This map shows the Marton Ranch. The family did not sell the portion in red. (BLM)

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will take a second look at its conservation purchase of the 35,670-acre Marton Ranch on the North Platte River south of Casper, agreeing with Wyoming that it should solicit public and local-government comments.

The federal appeals board on Oct. 21 ordered the BLM to “set aside” its May 2022 decision to buy the property and better address Wyoming’s complaints. Wyoming argued in a 42-page statement that the BLM violated the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The BLM didn’t consider indirect impacts to the North Platte fishery and was arbitrary in assessing cumulative impacts, Wyoming’s statement of reasons said. Finally, the federal agency didn’t involve state and local governments in its decision and didn’t seek public comment.

Gov. Mark Gordon hailed a settlement with the BLM that led to the order, calling it “very gratifying.

“My concern has always been that the process was not followed,” Gordon said in a statement.

What they said

“I am pleased they have agreed to complete a public comment period, [to] do further environmental analysis and consult with state agencies,” Gordon’s statement reads. “This also offers an opportunity for additional discussions about the process, should the BLM pursue other acquisitions.”

Gordon has said that the federal government should divest itself of other holdings in Wyoming to compensate for its purchase. The land acquired by the BLM, a conservation purchase designed to preserve open space, agricultural grazing and wildlife, bucked Wyoming’s resistance to more federal ownership in a state where the American public owns some 48% of the property through federal agencies like the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.

The BLM filed a motion with the Interior Board of Land Appeals asking the panel to set aside its prior decision and return the issue to the federal agency for public comment. With that, the BLM can “supplement its environmental analysis to better address issues raised by [Wyoming] in the Statement of Reasons,” the BLM motion stated.

Why it matters

Although critics of the purchase initially feared Wyoming might lose tax revenues, worries shifted to other issues, including trout fisheries on the blue-ribbon reach of the North Platte, aquatic invasive species and government transparency.

In its appeal, Wyoming stopped short of asking that the BLM surrender its new property. But the secretive nature of the purchase stung Gordon’s sensibilities.

“The [land-buy] Decision does not explain why [the BLM] did not provide an opportunity for public comment,” the appeal states. “Instead, the Bureau conducted an ‘internal’ scoping process and simply created a webpage for the project that did not adequately describe the proposed acquisition or invite public participation.”

The BLM completed the willing-buyer-willing-seller purchase in June in a partnership with The Conservation Fund, an independent nonprofit. The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, financed by offshore oil and gas revenue, was the key revenue source.

All told, the $21-million purchase will preserve 8.8 miles of shoreline along the North Platte, preventing subdivisions and other development. But new public access could bring other problems and impacts to the land and river that Wyoming would have to address, Gordon has said.

In addition to Gordon, Wyoming’s federal delegation objected to the purchase in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Conservationists, however, lauded the federal move and criticized calls for state approval of such actions as roadblocks to landowners exercising private property rights to sell their property without interference.

The ranch had been on the market for some time before the BLM acquired it. Neither Gordon nor the BLM appear to have announced how or when public comment or other developments will proceed.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. If public lands are mismanaged it’s not the federal employees fault, it’s because Congress refuses to fund proper management. Some prior administrations prefer fed land managers do a poor job so they can say “look government cant do anything right”. This is a well know fact.

  2. I’m torn on this issue. I believe that the benefits from this transaction far out weigh any poor process decisions. However, both the BLM and US Forest Service do an extremely poor job of managing the public lands that they are responsible to administer. It’s often a case of benign neglect due to government inefficiency and poor policy. Without active and effective management from the BLM, this important section of the river will probably be abused and degraded from it’s current state. The Governor needs to get a strong commitment from the BLM to effectively manage this area or cede management responsibility to the Wyoming Game and Fish.

  3. Public land is a treasure owned not by the far off “feds”, but every U.S. citizen. As population grows with time these lands become ever more valuable for all sorts of uses! Think back to the opposition to buying land for Teton National Park in the 1950’s. I doubt even anti-gov hard cores could make a case that making those lands public was not a great move for all involved. If proper protocols were not followed, quickly comply and add this to the great public land that makes Wyoming such a wonderful place to live. Dan White, Cody Wy

  4. APPEALS COURT DECISION AFFIRMS GOVERNOR GORDON WAS RIGHT – HERE’S WHY: Anytime a Federal agency makes a “MAJOR ACTION” NEPA requires the Federal agency to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement – a process which involves open public participation including the public at large, advocacy groups, State government, County government and local government including conservation districts and irrigation district. The appeals court ruling found that the BLM did not follow NEPA and made an arbitrary and capricious decision. As a result, most of the groups I mentioned above were denied the right to participate in the decision making process; that is, they did not have a seat at the table.
    The NEPA process contains a provision during the earliest stages to employ a “SCOPING PROCESS” which is limited to governmental agencies during which the basic format and considerations are outlined. The State of Wyoming, County government, Conservation Districts can participate during the scoping phase. The BLM denied state and local government their right to have input at the very earliest stage of generating an EIS.
    40CFR 1502.21 requires an analysis quoted as “REASONABLY SIGNIFICANT ADVERSE IMPACT ON THE HUMAN ENVIRONMENT” that the agency must include in the EIS. In this matter, the analysis would most likely determine there is no adverse impact, and in fact, the major action would have a positive impact on the human environment – this can only be ascertained by going through the EIS process which requires public participation.
    EXAMPLE: A Federal court ruled the Corp of Engineers had not prepared a complete EIS when evaluating the impact of the Dakota Access Pipeline where it crosses the Missouri River. The pipeline was already built and operating at the time of the ruling and it was allowed to continue operating. However, the Corp had to go back and redo the EIS and address the river crossing in more detail.
    Again, the Appeals Court supported the Governor’s claim that NEPA was not followed and many organizations and the public were denied opportunity to participate.

    1. TO ALL ADVOCACY GROUPS: I think the courts ruling means you will now an opportunity to participate in the decision making process and advance the causes you hold so dear. Your members should be energized by your organization finally having a say – this could work in your favor and generate needed results. Lee

  5. Infringement on private property rights. Sale would be a huge plus for Wyoming outdoorsmen. There is already plenty of “public” land that has access blocked.
    One has to wonder what lobby/lobbyist is in Gordon’s ear.

  6. The rule of law – including regulations requiring public involvement and consultation with other government entities as part of a public land acquisition – must be observed. It’s not always a convenient part of a negotiation to purchase property. This remand is about applying the checks and balances that support good government.

  7. OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS: It sounds like Wyoming will be given an opportunity to negotiate with the BLM on how to management this property. There are a few important items everyone needs to consider.
    1.) Public access can only be provide with public roads and this could mean County roads and/or new or existing BLM roads. This hasn’t been discussed in open public forum but its time to explore the matter – its super important.
    2.) I assume Wyoming Game and Fish will continue to manage the fishery on the river regardless of who owns the adjacent land – this alone means Wyoming has a big dog in the fight – a very important negotiating concern’
    3.) After the access roads are established the actual boat launching ramps and/or public access points to the river will need to be identified. So, who is better equipped to build and maintain boat ramps. Here in Hot Springs County Game and Fish has done a superb job building and maintaining boat ramps and acquiring the easements to access them. Is BLMs record and resources equal to or better than Game and Fishes?? Remember, Game and Fishes funds for boat ramps comes from licenses sales which is a steady source of income budgeted
    by the Game and Fish Commission.
    4.) Public access is best guaranteed by blocking up BLM land so it isn’t chopped up and divided like the checker board lands that are causing so many problems. This whole matter needs to be examined in detail to determine if the net result is a large block of BLM land accessible to the public by public roads – BLM or County. In order to achieve this goal the State and BLM need to be willing to “land swap” such that the end result makes management of the land easier in the future and benefits public access.
    6.) The Governor’s concerns take into account the above important
    considerations; and that, the State was denied a seat at the table negotiating how to best structure the future management in a manner which best suits the publics needs – especially for access via roads and blocking up land.
    Therefore, lets look at this matter as an opportunity to guarantee future generations access and trouble free roads. Lee

    1. Continued: The County(s) need to have a seat at the table during negotiations especially if they will be asked to extend county road(s) into the area using county funds and committing to maintaining the roads indefinitely into the future – not an expense to be taken lightly.

      1. Continued: The BLM has an excellent record generating “travel plans” on BLM administered surface. Therefore, we need to discuss in open public forum whether or not the BLM districts will be generating a travel plan on the newly acquired acreage. I assume they will – this is important because doing so would give the public and the County commissioners an opportunity to comment on their opinions on road access considerations. We need to know these details and not make judgement based on emotions when it comes to public access.

  8. I hunt I fish and was thrilled when the BLM provided the additional opportunity to both. So much of the private premium property is turning into rural subdivisions or private hunting and fishing preserves destroying what is left of deer winter habitat. I hope that the BLM prevails as should any one who appreciates the great outdoors

  9. Great to hear that Gordon is concerned about the impacts on fishery! Baloney! This would protect the area from far worse impacts due to development but of course Gordon & other Republicans could care less about that.

  10. There are a number of good points in the comments about the benefits to the people of Wyoming. What I seem to be seeing is the “I can do what I want with my property” folks suddenly fighting a willing seller/willing buyer transaction. So, is the Governor proposing that the state should interject itself into the sale of all private property? Sounds like state government overreach to me.

  11. It seems that the governor is making this political in a very harmful way. The public would benefit from this purchase. Is he trying to be the hero of the anti-federal government movement? If so, too bad. Shoot off your left foot to benefit the right. Pun intended.

  12. This purchase appears to have been made for a specific reason, to guarantee public access to one of the best Blue Ribbon trout streams in America. If this was just some random waste of federal dollars on land with no outstanding wildlife or public access values Governor Gordon might have a point. But in this particular case, it’s hard to imagine a purchase that would have more positive impact on pubic recreation and local economic benefit than this one. Anglers spend hundreds of dollars per day to fish a river like this section of the North Platte. That’s dollars spent on motels, food, and gas, right in Natrona County. I’d love to see the Governor try to tell the folks of Casper they don’t need the economic benefit. I think Gordon has done a good job for Wyoming, but in this case he’s way off base.

  13. Remember-the BLM doesnt “own” the land. All of the American people own this land. Our western public lands are one of the greatest things about this country, and Mark Gordon would like to take these away from us.

  14. I find it amazing that a deal that appears to help the recreation industry including fishing and hunting access is bad for Wyoming residents. It appears that tax revenue will increase significantly. Only a few right leaning powerful people seem to be opposed to this land acquisition. Where are the people who support the general public’s interests in this matter rather than extreme anti government attitudes? Would our representatives rather have another mega rich individual purchase it who pays little in taxes and contributes nothing to Wyoming?

  15. Hmm, public access vs. more subdivisions and the horrid “Impact” of more public access? Really Gov. Gordon? If Mark is so concerned about this transaction, maybe he should of bought the Marton Ranch himself. Heck, it’s been on the market for over 15 years…If I sell my house, is the Governor going to protest that, too?