating disputes between sportsmen, landowners and other state lessees after an incident. By providing information on the front end, it is our hope that confusion or conflicts can be avoided.
In terms of the data used to construct the maps, Information Technology staff from OSLI gathered information from digital databases and designed the maps to identify those state trust lands that have public road access, adjacent road access, possible water access and those trust lands with no known public access. While the maps and other key information will be updated periodically, the information may not always reflect the most current information. I urge users to exercise diligence to verify all information before making any decisions about the land they are accessing.
The information contained on the maps does not make reference to the special management that takes place on Wyoming State Parks, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Habitat Management or Walk-in Areas, Military Department Lands or other state or federal management areas. Users should contact the appropriate state or federal agency for information concerning access to and use of these types of lands.
At the direction of the Board, OSLI has also included a feedback form that can be used to provide information to OSLI about the access application. The form will allow OSLI to correct any errors that users discover as they use the maps. Given the legal implications of errors involving private lands, feedback from private landowners is particularly important. As such, if you find errors with the application, please do not hesitate to let us know.
The website is easy to navigate. No additional software or specialized computer knowledge is required to operate the system. Simply go to the OSLI website at lands.state.wy.us and click on “Search State Lands” in the box in the middle of the main web page. From there, click on “GIS State Land Access.”You can also link directly to the application at onanypc.com/statelandaccess/.
To learn more about the Office of State Lands and Investments, visit our website or call us at 307-777-8510.