A request to transfer ownership and management of a drug smuggler’s former ranch to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to make it easier to undertake habitat improvement work was denied Tuesday.
“No benefit is gained by putting it in Game and Fish possession,” said Pat Crank of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission during the group’s Tuesday meeting.
The Beartooth Ranch Advisory Committee, established by the Park County Commission, had requested the transfer. According to Len Fortunato, the committee’s chairman, shifting ownership of the Beartooth Ranch to Wyoming Game and Fish would make it easier for conservation groups to proceed with projects to benefit wildlife.
“The people of Park County want to make it more usable,” Fortunato told the commission.
The work could include fencing, irrigating, treating noxious weeds and establishing crops for elk, deer and upland game birds. About $87,000 has already been spent on improvements to the property with much of the funding raised by conservation groups.
The ranch is an unusual property. Since 1999 it has been owned by the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments. The agency acquired the property from the federal government after it was confiscated following drug smuggler Allen Bost’s arrest. He had bought the 657-acre ranch as a hideout after fleeing Florida.
When the feds gave Wyoming the property, it came with a memorandum of understanding that the land could only be used “for recreational or historic purposes or for the preservation of natural conditions.” The land also contains a 36-acre Wyoming Game and Fish easement that allows access to the adjoining Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River.
John Kennedy, deputy director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told the commission that the agency opposed the transfer. He noted that permanent public access to the land already exists, the habitat is conserved forever, the department already has cooperated to improve the site and that the agency has higher priorities.
“The current level of involvement … is what we prefer,” he said.
The lone commissioner to support the transfer was David Rael of Cody. He said it didn’t make sense for the department to acquire other properties at considerable expense while not taking ownership of the free land in Park County.
“Why wouldn’t we take this if there’s not a huge maintenance cost?” he asked. “To me it’s a no-brainer.”
Crank countered that the Beartooth Ranch Committee could undertake any of its work through the Office of State Lands and Investments.
He described the land as a “postage stamp place in the middle of nowhere.” Fortunato disagreed, saying a habitat management plan is necessary to advance, which is something Wyoming Game and Fish could provide.
Commission Chairman Peter Dube said his main concern was that the Beartooth Ranch Committee would be “lording over” anything Wyoming Game and Fish tried to do on the property.
“We may not always be on the same page,” Dube said.
Crank said the Beartooth Ranch Committee could always come back to the commission in the future to try and change the group’s mind.