ICOW members hold meeting in Casper

Terry Henderson
Rep. Art Washut urged voters to make personal contact with their legislators so when the session convenes, legislators already have a connection to the person contacting them.
Photo courtesy ICOw

Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming met at the Ramada Plaza Nov. 8-9 to learn some new techniques to help them sustain their ranching operations. The first speaker, Justin Benfit from Wyoming Game and Fish department, explained to the group how the agency has worked hard in the direction of developing partnerships with landowners.

The second speaker, Angus McIntosh, presented several laws (and subsequent cases) that explained “public lands.” They have not been fully listed here, but are available upon request. The story begins in the early days of the United States with the vast amounts of land west of the Appalachian Mountains, which were claimed by several states and Indian tribes. When they finally gave up their claims, the result of Article 4, Section 3, Clause 12 of the Constitution said: Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the Territory and other property belonging to the United States. That Territory mentioned is referred to most commonly as “public lands.” Next, property rights were created from “public land” by the John Locke principle of mixing labor, time and effort with natural resources. This Lockean principle runs through all the “public land” laws of the United States.

After the Act of March 3, 1853, a settler, by “right of occupation and cultivation” (Lockean principle) was able to acquire legal title from the United States. Congress conveyed land by two documents: a land patent or a government survey map. As the United States doubled in size in land mass, it wanted to encourage settlement while retaining mineral rights. The policy was to grant 160-320 acres of agricultural land for “right of occupation and cultivation” on that mineral land. Congress disposed of “public lands” by a classification system to railroads, states and settlers. By “public land” it has long been settled to mean “such land as is open to sale … under general laws. All lands to which any claims or rights of others have attached does not fall within the designation of ‘public lands’“ (Bardon v. N.P.R.R, 1892). As of today, there is very little, if any remaining “public land” in the lower 48 that has not had someone mix labor, time and effort with natural resources, creating a property right, technically leaving no “public land” in the United States.

Going back, however, between 1853 and 1891, Congress adopted a split-estate land disposal policy that changed the definition of public land. From 1910-1920, it enacted several remedial statutes to incorporate this policy into law. In the arid, mineral region West of the 100th Meridian, Congress granted split-estate property to settlers. These statutes granted and confirmed surface occupancy rights, water rights, easements, grazing rights, improvement rights, mineral rights, and timber use rights among others. Several cases from Curtin v Benson, 1911 to Watt v Western Nuclear, 1983 affirmed this. Once the appropriation or improvement was made, or an approved survey map was returned (if required), the property right was perfected and could not be taken by later executive branch action. (Several cases from Altherton v Fowler, 1877 to Ickes v Fox, 1937). The Act of March 3, 1890 “validated” all “occupancy” on land West of the 100th Meridian.

The “grazing fees” paid today is not for a rent or lease of said land. It was established that 25% goes to state/county in lieu of taxes (PILT) for roads and schools, 25% is an administrative charge for survey/services, and 50% is a voluntary, refundable contribution for the construction of range improvements. Ranchers are allotment owners, not renters.

FLPMA protected all of the “land use rights” previously granted by acts of Congress such as brand, water rights, grazing, fences, as under the Laws and Ordinances of the State of Deseret, which included Wyoming. By 1885, all Western states and territories had enacted similar range and water laws. And that’s where we stand today.


Jolene Brown was warmly received at the ICOW annual meeting held in Casper, Wyo. Brown walks the walk and talks the talk to farmers and ranchers because she is one of them. Brown wittily poked fun at many rancher’s sacrosanct ideas of generational ranching, while providing tools on how to fix complex, seemingly hopeless situations. She explained how acceptance into the family is unconditional, while acceptance into the family business just because you are blood related, is not. By answering several questions such as “is this a Family-First Business or a Business-First Family?” or “Do the existing owners really want the integrity of the business to continue?” ranch families can look at the fundamental roles, paths, and possible future outcomes of their family operations. Surprisingly, in-laws play a much more essential role in generational ranching, than other family members may willingly acknowledge. Every role was examined from initial generation to the latest generation. Conflict resolution, business meetings, code of conduct and prerequisites for ownership in a family business were just some of the topics covered that create mistakes that break up the family business. Brown asked everyone to read the following: OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE. Upon reflection, a person realizes there are several ways to read and interpret that. How you decide to accept it, is how your outcome will be shaped.


Two Natrona County representatives provided some useful tools to ICOW members at the Nov. 8-9 meeting in Casper. Rep. Art Washut urged voters to make personal contact with their legislators so when the session convenes, legislators already have a connection to the person contacting them. He noted sometimes legislators are shoulder to shoulder on a bill, but the next day they might be toe to toe, depending on the current bill. Wyoming legislators are often swamped by out-of-state emails, so the best way to get your email read is to include your name, county where you live, and the bill # you are referring to. If your bill of interest is going to be presented shortly, the email could get read prior to them having to filter through the rest of their list. If your particular bill is not up immediately, it will give them time to research it a little more before the legislative reading. Rep. Chuck Gray explained the basics (as much as possible, in a short amount of time) of the state budget bill. He showed how the “balance” is achieved through various accounts. He informed the group of the process they go through in reading and passing the budget. Both Rep. Washut and Rep Gray are eager to support agriculture and are open to learning the areas they are not familiar with in order to make the best possible decisions when it comes time to vote. ❖