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BLM’s largest land purchase in Wyoming under fire by state and congressional delegation

CHEYENNE, WY – The state of is asking a federal panel to block a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) purchase of Marton Ranch land in Carbon and Natrona counties.

On Friday afternoon, the office of Gov. Mark Gordon announced the legal move, calling the BLM’s action “a massive acquisition of land.”

BLM called this its largest land purchase in Wyoming, “creating a 118-square-mile contiguous block of public land and improving public access to the North Platte River.” The Conservation Fund helped purchase the land and transfer it to the BLM.

In a June 2 announcement, BLM announced it was buying 35,670 acres of private land southwest of Casper, the agency said this will open up access to 40,000 acres of previously inaccessible public land – an issue that is prevalent in Wyoming. A report from the hunting app, onX, indicated the state has more than 4.19 million acres of public land that is landlocked by private land.

The Marton property “is bordered to the north by 8.8 miles of North Platte River frontage and extends south into Carbon County,” the federal government said, adding that the purchase “will connect formerly inaccessible BLM and State lands and ensure the continued conservation of important wildlife habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse, raptors, and big game species.”

The notice of appeal was filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Hearing and Appeals Board of Land Appeals. On its website, OHA describes itself as “an impartial forum for parties who are affected by the decisions of the Department’s bureaus and offices to obtain independent review.”

One of the main points of contention for the state of Wyoming is a lack of public input and notice of the land buy.

“The state has concerns that BLM did not involve the public in the acquisition process and that the environmental assessment did not adequately consider impacts on tax revenues, school funding, grazing, mineral development and other natural resources” of the transaction, according to a news release announcing the state’s opposition.

For land deals like this, the state said it needs to have a 60-day comment period and two public votes of the State Board of Land Commissioners. The land board counts Gordon as a member, along with several other elected officials.

Gordon’s office said he emphasizes that the new legal challenge “is focused on the adequacy and proper adherence to the process that occurred. He supports the expansion of public access for hunters and anglers, as well as opportunities for recreation. He also recognizes the rights of private landowners to sell their land as they see fit.”

The 35,000-acre Marton Ranch, which was recently acquired by the BLM, encompasses a key piece of wildlife corridor and a premier fly-fishing location within the North Platte region outside Casper. Aerial view of the property acquired from the Marton family near Casper.  Photo BLM

“This action is not about limiting access for sportspeople or challenging the rights of private property owners rights,” the governor says in the 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.”

BLM declined to comment on the administrative complaint.

In the new filing, Wyoming claims there are state lands “intermingled within the recently acquired Marton Ranch property.”

Yet BLM did not follow the necessary administrative steps, the state alleged. “This cavalier disregard for public notice and participation violates the spirit if not the letter of the law.”

In related news, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and Rep. Liz Cheney, all R-Wyo., sent a letter to Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Haaland blasting DOI for the lack of transparency in its recent, massive acquisition of land in Natrona and Carbon Counties.

In the letter, the delegation notes how the administration didn’t involve the public, local and state officials in the process and failed to consider the impacts of lost revenue on local communities.

The delegation specifically urges DOI to neutralize the Bureau of Land Management’s expansion of the federal footprint in Wyoming by identifying equivalent disposal opportunities elsewhere in the state. They also call for the reinstatement of a previous DOI policy requiring local and state support before the federal government can acquire more land.

“However, because the federal government already owns and controls nearly half of Wyoming’s lands, we question the BLM’s need to purchase and acquire vast amounts of additional lands in our state—especially if such acquisitions are not accompanied by equivalent federal land disposals,” the delegation wrote. “Also, we are troubled that there appears to have been no coordination or communication between BLM and state and local officials prior to the purchase and acquisition, and that no notice was given prior to the June 2 announcement.”

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