Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gov. Mead: Camp Guernsey won't try to grab ranch land

More than 100 people crowded into the Wheatland armory on Monday afternoon to ask Gov. Matt Mead about the plans for various government-owned lands around a local military training center. The federal Bureau of Land Management has expressed interest in divesting itself of thousands of acres of land in and around Camp Guernsey in Wheatland, with the Wyoming Military Department reacting favorably to the proposal. Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, the adjutant general for the Wyoming Military Department, said he would like to see the exchange take place in order for Camp Guernsey to gain full control of land within the base boundaries, as well as to “square off” some of its jagged borders, which he said would make it easier for camp personnel to train. But the plan has been met with mixed reactions from area ranchers. Some have expressed willingness to swap portions of their leased BLM land with Camp Guernsey, while others fear the talks constitute an attempt at a “land grab.” One flier circulated before Monday’s meeting made that very charge, but Mead dismissed the notion, adding that the Wyoming Military Department will not negotiate for any parcel of BLM land if the rancher using it objects. “The problem that’s developed over the last year and a half is, I’ve had people come forth and say, ‘Why are you taking so-and-so’s land? We hear you’re using imminent domain,’” Mead said. “We’re not using imminent domain or grabbing any land. We’re saying if you’d rather have the state as a partner than the federal government, that’s up to you.” To demonstrate those intentions, Mead pointed to the example of local rancher Bill Criss, whose ranch occupies 6,000 acres to the south of Camp Guernsey, including a 2,500-acre swath of BLM land that cuts right through the ranch. Criss’ family has leased that land for more than 131 years, and when Criss objected to any possible extension of the camp onto that land, Mead said the Wyoming Military Department declined to pursue the matter further. “I’ve told the general it’s got to be voluntary; the best person to evaluate whether it’s a good deal or not is the individual rancher,” Mead said. “If he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t want to do it, so it’s over. Mr. Criss, we understand, is not interested, so there is no swap.” But Mead encouraged those ranchers that are interested in a swap to contact the military department to let their views be known. The same, he said, goes for anyone else opposed to a swap. Several attendees expressed an interest in seeing the BLM lands turned over, not to the Wyoming Military Department, but rather directly to the state. Mead agreed that was what he’d like to see as well but added that BLM has been thus far unwilling to do so, stipulating that if any federal lands are turned over to Wyoming, it would have to be through the military department. “That’s how they would do it, if they do it, when they do it,” he said...more

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