Between a variety of agencies, the federal government owns a considerable amount of land in Wyoming and Park County.
Now the Bureau of Land Management Cody Field Office is in the process of acquiring 1,820 acres of land on Sheep Mountain west of Cody.
However, the purchase is being made for the right reason – guaranteeing public access to 17,000 acres of adjacent public lands. Those public lands include 14,000 acres of BLM and 2,600 acres of State of Wyoming lands.
Public lands are owned by the public and are for the use and enjoyment of the public. The public’s right to access public lands is of critical importance.
Sarah Beckwith, public affairs officer for the Wind River-Big Horn Basin District of the BLM, said the Nature Conservancy purchased the Sheep Mountain land in 2000 from a private individual with the understanding the BLM would take ownership in the future.
That means the BLM is acquiring the Sheep Mountain land for the sole reason of ensuring public access to other public lands.
Since 1980, the BLM Cody Field Office has conveyed 31,300 acres of land and has acquired 17,800. This land acquisition will not result in a net gain of federal lands.
One of the reasons (there are a variety of reasons) Wyoming counties and school districts suffer a shortage of revenue is the great percentage of government-owned land in the state that is not subject to real estate taxes.
Nearly 80% of Park County lands are under the control of the federal government.
While the federal government makes Payments in Lieu of Taxes, those payments make up only 8% of Park County government revenues.
Taking land off of tax rolls hurts local government agencies. The reverse is also true.
While real estate taxes partially fund local governments, when buying or selling of public lands occurs the primary consideration of public access to public lands must be forefront in those decisions.