State approves Tower land swap

By Sarah Pridgeon

The State Board of Land Commissioners has approved an exchange of land near Devils Tower – on one condition. New owners Bear Lodge Cattle Company must formally preserve that land for the future.

The exchange sees the company acquire 80 acres of state land just south of the national monument, at the junction of Hwys 110 and 24. In return, the state receives 100 acres of land in the Moskee area, surrounded largely by Black Hills National Forest and adjacent to another parcel of state land to its east.

The exchange was initiated by Ogden Driskill’s Bear Lodge Cattle Company in 2011 and approved for analysis in 2013. The parcel now in the company’s hands has historically been used for grazing and has limited recreational usage, according to the analysis, as well as a hunting and discharge of firearms restriction that was put in place in 1987.

The board received several comments opposing the exchange. The four written comments cited objections including a lack of benefit to the community and dated, inaccurate information in the application.

“The state should hold out for a better deal. If Wyoming has oceanfront property, this is it, as the land in front of a national monument will only appreciate over time,” said commenter Dave Hardesty of Campbell County.

Driskill, however, has made it known that his intention is to protect the land for the future. He stated during discussion of the exchange that the area in question will never be developed, pledging to keep the Devils Tower view shed intact in perpetuity.

His reasoning for initiating the deal, he said, was that the state cannot protect the view shed in the same way that a private owner could as they have an obligation to make money for the state’s schools, so would have to consider a development proposition if it was brought to them.

The director’s recommendation was to approve the exchange. The board followed this recommendation last week, adding the condition that Bear Lodge Cattle Company must place a conservation easement west of the highways within four years.

(Jeff Moberg photo)