Wyoming: Controversy erupts over state land access

SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) -5/20/02 -- Sportsmen are protesting a proposal to temporarily close 7,800 acres of state land.

The Office of State Lands and Investments wants to set the land off-limits to the public until it can develop a plan to repair damage caused by heavy use.

The area, located about eight miles southeast of Sheridan along Wyoming Highway 14, is popular among hunters, hikers, horseback riders, motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle users. It is also a popular gathering spot for young people.

Jim Whalen, assistant state lands director, said his office will recommend that the Board of Land Commissioners close the tract. The board meets publicly at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the Herschler Building in Cheyenne.

Among the issues to be discussed is which agency should be responsible for patrolling the tract.

"We hope to have a solution worked out by this summer or fall, or at least before the hunting season," Whalen said.

Larry Durante, of Sheridan, a board member of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said he agrees the land has been abused by some users but believes the Office of State Lands and Investments is wrong for attempting to close the tract.

"The land has been damaged by ATVs, off-road vehicles and motorcycles, no doubt about it. But to close it down to all use is grossly unfair. We need to keep the limited access we have available to all people," Durante said.

Ranchers and coal-bed methane workers would still have access, he said.

"The land is owned by the general public, and we should all have access to the land with reasonable use."


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