Public Comments Pouring in to Bureau of Land Management on Marton Ranch Purchase
Agency receives remarks from over 100 citizens during first week of comment period
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Apr 29, 2023
Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials have received over 100 citizen comments to date about the potential impacts of its purchase of Marton Ranch last year. The 21-day comment period on the preliminary environmental assessment and supplemental analysis will last until May 12. (Courtesy image from BLM)
By K.L. McQuaid
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials have received over 100 citizen comments to date – an unusually high number – on the potential impacts of its purchase of the massive Marton Ranch last year.
The remarks received during the first week of a public comment period followed BLM’s April 21 release of a supplemental analysis of its June 2022 acquisition of the 35,670-acre ranch, which is located roughly 25 miles southwest of Casper.
Along with the supplemental analysis, BLM is required to seek public comments. The 21-day Marton Ranch comment period will last until May 12.
Gov. Mark Gordon last week urged citizens to comment on the analysis, calling “meaningful public input” a “critical step” in any federal land purchase.
“I encourage interested members of the public to take advantage of this time to be involved,” the governor said in a statement.
Dozens of residents have so far heeded the call, providing comments through a BLM website, emails and telephone calls, said Tyson Finnicum, a BLM spokesman. Letters may also be sent to the agency through U.S. mail.
“We’ve had a pretty good number of comments come in so far,” Finnicum added. “More than usual for this kind of assessment.”
A preliminary environmental assessment completed by BLM found that the $21 million Marton Ranch purchase – the largest acquisition of private lands by a public entity in Wyoming history – would not have a “significant” impact on tax revenue collection or local fisheries.
Roughly $10,000 in annual property tax revenue would be lost to the federal purchase, a miniscule fraction of the monies collected in the two counties that would be impacted, the assessment stated. Stress to fisheries along the North Platte River could be managed and “mitigated,” the agency’s report noted.
At the time of ranch’s purchase by the private Conservation Foundation, which transferred ownership to BLM, agency officials described the acquisition as a “strategic effort” to expand access to the North Platte River.
The purchase also could create a combined 75,000-acre swath of public land that, in turn, could boost tourism and conservation efforts alike.
But in the wake of the acquisition, Gordon’s office protested and filed an appeal with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Gordon questioned the sale’s lack of transparency and claimed the BLM had failed to properly adhere to policies, because the agency hadn’t sought required input from the governor’s office, Wyoming Game & Fish Department or the Wyoming Office of State Lands & Investments.
BLM also failed to notify the governor’s office in advance of the close of the purchase as required by law. BLM officials at the time said the lack of notification was an oversight. In its land acquisitions, Wyoming is required to offer a 60-day public comment period and every purchase must go through two votes by the State Board of Land Commissioners.
“Embracing multiple use principles, which in this case includes increased public access, on public lands has many benefits to the public and to Wyoming,” Gordon said in a statement last week. “That is why I did not oppose this project but opposed the process used.”
The Interior Department’s Interior Board of Land Appeals agreed, and in October of last year directed BLM to “set aside” its purchase – though the decision did not nullify the acquisition.
As part of a settlement between the agency and the state, BLM agreed to provide additional opportunity for state and public comment and supplement its environmental assessment of the transaction.
Gordon said in a statement last week that he appreciated BLM’s cooperation and communication pertaining to the Marton Ranch deal.
But criticism of the way the transaction was conducted persists among some ranchers.
“In this case, BLM just closed the deal,” said Mark Eisele, owner of the 25,000-acre King Ranch outside Cheyenne and president-elect of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a Colorado-based trade group with over 25,000 members.
“There was no consultation with the affected counties or the state. That’s why we were so alarmed over it,” Eisele said. “For them to pull this off without public comment was unacceptable, and the governor was entirely within his authority to request an injunction. We were terribly concerned about how this was initially handled.”
BLM’s Finnicum said following the public comment period the agency will begin working on a future land use plan for the ranch, a process that could take as long as a year.
Citizens will once again have the opportunity to comment during the land-use planning process, he added.
“We’re expecting to receive lots of comments about future management and what the property will look like going forward,” Finnicum said.
Comments may be made through May 12 on the BLM’s website; via email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or sent to the BLM Casper field office at 2987 Prospector Dr., Casper, WY 82604, to the attention of Mike Robinson.