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Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – State and Medicine Bow National Forest officials unveiled a plan Thursday to consolidate all state land within the forest’s Snowy Range and Sierra Madre portions.

The plan involving 32,000 acres – 16,000 acres each of state and federal holdings – was presented to the state Board of Land Commissioners, which took the proposal under advisement.

State officials want to get rid of several isolated islands of state land within the forest by trading them for two larger tracts, one in the Snowy Range portion and the other in the Sierra Madre portion, that would be more accessible and easier to manage.

Forest Service officials, in turn, want to lessen their workload when it comes to ensuring access to state land, as the agency is required to do by law. Building roads to state inholdings requires detailed environmental studies and the process sometimes gets bogged down in court.

The proposed state tract in the Snowy Range portion would lie within the northern boundary of the forest about 15 miles southwest of Arlington. The other tract, about 20 miles northeast of Baggs, would lie just inside the western edge of the Sierra Madre portion.

The tracts would abut the edge of the forest and would therefore be accessible across state and U.S. Bureau of Land Management land as well through the national forest, according to Scott Armentrout, district ranger for the forest’s the Brush Creek/Hayden Ranger District.

Of the current state inholdings, Armentrout said, some have several roads going to them, but others can be reached only by trail or by air.

“Some of them are very small pieces, and it requires a tremendous amount of work for the state to manage those, as well as for the forest to deal with it in terms of surveying, road access and different regulations between state and federal agencies,” he said.

The plan would not affect the other two portions of Medicine Bow National Forest: the Pole Mountain area between Laramie and Cheyenne and the area around Laramie Peak, south of Douglas.

The history of state land in Wyoming dates to statehood in 1890, when the federal government established the state sections to help the state raise money for public education. The sections being considered for trade predate Medicine Bow National Forest, which was founded in 1902.

According to the state constitution, the Board of Land Commissioners, which is made up of the five statewide elected officials, is obligated to manage state land in a way that most benefits public education.

One board decision in recent years was to log a state section on the Colorado line in Medicine Bow National Forest’s Sierra Madre area.

The Forest Service had to grant the state permission to use roads in the section, but before that could happen a lawsuit was filed by the Laramie conservation group Biodiversity Associates.

The lawsuit claimed that the Forest Service did not do a sufficiently thorough environmental review of roads in the area. A judge upheld the Forest Service last year and logging is scheduled to begin this spring, according to State Forester Tom Ostermann.

Jeff Kessler, conservation director for Biodiversity Associates, said it is too soon to tell whether the swap would benefit the forest from his point of view.

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“The way the state of Wyoming treats its forested state sections, we have to assume that the state, if they acquire these large tracts, will basically log them to oblivion, and will fail to take into account fair value for wildlife, and for people seeking a backcountry experience,” Kessler said.

“That said, we do think the idea of blocking up ownership is a good idea. We need to look at the specific parcels to see where we would come down on this particular swap.”

Ostermann said that besides reducing the need for road construction to state land, the proposed swap would save state and forest officials’ time by reducing the need for surveying and property line maintenance.

Also, “It will actually open up more of this land to the public, in terms of state land,” he said.

Some issues remain to be resolved. They include deciding the fate of national forest campsites that would become state land, since camping and open fires are not allowed on state land.

Public meetings on the proposed swap are planned for March 24 through April 1 in Baggs, Encampment, Medicine Bow, Rawlins, Laramie and Saratoga.

Medicine Bow National Forest officials meanwhile plan to start an internal feasibility study of the swap, a process that is expected to take a year. Ostermann predicted that it would be at least two or three years before the swap is approved.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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