By Rod Miller, columnist
At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll repeat myself here. A year ago in April, I wrote about the persistent problem of access to public land in a column about Rep. Cyrus Western’s HB122. This was before corner crossing stepladders and trespassing drones muddied the waters even further.
But the subject is worth visiting again.
The Bureau of Land Management just purchased 35,000 acres of private land near Casper to add to the store of public land in the Cowboy State. BLM did two things with this purchase. First, they increased, by several miles, the amount of recreational access to popular fishing sites along the North Platte River.
Second, the BLM proved once again that the best tool for unlocking land and making it accessible to the sporting public is the good ol’ American dollar.
After all, this is Wyoming and we identify as capitalists. If we want something, we pay for it.
This purchase used a pot o’ dough called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is appropriated from federal offshore oil and gas income. The purchase price was north of twenty million bucks, as I understand.
But this is a win for capitalism and the market, as well as for fly fisherpeople.
When all the haranguing and emotional hand-wringing about access to public lands fails, and when the appeals to egalitarianism and social justice don’t buy you even a step, there still remains one tool in the box that will get the job done. Money.
You really don’t need a fancy, all-terrain stepladder. You just need a checkbook.
Now to be sure, the government CAN take private property for a public purpose through eminent domain. If the federal government wants to condemn an easement across private property to reach every single public acre in America, it can certainly do so under our Constitution.
But it cannot do so without paying fair market value for what it takes. It still comes down to money. And condemnation cases are usually lengthy, costly and agonizing legal struggles made worse by a complicated appraisal procedure.
It is easier and quicker to simply do an arms-length, willing buyer-willing seller transaction, and avoid all the drama. And, without the rancor and acrimony of an adversarial condemnation proceeding, folks have a chance to be friends when the ink is dry on the deed.
As of this writing, both the Wyoming Legislature and a federal court have yet to weigh in on the gnarly problems of corner crossing and ownership of airspace above private land. And its anyone’s guess what those outcomes will be.
But whatever is decided in legislative chambers or courtrooms will involve money, one way or the other. And it will just be a more complicated, expensive and time-consuming way to involve money than a simple cash in the marketplace.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a program whereby recreational access across private land is purchased using funds derived from license and stamp fees. This fund should be supported by every Wyomingite who cherishes access to public land every bit as aggressively as legal funds for lawsuits.
Those same folks should be loud, insistent voices for Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Those of us who believe in opening more land to public access should be shaking these trees for money, instead of waiting for legal miracles.
Money has been securing land for Americans since Jefferson and Napoleon cut their deal for New Orleans. It worked then, and it works now.