Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

By Gregory Hasman
Gillette News Record Via Wyoming News Exchange 

State investigating trash, livestock loss on state leased property


November 12, 2020

GILLETTE – All John McClelland wants to do is complete his daily ranching chores, but he recently had to deal with unexpected losses of livestock as well as clean up a growing amount of trash on land he uses.

In early October, McClelland found one of his cows lying dead near a target practice shooting site on a parcel of state trust land he leases northwest of Gillette.

“There’s another loss,” McClelland said, adding that two cows and a calf of his were shot a year ago on the same section of land.

On Oct. 6, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of the dead 4- or 5-year-old cow that was found on the west side of Highway 59 in a public shooting area a couple of miles southwest of Burnt Hollow.

In his report, Deputy Eric Coxbill said he did not find a bullet wound in the cow, which was lying on its belly.

It had a belly full of grass, so “it sure didn’t die of starvation,” McClelland said.

“To have a 4- to 5-year-old cow just tip over and die is kind of uncharacteristic,” he said, adding that the death was especially disappointing because there are other problems now plaguing the cattle industry.

If it was shot, even by accident, someone destroyed valuable livestock, said Cole Lambert, field supervisor for the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments.

“It’s an unfortunate situation because the only one that is hurt is the producer,” he said.

The value of the cow was listed at $1200 in the Sheriff’s Office report, but McClelland believes it is worth more than that.

“It’s not just a $1200 cow, you lost all the future generations of calves you would have gotten out of that cow,” he said.

No further action was taken by the Sheriff’s Office, but that is not the end of McClelland’s issues with the parcel of state land.

Aside from three cows and a calf mysteriously dying in the last year, a haul of trash has been dumped on some of the state land McClelland leases.

“I picked up over 200 antenna dishes,” he said, adding that he sometimes picks up three or four at a time.

Coxbill notes in his report that there were “many bottles and cans which had been used for target practice shooting” littering the area where the dead cow was found.

The trash and the deaths of some of McClelland’s livestock have at times affected his ability to do his daily work.

“I can’t do jobs that I need to do,” he said, adding he spends valuable ranching time responding to what others do on the land.

The state has gotten involved and is reviewing what’s happening on the public land.

“The trash is what brought us here,” Lambert said, adding that the situation with McClelland’s livestock also is a concern.

Public lands group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers recently put up signs by the parcel reminding people that dumping is illegal, but the signs were quickly shot up.

“This parcel has turned into an open shooting range with nobody monitoring the situation other than the lessee, which is not his responsibility,” Lambert said.

The Office of State Lands and Investments is required by law to manage state trust lands to produce income to support public schools and other institutions. Trust lands are leased for a wide variety of surface and sub-surface purposes and return revenues to the designated state beneficiaries in the form of rentals, royalties and fees, according to its website.

The state is looking at how best to mitigate the situation as much as possible, Lambert said.

“We’re saying, ‘Hey guys, we need the public to monitor this and police themselves, otherwise other things will start happening and we can’t control it,’” he said.

In 1988, the Board of Land Commissioners adopted its Chapter 13 rules to allow the public to hunt, fish and do general recreation on state trust lands. But what is not legal are activities that would damage the lands, roads, improvements or lessees’ property.

One of the possible actions that could be taken by the state as a result of the littering is prohibiting target shooting on that piece of land altogether.

“Right now, we have not gotten to the point of a full restriction. [But] we’re near that point,” Lambert said. “We don’t like going down this road.

“We don’t take these restrictions lightly. We try to come up with alternatives. Sometimes we have, sometimes we haven’t, unfortunately.”

The use of state lands is encouraged and “it’s a granted privilege and we want people to enjoy them,” he said, adding that in this situation, there are some people who are not being responsible.

Lambert noted that even if restrictions were to be implemented, they likely would only impact target shooting. Others, like hunters and hikers, would still be able to continue to use the land.

Once a review is complete, recommendations will be put on a future Board of Land Commissioners meeting agenda, which is expected to be sometime in 2021. If the board gives the go-ahead for any changes, the decision will go online and the public will have 30 days to comment on it. After that, any proposed action would go back to the board to consider again.

“It’s not a short process,” Lambert said.


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