After clashing with Gov. Mark Gordon on a private land acquisition it touted as a major win for conservation and public access, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has re-upped its analysis of the purchase, including soliciting formal public input after the fact.
The BLM bought the private 35,670-acre Marton Ranch south of Casper in 2022. Federal ownership of the property gives the public access to 8.8 miles of Blue Ribbon trout fishing along the North Platte River just downstream of Alcova Reservoir, as well as an estimated 40,000 acres of previously inaccessible public inholdings scattered within the ranch, according to the BLM.
Gordon’s objections to the sale last year prompted the BLM to revise its socioeconomic and environmental review by issuing a supplemental analysis, kicking off a public comment period that will end May 12.
Gordon described the BLM’s move as a win for the public and for state agencies which, he claims, were ignored in the initial deal last year. He added that his objections were not against the land transaction itself, but the BLM’s failure to follow the federal process.
“Meaningful public input and environmental analysis are critical steps in any federal land acquisition process, and this public comment period is necessary to fulfill the agreement between the BLM and the state of Wyoming,” Gordon said in a prepared statement.
The state, at Gordon’s direction, filed an administrative appeal in June 2022 alleging a “cavalier disregard for public notice and participation.” He also suggested the BLM should divest an equal amount of federal land in Wyoming if the sale moves forward.
Why it matters
The Marton Ranch purchase was the largest federal land acquisition in recent Wyoming history. The $21 million deal was spearheaded by The Conservation Fund and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The money came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Many Wyoming officials are leery of federal land expansions — particularly in a state where about half the surface is already under federal ownership and management. The BLM has not responded to Gordon’s call to divest federal holdings in the state equal to the proposed Marton Ranch acquisition.
Federal ownership of the Marton Ranch could result in additional expenses for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and other state agencies to manage public access and impacts, Gordon said in his 2022 objection.
Gordon, along with Wyoming’s congressional delegation, also expressed concern that federal ownership would result in less tax revenue to Natrona and Carbon counties.
The property, when it was privately held, was taxed as agricultural land. As federal property it is no longer subject to state and county property taxes, resulting in a revenue loss of about $10,000 annually ($7,000 to Natrona County and $3,000 to Carbon County), according to BLM estimates. The federal “Payment in Lieu of Taxes” program is intended to make up for such property tax losses due to federal land ownership, but Natrona and Carbon counties both already receive the maximum allowable PILT payments based on population, according to the BLM’s analysis.
That annual loss in local revenue amounts to just 0.001% of total property taxes levied in Natrona County in 2022, the BLM wrote, adding that the loss “is not a significant impact to local revenues.”
Revenue from increased recreation activity will likely more than make up for the loss, the BLM asserted. However, it didn’t provide an estimated value to that economic gain.
While the terms of the sale, which was finalized last year, won’t change, the revised analysis and public input will inform the BLM on future management strategies of the property.
“In the near future we plan to undertake a land use planning process that will include extensive public and cooperating agency involvement,” Wyoming BLM Public Affairs Specialist Tyson Finnicum said.
You can visit the Wyoming BLM’s Marton Ranch environmental assessment webpage to review the proposal and submit a comment.
Correction: This story was corrected to clarify that the ranch sale has already been completed. – Ed.