Gov. Mark Gordon. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

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.

“[W]e already have half of our destiny tied up with whatever the federal government decides we want to do.”

Gov. mark Gordon

“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.

No involvement?

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.”

Anglers float near the Lusby public access ramp on the North Platte River June 20, 2022. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

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.

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. The purchase of the Marton Ranch is a great asset for Wyoming recreation, tourism and for public land access and recreation on the North Platte River. Gov Gordon has a case of sour grapes and none of his arguments ring true. There was plenty of public notice and comment opportunities. This was a sale between a willing seller and willing buyer with plenty of public notice. The county will get more income from the sale and the tourism dollars. A win win. When will Governor Gordon champion the public interest?

  2. This attitude is classic Western States GOP Realtor strategy. Privatize all the federal land, with a few cronies making the profits. Another example of how such toxic ethnocentric outlooks are ruining the West.

  3. In a way I think too many Wyoming residence are busy enjoying access to public land to pay much attention to this land purchase. I imagine Gov. Gordon and his cronies are all in vapors about the issue but most Wyoming residents are not.

  4. It is amazing that a guy who attempted to negotiate the purchase of all the checkerboard lands south of I80 from Occidental Energy by the State of WY finds issue with a private party, Marton Ranch, selling their land to BLM. He didn’t seem to have any issue with DOI purchasing 1280 acres WY State lands with Teton park for 9.6 million. He was the State Treasurer at the time. The argument that the purchase hurts WY economy is difficult to believe since the taxes on that land would bring approximately $11,800 to the counties where the State will receive just shy of $60,000 in PILT funds annually for the same lands now. You would think an accountant could do that math easy enough…

  5. Still no answer to question, “When did the Wyoming legislature approve this sale?” as required by Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the US Constitution.

    1. Marti, the Wyoming GOP platform says: “The pursuit by an individual to rightfully acquire, keep and enjoy his own property is foundational. Every individual has the right to develop his own potential, to use and enjoy his own property, tangible or intellectual, and pursue his own interests, free from the restrictions of arbitrary force.” I’m sure you would agree that this includes the right to sell private property “free from restrictions of arbitrary force.”

  6. I have always been a Gordon supporter. However, after his opposition to this land sale and more public access. And the Governor’s Wildlife Taskforce stacked with a majority of members that are Professional Guides and Outfitters (or closely or formerly affiliated). He has lost my support and those of many other Wyoming sportsmen, outdoorsmen, and public users of public lands. Mr. Gordon seems to be more worried about the favor and opinion of WSGA (Stockgrowers) and WOGA (Guides and Outfitters) than of the vast majority of Wyoming citizens. Less than 1% of Wyoming’s population (the powerful and connected) make land and conservation decisions and policy for rest of our state’s residents. I thought that Mark was better than that, but actions speak louder than words. Very disappointing.

    1. Fully agree, however he still manages to seem more sane when put up against everyone running against him…

  7. Angus’s article said the NEPA analysis stopped at the rivers edge. This brings up an interesting situation concerning who owns the river bottom?? Possibly, the private land owner on the west side of the river owns the bottom out to the thread ( basically the middle of the river ) and the Federal government owns the river bottom out to the thread on the east side of the river. This would imply that different laws would apply depending on which side of the river you’re on. I believe Wyoming law allows fishermen to float through private property but not stand on the river bottom owned by the adjacent private land owner. However, if the Federal government owns the land on the east side of the river, fishermen could stand on the bottom there. I’m not totally confident about my interpretation of the river bottom issue and would appreciate other comments on the matter. This situation would be similar to a river which is the boundary between two states which have different water and fishing laws or even the St. Lawrence between Canada and the US.

  8. Fine. Put the horses on there from the checkerboard of land they were removed from and let landowners buy the landlocked areas the public are locked out from.

  9. Gordon’s notion the Federal government should divest of other holdings in the State is laughable. Right up there with his desire to sue states for choosing to invest in renewables vs buying Wyoming’s coal. That this notion is supported by Lummis and Barrasso only highlights its absurdity. I applaud the Feds for this purchase and appreciate the increased access to the North Platte. So much better than seeing the Marton Ranch split into privately held ranchettes.

  10. It is sad to say but the state would not manage such a land for the benefit of the public. They would end up selling it to some rich ombré and the people would lose out altogether. I would much rather federal land remain so and.not allow states to manage them. These federal lands belong to all Americans and states should not be in charge of them. If states had control of federal lands they would be sold for drilling, mining, or development of some sort. I like my public lands, let’s keep them in public hands. As for the feds breaking the law with this purchase, it can be Gordon’s opinion if he wishes. It does not make it so!

    1. You’re right, and that’s exactly what happened here. The Marton ranch house was built on state land. I wonder if it happened because Mr. Marton was a prominent legislator in the Wyoming.

  11. The article state’s that: “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.” As the article goes on to point out: “This project went through National Environmental Policy Act review and was available to the public on the BLM’s ePlanning website.” So, what governor Gordon was really saying was that some wealthy, likely out-of-state, wanna-be rancher wasn’t able to buy the land for his private playground instead.

    Governor Gordon then says that “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.”

    Instead, how about looking for ways to enforce the Unlawful Inclosures Act to provide for access to these public lands that private landowners currently lock the public out of. Private landowners are guaranteed access over public lands to their lands (often times at public taxpayers’ expense, i.e., county roads) so why isn’t the reciprocal true? Those are the real questions.

  12. If the governor wants the feds to seek state approval before acquiring private property or the feds to divest equal acreage, that could create an impediment to a private seller while the the seller waits for approval or divestiture. That would be highly unfair to the private seller and contrary to Republican principles that promote private property rights. Is anyone else, except me, getting tired of this B.S. from the GOP???

  13. After observing, and I’m sure he has, the cross-corner controversy in Wyoming, he feels the state should have less public and more private land? It could be that there are some hopelessly landlocked Federal parcels, but I don’t see why the BLM should be obligated to relinquish them. Wyoming should be proud of their high percentage of public holdings, and tout that, as should any of the western states.

  14. I get sick of the this old “feds do evil to us” dialogue. This access for sportsmen and women is special. On one hand Wyoming wants tourist and recreation. On the other hand they bad mouth those opportunities.
    Access has become more of a problem along many of our waterways and hunting lands as lands are bought up by trophy ranchers. Is that the private ownership that we want?

    1. Amen. I feel the same Barbara. Gordon is a silver spoon rancher and blocks access to state and federal lands with his own ranches in Johnson County.

  15. Wow, Governor Milque Toast, must be election season,. otherwise, where did your recent tough guy act come into place? I’d recommend to Mr. Gordon that if he has a problem with this real estate transaction, to personally call up the Marton Family and admonish them for the gall of putting their property up for sale in the free market. Maybe all real estate (including residential homes) with both the seller and buyers first being OK’d by Gordon before being put on the open market.

    1. Always local control and property rights as the rule until it is beneficial to talk about the big bad feds or to tell the little gals what they can do with their reproductive rights. Thank goodness for the Feds or we would have no national parks or public lands. The reason Wyoming is financially hurting has much more to do with Cheyenne than DC.