After buying the Marton Ranch under President Joe Biden’s 30×30 conservation initiative, the federal government should divest itself of some Wyoming holdings, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.
In calling for some divestment, Gordon joined the state’s congressional delegation that seeks similar action in the wake of the 35,670-acre purchase made earlier this summer. U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney asked Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to “neutralize” the federal purchase of private property by “identifying equivalent disposal opportunities elsewhere in the State.”
In an interview in which he explained alleged legal shortcomings of the purchase and the state’s appeal of the transaction to the Department of the Interior, Gordon said a reduction of the federal footprint is “what I’d like to see.”
The BLM has several “inholdings” that are basically landlocked by private property and therefore marked for potential disposal, Gordon said. “To whatever degree we can help that process along so we end up with a no-net-gain of federal lands … that’s a good thing.”
Wyoming’s administrative appeal of the purchase does not call for the transaction to be undone. Rather, it seeks a remand to the BLM so the agency can “adequately consider the mandatory statutory criteria,” and “engage State agencies, local governments, and the public, as required,” the appeal states.
The conservation purchase continues an effort to protect the North Platte River, a prized fishery that’s considered one of the best trout streams in the state. The purchase, which will provide new access to the river while protecting almost 8.8 miles of stream bank from development, was the eighth on the waterway, the agency said in an email.
All previous purchases “received strong support from state elected officials,” the BLM said.
From fiscal year 2003 to fiscal 2018 the BLM preserved more than 4.9 miles of riverfront, spending $9.3 million to acquire 1,551 private acres, the agency said. That doesn’t include the Marton Ranch, which cost $21 million.
“This [Marton] project went through National Environmental Policy Act review and was available to the public on the BLM’s ePlanning website,” the BLM wrote.
“Elected officials were briefed about this large acquisition (without divulging the willing seller’s name) nearly a year ago,” the email said. “[A] local commissioner and the Governor’s office were briefed in May.”
The BLM will manage the Marton Ranch, its largest-ever purchase in Wyoming, as it does other lands in the area south of Casper. It will continue to allow grazing and mineral exploration but public access will increase for hunting, fishing and other activities.
Gordon’s administrative appeal claims the BLM violated federal environmental and planning laws, in part by not involving state and local governments and the public.
“There was no consulting-agency process with Game and Fish,” Gordon told WyoFile. There wasn’t any contact with the Office of State Lands and Investments, which was “taken by surprise,” he said.
Regarding consultation with Natrona County’s Board of Commissioners, “there was really none there, either,” Gordon said.
It’s “wrongheaded” for the federal government to think it can “put [the Marton Ranch] in the federal estate without public scrutiny,” the governor said.
Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars used to buy the ranch — in a cooperative effort with The Conservation Fund and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — “were meant to be subject to the guiding laws of the Federal Land Management Policy Act,” Gordon said. That act “requires that these funds not just be whimsically used for whatever the bureaucrats think they should be used for,” Gordon said.
Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative, which promotes the voluntary conservation of 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030, put some of those spending controls “in question,” Gordon said. The conservation aspect of the America the Beautiful initiative is known as 30×30.
In the Marton case, the federal funds “were used by the Bureau of Land Management in an opaque way for a personal agenda,” Gordon charged; “To effect 30×30 without public comment.”
No federal increase
Limiting the federal government’s holdings in Wyoming is a good thing “because we already have half of our destiny tied up with whatever the federal government decides we want to do,” Gordon said. Federal ownership of some 48% of the state has “compromised our economy,” and troubled the state through other related issues, he said.
Further, the BLM’s preservation and conservation goals could have been more surgically accomplished with state involvement, Gordon said, particularly with regard to North Platte fisheries. The governor’s appeal states that the BLM “violated the National Environmental Policy Act when its environmental analysis stopped at the water’s edge.”
In the river itself, wildlife managers are troubled with the increasing pressure put on trout, an increase in catch-and-release injuries and an aging population of fish.
Increased access could exacerbate worries to the point the Wyoming Game and Fish Department might impose new restrictions or closures. That will make Wyoming the bad cop, Gordon suggested.
“We’re now stuck, much like we are with the Endangered Species Act and the grizzly bears, we’re now stuck with being the face of what the federal government is forcing us to do,” Gordon said.
Wyoming’s statement of reasons filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals on July 15 said the agency had used a more open process in past acquisitions in other states. It criticizes the BLM for secrecy; “It prepared the Decision clandestinely,” the appeal states.
More river access could increase the danger of aquatic invasive species infecting the waterway, the appeal states. The BLM wrote a “three-sentence cumulative impact analysis” without citing any data to support it, the appeal states. Finally, the BLM did not consider five of the seven criteria it is required to account for when spending Land and Water conservation money, the appeal states.