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Old 08-12-2003, 06:31 AM   #1 (permalink)
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WY: Lands agency urges closure near Sheridan


Lands agency urges closure near Sheridan

SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) -- The Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments is recommending that state land near Sheridan be closed to motorized traffic because of environmental damage.

The closure would be through February 2004, when the issue would be re-evaluated, according to state officials.

State Lands Director Lynne Boomgaarden said she will present her recommendation to the Board of Land Commissioners on Friday.

Boomgaarden said the area would remain open for hunting, fishing and other recreational uses by people on foot, horseback or nonmotorized mountain bikes.

The 7,800-acre tract is located 10 miles southeast of Sheridan and has been the topic of numerous public meetings over the past two years because of ongoing vandalism.

"Legitimate casual recreational use, hunting and fishing are not the problem. Responsible and conscientious vehicle operators are not the problem," Boomgaarden said. "All of the problems are associated with uses that are prohibited by the rules of the board."

This includes vehicle use off established roads and during wet seasons, open fires, littering, and illegal and "irresponsible" use of firearms, she said.

"Attempts by volunteers to clean up the area and place signs explaining the off-road-vehicle restrictions and the prohibition on open fires have not resulted in any noticeable long-term improvement or changes in the attitude of those individuals who would damage land and the lessees' personal property," she said.

Livestock have been killed recently, and a coal-bed methane valve was vandalized, Boomgaarden said.

She said that grazing lease holders, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and some local sportsmen support the temporary closure.

"If the temporary motorized vehicle restriction is extended, at the request of our office, the Game and Fish will assess and consider incorporation of the state land into a walk-in area for the 2004 hunting season," she said.

But Boomgaarden said the proposal has not been accepted by some Sheridan County residents, including Janet Ludwig of Story, chairwoman of the Public Land Users Committee. The committee formed last year to address public access issues, including damage that was occurring to the state tract southeast of Sheridan as well as state lands near Acme.

"I am disappointed. I feel they are penalizing the responsible users of the land. If they deny access to all motorized vehicles, which includes four-wheelers, then people who have children, people who are not able to walk easily or have horses cannot use the property," Ludwig said.

"Why penalize hundreds of people for the actions of a few irresponsible users? I have to commend the sheriff's office for taking the time to identify offenders in several of the cases. That's the way this issue should be handled," Ludwig said. "I fear there is going to be a great deal resentment."

The public has been involved in cleanups and public education, Ludwig said.

"We've tried to focus attention on responsible use and how important that is. Things are getting better. You just can't turn things around immediately," she said.

Ludwig said she encourages residents to express their feelings in e-mails and letters to the Board of Land Commissioners, which consists of the state's top five elected officials.

Sheridan County Sheriff Dave Hofmeier said he doesn't want to publicly state whether he favors the proposal, but he did note that the number of problems on the state land has dropped over the past several months.

He attributes the drop to increased law enforcement, work by groups like the Public Land Users Committee, and public awareness.

"I think things have quieted down out there," Hofmeier said.

He said several cases of vandalism have been solved, and other cases remain under investigation.

If the Board of Land Commissioners approves the recommendation, Hofmeier said, "I would hope that people wouldn't retaliate against the state because it will make our job tougher."

Boomgaarden said a parking lot and fencing will be necessary if her recommendation passes.

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