CHEYENNE -- Gov. Matt Mead wants to get a better handle on the amount of private lands state agencies are buying by requiring them to receive approval from the state Board of Land Commissioners.
A bill to be sponsored by the Joint Interim Committee on Agriculture, Public Lands and Water Resources in next year's legislative session requires the state agencies to get the "advise and consent" of the state board before acquiring more land.
The bill also restricts the amount of private lands agencies can acquire to no more than 10,000 acres beyond what they controlled in 1999. If they exceed the threshold, they must sell off state land before purchasing more.
The state Board of Land Commissioners, which Mead heads, is already limited to a 10,000-acre cap by policy, but not by law.
The other members of the state board are Secretary of State Max Maxfield, Auditor Cynthia Cloud, Treasurer Mark Gordon and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.
It had been generally understood that the agencies received board permission before purchasing private land.
"There's a general perception that happens, but it doesn't," Ryan Lance, the outgoing director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, said.
Jim Magagna is the executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. He was director of the Office of State Lands and Investments in late 1990s. At that time, the agency put in its budget a footnote limiting trust land acquisitions to a net gain of no more than 10,000 acres over the total amount held in 1999.
The footnote expired with the two-year budget.
"All these years, most people, legislators and everybody, thought that was the law," Magagna said. "And the state land office, I give them a lot of credit, has lived by this."
Legislators wanted the cap because the land purchased by the state goes off the county tax rolls.
Although there was some talk in recent years that the Wyoming Military Department might acquire more private land at Camp Guernsey, no particular deal prompted the new bill, he said.
"The agencies will still determine what they need, but giving the elected officials oversight puts it in one place and also assures a little more accountability because they are elected officials," Magagna said.
A similar bill was introduced in the Legislature last winter. It passed the Senate 28-2 but died in the House without any floor debate.
At the time of statehood, Wyoming received 4.2 million acres of trust lands. The state currently owns 3.5 million acres of surface land and 3.9 million acres of mineral trust land, Lance said.
The Legislature inserted the board's 10,000-acre cap in a budget footnote in 2005 when it authorized $4 million for land purchases. The footnote expired in 2006.
The $4 million went into a separate trust fund for land purchases, along with an initial appropriation from the common school fund and another revenue source for a total of $39.2 million.
The special land trust fund was the source of the $5.9 million purchase price for the 6,439-acre Duncan Ranch in Converse County and the $11 million cost to buy the Moriah Ranch in northern Albany County, plus three other lesser payments.
Proceeds from state land sales go into the fund. The land trust fund now totals $20.9 million.