A view of the Marton Ranch along the North Platte River. (BLM)

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.

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

“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.

Brush envelopes a fence at the Marton Ranch, as seen from the Bolten Creek public access road June 20, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

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.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Pretty sure that Natrona and Carbon Counties can scrape by without that 1OK lost from already ag zoned and taxed property. The sportsmen/sportswomen increased use of this gem of public land will generate much more revenue. If the Governor is truly worried about the extra burden for WYO Game & Fish, negotiate a user fee that the BLM gives or shares with Game & Fish.

  2. So……if I want to sell my house & acreage, I need to run it by Gov. Gordon? Stay out of my business, Mr. Gordon!

  3. Looking at the map, this will open up a lot of land to public use. Seems to me that conservatives have always touted the notion that people should be able to dispose of their property as they see fit. I guess that applies to everyone except those who wish to sell to the federal government.

  4. I represent the US Government and I’m here to “help” …… SCARY !! So what inside “buddy/buddy” part of this deal are we not being told ??
    RMEF would normally have uncovered anything disingenuous but have they even been asked for input other than their money ?

    1. do you think RMEF just hands a blank check over? They are the party that brokered the deal.

    2. Mr. Price. Apparently you do not fish the North Platte or read how precious this stretch of river is? The Marton’s could probably have sold it to someone like Eshelman who would only let the extremely wealthy fish it.

      1. I grew up hunting and fishing this part of the Marton Ranch. We’d help them sheer sheep in order to gain access. Although the property sits close to the highway, other private property blocks that easy access. This requires a long way around. The roads can get tricky in the wet mud. Often we would turn around to not damage the road, because it would make it difficult for the rancher to feed sheep and cattle. I’m all in favor of this transaction but access is still limited unless on boat. Some of the best trout fishing and waterfowl hunting I’ve ever had. Fly fishing outfitters have had access to water way forever and seeing more than 30 plus drift boats in a days is common. This property has been for sale for quite some time. Glad the opportunity is more open to the public. Hope that public can help preserve and help the fisheries and landscapes.

  5. This purchase opens up a huge expanse of existing (landlocked) BLM land to use by the public for hunting and fishing. Last I checked, there are a lot of hunters and fishermen in Wyoming who are not rich and who need more access to public land. This purchase is a huge win for all of the public.

    1. I would like to inform everyone that after the Louisiana purchase, all lands west of the original 13 states was owned by the Govt. If you look at each chain of title to the Land Grant.
      Every uneven numbered section of land is serving to the even numbered land. The term canals and ditches was so no one could block the rail roads .

      Also please Google expansion of the west act.

      Even all BLM employees are required to study their acquisition Manuel. But they don’t! They can’t even understand what sevient means and that the federal government always reserved it right of access. Google blmglo

      Sincerely? Agent Anthony Dominguez

      See Anlex V Brubaker Mann Inc

      California case

  6. Congratulations to Wyoming BLM and the Martons. If the land is managed properly under federal ownership, this is a win-win land sale for everyone and we need many more like it throughout the West to help to achieve the national goal of protecting 30% of US land by 2030 to address climate change. Along those same lines, a bill was introduced in 2022 in the US House of Representatives called the Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement Act. This bill has huge potential to voluntarily reconstruct livestock grazing plans on public lands to benefit climate change goals and wildlife and land conservation. Everybody should get behind this bill and fight to bring it back to the House floor for a vote in 2023.

  7. This is nothing more than creating another playground for the wealthy at the expense
    of the poorly tax payer. The rich are in control and the common man is their puppet.

  8. The federal government should not be allowed to buy any more land unless it sells a corresponding number of acres to private landowners somewhere else in the state in which the transaction takes place, either as a single transaction or series of transactions. The propensity for both State and Federal government to purchase additional private lands in western states in the name of “public access” is an egregious abuse of taxpayer money and outside of the role of government.

    1. I see no mention of any additional control by Federal agencies, did I miss that ? My “assumption” was that the STATE was to take over controls of any types ?
      This is a WIN/WIN for public !!! NO PRIVATE OWNERSHIP ALLOWED !!!

    2. So you prefer the Walton billionaires, the Eshelman Land Barons or other oligarchs to own the land instead of you and me?

      1. It’s fairly obvious that he prefers that these lands become playgrounds for the billionaire class. The corner-crossing lawsuit makes their desires clear. The locked-in BLM lands within the Morton ranch are mostly inaccessible to anyone other than the ranch owner, even with corner-crossing, so bringing the entire parcel under BLM ownership is a win.

        There are also parcels within the ranch (according to the map) which are “local government” ownership. I assume these are Institutional Trust Lands ceded to the state upon statehood. When Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was established, the state of Utah traded Trust Lands within GSENM for BLM and USFS lands elsewhere, of equal assessed value. If Wyoming wants to do the same, they should make such a proposal to the BLM.

    3. If it is outside the role of government to purchase land then perhaps we should give this land back to France and get our money back from the Louisiana Purchase which was also a purchase of land by the federal government.

    4. When grazers paying $1.87 an AUM to use and abuse federal public land like it’s their own get the notion that they should purchase the federal lands, they change their minds when they are expected to pay the property appraisal and other surveys. Typically, they would pay more in taxes on the land than what they are paying annually for the grazing lease. They graze it, hunt on it, outfit on it, treat it like it’s their personal toilet and then claim it’s not worth anything because it not productive.

  9. I encourage everyone to submit comments in favor of BLM acquiring this property. Just as importantly, I encourage people to object to the idea that a private seller should have to seek public comment before he/she can sell his/her property. As for the federal government divesting of an equal amount of property if this transaction proceeds, that is a total nonstarter. I am sick and tired of the anti-federal land sentiment among some of our politicians. Federal lands are the reason I moved here 40 years ago. They are the reason I stay here. It sure is heck isn’t because of the enlightened politics. Earl DeGroot, administrator of Wyoming Sportsmen for Federal Lands Facebook page.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I grew up in the West, and continue to live here. The very best part of the western US is the abundance of public lands, and the opportunities for both recreation and solitude thereby afforded.

    2. It is imperative that we have a strong positive approval from the general public. This is fantastic and I can’t thank the Martons enough for doing this. Public access is becoming more and more important with these millionaires and interlopers buying up our land and claiming the air space too.

  10. is wyoming turning into disney land ?
    just an outdoor playground for visitors to traverse the countryside & then head
    back to the concrete jungle.
    this is not in the best interest of the state.

    1. as opposed to what? None of us being able to enjoy anything, since you want it all to be privately owned Mr. Eshelman?