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Private and state land update provided 

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

During the Winter Roundup Convention and Trade Show, held in Casper Dec. 4-6, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) invited Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC Senior Partner Karen Budd-Falen to speak during the Private and State Lands Committee meeting.

Following Budd-Falen’s presentation, WSGA Executive Vice President Jim Magagna gave a brief update on state land challenges.

Budd-Falen has assisted local governments in asserting their rights in federal agency decisions, protecting private property owners and is currently providing services for WSGA, who filed an amicus brief in a case involving the Wyoming corner crossing dispute.

Wyoming corner crossing case

A federal judge ruled in favor of hunters in a case which tested the legality of “corner crossing,” or stepping from one parcel of public land to another over a common corner shared with private property.

“Chief U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl found the hunters did not trespass when they corner crossed and passed through private airspace,” Budd-Falen explained. “In my opinion, this was more of a political decision than a legal one.”

“It’s a big deal as far as private property rights go,” she continued. “We are concerned about the existence of a person’s property right.”

Budd-Falen noted, “This goes back to the days of the railroad. At the time, Congress should have granted access rights, which they did in the South, but they did not in the West.” 

Due to a 19th century law aimed at promoting development along railroad corridors, land in the West was arranged in a checkerboard pattern.  

Congress saw alternating sections of public and private parcels as a solution to a help finance the Transcontinental Railroad and – thought railroad companies would sell to hopeful homesteaders.

“No one wanted to settle in Wyoming’s checkerboard lands – there was no water,” she noted. “The property was not disposed of properly. Congress’s plan did not work and they did not set it up granting access and reserving the right of access.”

By the 1970s, the railroad had given up on the project of selling lands to homesteaders, and with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, it moved to permanently retain public lands rather than try to sell them off.

Wyoming has 2.44 million acres, thanks to the stretch of the largest railroad grant in history, sweeping the width of the state from east to west. Because of this checkerboard, a lot of public land has become corner-locked, and at every point where four squares meet, there is a potential for controversy.

Legislative updates

Five out of the seven state land bills passing through legislation in 2023 were sponsored by WSGA. 

During his update, Magagna discussed two bills – House Bill (HB) 011, State land lease amendments and HB017, State lands-grazing of non-owned livestock. 

“We were having issues with the state land board and how they were handling grazing leases,” Magagna stated. “We needed to bring things back to the way they used to be – flexible.”

Now, under HB011, “all state land lease renewal applications and rental payments required under this act and submitted using a mail service shall be deemed filed on the date of the postmark stamped on the envelope in which the renewal application or rental payment is mailed and the vocabulary related to the type of payment has been removed, now only stating ‘payment.’”

Magagna added, “We must give the state credit where credit is due. They are adding flexibility back.”

He continued his update on the passing of HB017, which now states, “A lessee of state lands whose lease authorizes grazing on the state lands shall not be required to obtain the approval of the director under this subsection prior to allowing livestock the lessee does not own, but for which the lessee retains full management and responsibility to graze on the lands.”

“We are making significant progress regarding state land,” Magagna concluded before taking questions from the group.

The Kelly Parcel 

During the question and answer session of the committee’s meeting, a question was asked about the proposed public auction of Wyoming’s Kelly Parcel, near Grand Teton National Park.

“The iconic parcel near the national park is an area loved by Wyomingites and currently has a grazing lease, but it could possibly be sold to the highest bidder,” Magagna noted. “We will find out what will happen to the parcel when state officials meet later this week.”

In recent public hearings across Wyoming, thousands of residents opposed the public auction, afraid it will be turned into plots of land for luxury homes, but would rather see a critical migration corridor put in place. 

On Dec. 7, Wyomingʼs Board of Land Commissioners decided to table a vote on the Kelly Parcel and put the vote on a year-long hold. 

The Board of Land Commissioners consists of the state’s top five elected officials – Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder, Auditor Kristi Racines and Treasurer Curt Meier.

Obligated by the Constitution, the Board of Land Commissioners must maximize revenue off of state trust land to fund education.

The U.S. Department of Interior secured three state parcels from 2010-16. However, the federal government did not guarantee the Kelly Parcel through the Grand Teton National Park Land Exchange Act in 2003.

The Office of State Lands and Investments has received more than 9,000 public comments during the 60-day comment period and recommends a minimum bid of $80 million for the parcel.

The board agreed to postpone the decision until the fall of 2024, but have decided to explore ideas of exchanging the Kelly Parcel for other Wyoming federal lands for oil and gas development. 

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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