Gov. Mark Gordon will challenge the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s recent purchase of the Marton Ranch spanning 35,670 acres in Natrona and Carbon counties, claiming the agency showed a “cavalier disregard” for soliciting input from the state, local governments and the public. 

The federal agency also failed to adequately consider potential negative tax revenue ramifications of transferring the private property into federal hands, he said.

“This [appeal] is not about limiting access for sportspeople or challenging the rights of private property owners,” Gordon stated in a press release. “It is about whether the federal government can increase its land holdings without public scrutiny, or should it adhere to the same transparent process that private landowners are subject to if they sought to purchase or exchange federal land.”

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

At the governor’s direction, Wyoming Deputy Attorney General James Kaste filed a notice of appeal June 16 to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. A Gordon spokesperson told WyoFile he couldn’t answer whether the governor seeks to ultimately block the sale or see it modified based on more local input and economic analysis.

“We will not know for certain the relief we are requesting until the Statement of Reasons is filed,” Gordon’s Communications Director Michael Pearlman said. 

The state has 30 days from June 17 to detail its request to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. 

Some conservation groups have called foul, claiming Gordon’s allegations of inadequate process are in “bad faith.” The governor’s notice to appeal is more in opposition to the federal government increasing its land holdings in Wyoming for fear of prioritizing conservation and public access over other interests, according to the Center for Western Priorities.

“Gov. Gordon should be celebrating a sale that is a win for hunters, anglers, wildlife and the Marton family, not trying to stop it,” CWP Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in a prepared statement. “Families shouldn’t have to go begging government land boards for permission to protect their land for future generations. But that’s exactly what Gov. Gordon is trying to force here.”

Wyoming BLM Director Andrew Archuleta declined to comment on Gordon’s notice of appeal.

Marton Ranch sale

The BLM’s acquisition of the Marton Ranch followed years of negotiations spearheaded by The Conservation Fund and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, according to the BLM. The Marton family’s voluntary sale — for $21 million paid for by the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund — was announced June 2 and touted as a critical gain for land and wildlife conservation and public access for hunting and fishing.

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

The purchase of 35,670 private acres — the largest federal land acquisition in recent Wyoming history — provides public access to another 40,000 acres of existing public lands previously inaccessible. All told, the complex of the Marton Ranch, other BLM land and Wyoming School Trust property creates a 118-square-mile block of about 75,000 acres that is now open to public access. It includes an 8.8-mile stretch of the North Platte River downstream of Alcova Reservoir considered Blue Ribbon trout fishery.

Federal ownership

Elected officials in Wyoming, from its congressional delegation to county commissioners, are wary of the federal government increasing its land holdings in the state — for both its land management policies and tax revenue implications. The federal government owns and manages 48% of the land in Wyoming, including national forests, national parks, BLM lands and underlying minerals.

“The governor is not supportive of the federal government expanding their estate in Wyoming,” Pearlman told WyoFile.

The Marton Ranch, co-mingled with BLM and state land sections, spans a 118-mile square block in Natrona and Carbon counties. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Although there will be a loss of private property taxes, proponents of the Marton Ranch sale claim that payments from the federal “Payment In Lieu of Taxes” program, as well as a boost in revenue from increased recreation and tourism, will make up for and exceed any local tax revenue losses resulting from the sale.

The Natrona County assessor’s records show that 2021 agricultural taxes — excluding residential property — on about 33,324 acres of Marton Ranch property amounted to about $10,300. The federal PILT to Natrona County amounts to more than $3.8 million a year, The Conservation Fund’s Wyoming State Director Dan Schlager said.

“Concern over taxes seems to be overblown at best,” CWP Deputy Director Aaron Weiss told WyoFile. Regarding Gordon’s concerns for a lack of local government and public input on the sale, Weiss said: “It’s not like this was happening in secret.”

The BLM should have solicited comments from the governor’s office, Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and local governments regarding its pending acquisition, according to Gordon.

“None of these entities were notified of the proposed land acquisition until the transfer had occurred,” Pearlman said.

Dustin Bleizeffer

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 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Sorry to see and hear that Wyomingites have such a LIMP governor. It’s looks pretty pathetic from here. Republicans living in the dark! Doesn’t anyone have access to Real news? It’s not 1950 anymore.

  2. So how about a specific example of how much the PILT payment will be on this property? Exactly how much less is it? Neither side will mention it in anything I’ve read. I agree that we should be celebrating this as a win instead of appealing and questioning it. Shame on Governor Gordon for his appeal and shame on Lummis, Cheney and Barrasso for their letter to the BLM.

  3. MY WIFE AND I VOTED FOR GOV. GORDON. WE ARE ELDERLY WYOMING REPUB,ICANS. WE SHALL DEFEND WYOMING AS DID OUR LATE RELETIVE GOV. ARTHER CRANE.
    WE CONTACTED GOV. GORDON DUE TO SERIOUS PROBLEMS IN OUR COUNTIES. GOV. GORDON SAID HE COULD NOT SUPPORT WYOMING INDIVIDUALS? HE SAID, HIRE A LAWYER. WE DID IT COST US $10,000 DOLLARS.

  4. The state of Wyoming repeatedly buys ranches without public meetings. Now they want to stop the BLM from doing the same. This purchase opens 70,000 acres to public use.

    1. Laura: I think Governor Mark Gordon’s main concern is with the BLM circumventing the NEPA laws and not performing an thorough analysis including an Environmental Impact Statement. Federal NEPA law requires the agencies to do so for any major project or action. In addition, if a state is partner to the action; that is, the state receives Federal funding for an action, then the state should follow NEPA.

      When a state takes an action independently without Federal funding, the level of review is with the legislature approving funding for the action. Therefore, the public review is in the legislative chamber not a NEPA review required for Federal actions.
      A curious situation arises with Game and Fish though, they do not receive funds from the legislature – instead, they are self funded by sales of hunting and fishing licenses. So when Game and Fish buys a property I think the public level of review is the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission open public meetings where the public can comment. In addition, Game and Fish can conduct public meetings in several towns and cities in Wyoming to get additional public comments if the level of interest is high. Again, NEPA does not require Game and Fish to produce an EIS for their independent actions if they do not receive Federal funding.
      In summary, Wyoming agencies normally do not have to follow NEPA whereas the Federal agencies making an important action such as a property action – do have to follow NEPA. I hope I got this right because it can be confusing.

  5. The acquisition of the Marton Ranch will eliminate decades of conflict between fishermen and private landowners over land and river access. It costs the state nothing and will open up state land to recreation as well. I don’t know who Mark Gordon is trying to please; the state should be cooperating in management instead of fighting this deal.

  6. I had no idea that an additional 35000 acres of public land (that’s our land folks), to hunt, fish, graze, mine, hug bunnies, mountain bike, etc. on would be such an onerous burden and viewed as an act of “government aggression” (previous commentor) robbing our leaders of tax revenue for the citizens of Wyoming. And increasing public access to an additional 40000 acres of existing public land. Oh, the humanity! I would be willing to bet that the fishing business revenue alone in one summer weekend would negate the loss of ag tax revenue for the entire year, though it would be the private sectors money and not there for the politicians to allocate. I don’t agree with the BLM on all management, but that’s the way it is with multiple user groups having a say in what goes on out there. Kinda like being made to share things when you were a kid. It wasn’t all fun! I like Governor Gordon, but someone must have threatened to withhold some rather large campaign contributions, and I’ll bet it wasn’t us little guy public land users.

  7. I like Gov. Gordon but he is way out in right field on this one. Whatever happened to the willing buyer/willing seller philosophy? If this land were being sold to a private person who had no intention of letting the public have access to the 8 miles of blue ribbon water on the North Platte, Gordon wouldn’t say a thing. As others have said, “who is being hurt here?” I can tell you a whole lot are being helped, and this is a huge economic benefit for Natrona County. This is stupid thinking that only puts off outdoors folks like myself. Folks that had planned to vote for him.

  8. I think the key concern here is that the government owns 48% of the land in Wyoming. That leaves too much of the decisions on the State in the hands of the government. Regardless of the income one way or the other the government owns to much land. The people of the USA should have the right to own their dream home in Wyoming. The government is likely to get too aggressive in their pursuit of power over the people. “This land is our land” means for the people not the government. I believe this government aggression should be stopped.

    1. “This land is our land” makes more sense in the hands of the federal government (as public property) than it does as private land.

  9. I suspect that real estate sales people are objecting to this sale: There are many, many affluent out-of-staters who’d love to get their hands on a mile or so of Platte River frontage in a zero income tax state. Collectively, these people would happily pay far more just for the water front land than the BLM is paying for the entire ranch.

    So there are lots of lucrative sales commissions at stake here, for people (real estate agents) who make big political contributions to the GOP.

    Small wonder Gordon objects.

  10. Maybe the state should buy it and manage it for outdoor recreation.
    I like Mark Gordon but this reaction is over the top bad.

  11. It’s simply not credible that *nobody* from State of Wyoming government knew a thing about this transaction until it had been committed between BLM and the seller. Anyone that is familiar with BLM knows this agency moves at glacial pace, so no way this just dropped out of the sky unannounced / unaware. No way! If *somebody / anybody* at State was aware of what was going on (guaranteed, somebody knew), why the appeal only now!?

    I’ve got some bones to pick with BLM (as an adjacent landowner & grazing permit holder near Lander), but in my opinion this appeal is a political loser for
    Mark Gordon from the beginning and is nothing more than political primping & grandstanding. Sucking up to the GOP good ole’ boy godfathers in Wyoming comes at a cost, it appears….and there is a grand total of ZERO official press releases on this transaction from Wyoming’s three Congressional representatives as of this morning, Thursday June 23. Talk about no air support for the Governor!!!

    To echo another comment…”who is being harmed by this transaction”?

  12. The Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. is better organized to manage the Blue Ribbon stretch of North Platte River. After all, who has the hatcheries in Wyoming, expert fish biologists in every regional office, game wardens, boat inspections for invasive species, and lab services?? This critical stretch of river needs to be in public ownership but Wyoming can do a better job of managing. Maybe the whole deal needs to be restructured with more input from the State and Counties. During the public review of Federal land management plans three alternatives are normally evaluated including the ” Preferred Alternative “. It seems in this situation the other alternatives were not evaluated; and therefore, an alternative wherein Wyoming would own and manage the Blue Ribbon stretch of the North Platte was never considered. I suspect the court will order the BLM to do a thorough management plan with public input. Both the Biden and Trump administrations have been ruled against in the courts when they tried to implement projects without thorough review. This could work out for the better when all is said and done especially if people are willing to compromise and accept the logical conclusion that Wyoming is better organized to manage the river.

    1. State Lands could propose a land swap with BLM that consolidates State ownership along the North Platte, to be managed by WYGF as you suggest.

      The history of land exchanges between State Lands & BLM is a tortured one with little success (last 20 years or so; maybe it’s different before that)…a lot of talk with little action, and both sides share the blame, in my opinion (I’ve been a private party participant in some of those attempts). Hard to do in the best of circumstances, nearly impossible in my opinion in the hyper political environment we live in now.

    2. Unlike Wyoming, the BLM has the cash to buy the place and should do so. That does not prevent the Wyoming Fish and Game from helping to manage it – assuming they’re really the best qualified.

      1. Mike: I live in Thermopolis where the Big Horn River is intensively managed by G&f very successfully. We have about 12 public access points with concrete boat ramps and miles of 100 foot wide hunting and fishing easements along the river. we have a local game warden and support from the fish biologists from the Cody regional office. G&F also has skilled real estate professionals that acquire the land and/or easements needed to access the river – not an easy thing to do but public access must be assured. The river is stocked yearly and flushed one or two times a year to clean the gravel for spawning. Their efforts have created a Blue Ribbon fishery of our own in Hot Springs County.

        The Sand Creek at Beulah, Wyoming has also been improved for public access to include on the north side of the Interstate 90. A lot of land transactions were necessary to pull together public access for Sand Creek. It is a small trout stream rather than a river and one of the few in NE Wyoming.

        If I interpret the land map correctly, the BLM purchase would only acquire land on the east side of the river probably to the middle of the river or thread of the North Platte. If I’m right, Game and Fish would have jurisdiction over half of the river and BLM the other half. The BLM could share the costs of stocking the river with Wyoming but how about fishing licenses. Would a angler need both a G&F license and a BLM license?? For awhile, the BLM was requiring boaters to buy a BLM sticker to float the Big Horn River but I believe that may have changed. I can foresee a scenario where anglers would need both if the acquisition stands as it originally came down. Lots of side considerations with this acquisition – that’s why I favor Wyoming owning and managing the highly important Blue Ribbon stretch of the North Platte.

        1. Lee: Your concerns may have some validity. But Gordon is repeatedly quoted in this article and elsewhere as simply being opposed to Federal land acquisition for ANY reason. I see no reason to believe that fisheries management plays any part in his decision. He’s just playing to a political base that hates the Federal Government, for reasons they can scarcly explain.

    3. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe the Blue Ribbon fishery on the North Platte was developed by cooperation between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Wyoming Game and Fish. Outdoor recreation is a huge part of the attraction of living or visiting Wyoming and a major part of the State’s economy. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth as they say.

    1. I guarantee this law suit is going to cost way more than the $10,300 the state is worried about losing in taxes. If this deal was done under the tRump administration Gordon would be praising it.

  13. Mr. Gordon. Who exactly, is harmed by this transaction? The economic benefits to Natrona County and Wyoming that will result from increased recreational activities on these lands will far exceed the lost property tax revenue. Likely, grazing and agricultural activity will continue on this land. If there is mineral resources to be developed, it won’t be prohibited. Opening up public access for recreation on this parcel will benefit all Wyoming citizens. Again, where is the harm? If you are really worried about lost property tax revenue because of federal land management. And are unsatisfied with the P.I.L.T. payments from the feds, then here is an idea. Propose that any landowner that has exclusive use of a parcel of federal land and does not allow public access to these lands, should have to pay the property tax on the federal parcel that they have exclusive use of. That will solve the lost tax revenue issue. It’s interesting that “transparency” is an issue with this land transaction, but mum was the word when the State of Wyoming was looking at acquiring the private checkerboard lands in SW Wyoming a few years ago. These anti-public lands sentiments by Wyoming politicians are outdated and misguided. Wyoming’s economy benefits far more from public lands than it is hampered. Federal public lands benefit the vast majority of Wyomingites. So who are you representing?