Rod Miller: Rounding a Corner with Dollars


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By Rod Miller, columnist

At the risk of repeating myself, I will repeat myself here. A year ago in April, I wrote about the continuing problem of access to public lands in a column on Rep. Cyrus Western’s HB122. That was before stepladders crossing corners and intruding drones muddied the waters even further.

But the subject deserves to be revisited.

The Bureau of Land Management has just purchased 35,000 acres of private land near Casper to add to the stock of public land in Cowboy State. BLM did two things with this purchase. First, they have increased, by several miles, the amount of recreational access to popular fishing spots along the North Platte River.

Second, the BLM has proven once again that the best tool to unlock land and make it accessible to the sporting public is the good old US dollar.

After all, this is Wyoming and we identify as capitalists. If we want something, we pay for it.

That purchase used a pot of dough called the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is taken from federal offshore oil and gas revenues. The purchase price was north of twenty million dollars, if I understood correctly.

But it is a victory for capitalism and the market, as well as for fly fishermen.

When all the haranguing and emotional talk about access to public land fails, and when calls for egalitarianism and social justice don’t even buy you a step, there’s still one tool in the box that will get the job done. Silver.

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 public purposes through eminent domain. If the federal government wants to condemn an ​​easement on private property to reach every public acre in America, it can certainly do so under our Constitution.

But he can’t do that without paying fair market value for what it takes. It’s always about money. And conviction cases are usually long, expensive and agonizing legal battles compounded by a complicated trial process.

It’s easier and faster to just do an arm’s length transaction, willing buyer and willing seller, and avoid all the drama. And, without the rancor and acrimony of adversarial sentencing, people have a chance to be friends when the ink is dry on the deed.

As of this writing, the Wyoming legislature and a federal court have yet to weigh in on the thorny issues of corner crossing and airspace ownership over private land. And anyone can guess what those results will be.

But anything decided in legislative chambers or courtrooms will involve money, one way or another. And it will just be a more complicated, expensive and time-consuming way to involve money than just cash in the market.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has a program whereby recreational access through private land is purchased using funds from license and stamp fees. This fund should be supported by every Wyomingite who cherishes access to public lands just as aggressively as legal funds for lawsuits.

These same people should be strong, insistent voices for Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Those of us who believe in opening up more land to public access should shake those trees for cash, instead of waiting for legal miracles.

Silver has secured land for Americans since Jefferson and Napoleon made their deal for New Orleans. It worked then, and it works now.

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