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Now That BLM Owns Sprawling 37,000 Acre Marton Ranch, How Much Access Will Public Have?

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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyomingites should get their say in the spring about the future of nearly 37,000 acres of new public land on the Marton Ranch property near Casper. In the meantime, the public has had access to the area’s prized trout fishing, which runs along a stretch of the North Platte River.

The $21 million sale of the ranch property to the Bureau of Land Management was finalized in May, and the land has been open to the public since, Tyson Finnicum, the agency’s High Plains District spokesman, told Cowboy State Daily. 

However, in answer to concerns voiced by Gov. Mark Gordon’s office, the BLM will revisit its land use plan for the area, and that will include public comment, he said. It’s hoped that can happen sometime in the spring, although no exact date has been set. 

“Those public comment periods are open for at least 30 days, but can definitely be extended,” he said.

Potential Impacts For Wyoming

The governor’s office expressed concerns about how the area’s land use plan could affect tax revenue, school funding, grazing and mineral development, said Finnicum and Brad Purdy, spokesman for the BLM’s Wyoming state office. 

The Marton family still has grazing permits on the land, and cattle grazing will continue there, Purdy said. 

The BLM in the coming months will review its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the property, he said. 

That will allow time for the BLM to “address the state’s concerns, specifically to the fishery and the impacts of increased recreation,” Michael Pearlman, spokesman for Gordon’s office, told Cowboy State Daily. 

Outdoors Paradise

In addition to great fishing along the river, the Marton Ranch property offers opportunities for waterfowl and big game hunting, hiking and other activities, Finnicum said. 

There are antelope in the area, as well whitetail deer, mule deer and occasionally elk, he said. 

Public comments could help determine whether to build amenities such as public restrooms, picnic areas and camping grounds, he said. People also can voice their opinions about whether and to what extend roads and trails should be developed. Or, which existing roads should be closed. 

Motorized traffic is allowed only on already-established ranch roads, he said. Hiking and horseback riding are allowed elsewhere. 

Purdy said it’s inaccurate to say the BLM owns the property. 

“It was purchased for the public,” he said. “The BLM is simply charged with managing it on the behalf of the American people.”

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Aerial Photo Over Wyoming’s Sacred Medicine Wheel Sets Off Storm Of Controversy

in Wyoming outdoors/News/public land
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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

The legality of a recent aerial photo of Wyoming’s famed Medicine Wheel may raise a question that seems to be one ingredient in a multi-jurisdictional blender. 

Photographer Tim Doolin of Sheridan recently posted a photo on Facebook with the tagline: “The Medicine Wheel glows in early morning light in the Bighorn Mountains.”

The photo depicts the Medicine Wheel in what appears to be dawn’s light, taken from above. Doolin said he used a kite to get the shot. 

The Medicine Wheel sits atop the Big Horn Mountains between Lovell and Sheridan.

If the photo was taken with a drone, that would be illegal because the U.S. Forest Service forbids flying drones at the Medicine Wheel site, Bighorn National Forest spokeswoman Sara Evans Kirol said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. 

But regulations don’t say anything specific about the use of kites there. 

Ground-based still photography is allowed at the site, as long as no artificial sets or models are used and the photographer doesn’t enter areas closed to the public, she said. 

The photo’s obvious aerial angle set off a storm of negative Facebook comments as many accused Doolin of illegally using a drone to take the photo. He also was criticized for allegedly disrespecting the sacredness of the Medicine Wheel. 

“Yeah, not cool to fly a drone in this sacred spot no matter how awesome the angle is. (Drone pilot here…),” commented Christie Christopherson. 

Was It A Kite?

Photographer Dave Bell of Pinedale told Cowboy State Daily that he also commented on Facebook to Doolin that it was illegal to take the photo with a drone. However, Doolin told Bell that he had used a kite, not a drone, to get the shot. 

Bell said the discussion died down after that, and the comments that he and Doolin had exchanged were deleted. 

Doolin on Wednesday said that he’d used a kite. 

“I used a custom kite rig,” he said in a text message. “Winds blow strongly from the west there at the wheel regardless of the time of day.”

Doolin said he had received considerable negative and angry feedback over the photo, but declined further comment. 

Kites can be used to take aerial photographs. This website offers tips for aspiring kite photographers.

Who Has Authority? 

The issue of aerial photography also is confused by the apparent multiplicity of jurisdictions at the Medicine Wheel Site. 

The wheel is thought to be anywhere from 500 to 1,500 years old. There are some claims that it could be up to 5,000 years old. It’s regarded as sacred by Native Americans, and it could predate any of the recognized tribes in Wyoming and surrounding regions. 

Although it sits on Forest Service land, it’s also a National Historic Landmark, which adds another layer of regulation. Such landmarks are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

Historic landmarks also can fall under the jurisdiction of State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO). A SHPO in turn can enter into agreements with Native American tribes if a landmark is recognized as sacred by Native Americans, according to regulatory codes posted online by the National Park Service.

The Wyoming SHPO on its website lists the Medicine Wheel as one of its sites. SHPO officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. 

So, Was It Legal? 

The legality of Doolin’s photo could boil down jurisdiction and specific language, former Wyoming Attorney General Gay Woodhouse told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. 

If no regulations from any of the agencies involved specifically mention kites, then it probably was legal, she said. It could also hinge on whether the Forest Service has sole enforcement authority at the site. 

“If the forest rangers aren’t going to enforce it, then who is?” she said. 

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Corner Crossing Lawsuit Trial Court Date Set For Next Summer 

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By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

 The opposing sides in a “corner crossing” civil case will get their day in court – June 26, 2023. 

That’s the date set for the jury trial, starting at 9 a.m. in Casper, according to U.S. District Court documents. The trail is expected to last four days. 

The case stems from criminal trespassing charges filed against Missouri hunters Bradly Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemens and John Slowensky.

They were accused of trespassing on Iron Bar Ranch land near Elk Mountain while attempting to cross from one corner of public land onto another section of public land in September 2021.

A Carbon County jury later found them innocent of those charges.  

Iron Bar Holdings, LLC and its owner, Fred Eshelman of North Carolina, subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against the hunters, claiming they had violated the ranch’s air space when they used a ladder-like device to cross a fence from one piece of public land to another at a checker-boarded corner with ranch property.  

The outcome of the case could have broad implications for hunters, anglers, researchers and other outdoors enthusiasts.

Such checker-boarded corners between private and public land are common in Wyoming. In many areas, the only way to access vast stretches of public land is to “corner jump” from one parcel of public land to another. 

If Iron Bar’s “air space” claim holds up, that could define corner jumping as criminal trespass.

The court on Sept. 2 granted a motion by the defense noting that Cape’s first name had been misspelled as “Bradley” in previous court documents, and should be spelled correctly going forward. 

In another recent development, the defendants claimed Iron Bar and its owner and management violated the unlawful enclosures act of 1885.

That law prohibits landowners from using force, threats intimidation or other unlawful means to prevent public access to public lands adjoining their property, according to document filed on July 29 by the hunters’ attorney, Ryan Semerad.  

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Wyoming Public Land Users Watch “Corner Crossing” Case With Interest 

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Two frequent Wyoming public land users – an avid hunter and a scientific researcher – said they’ll continue to err on the side of caution as they wait for the outcome of a “corner crossing” trespass civil lawsuit against four out-of-state hunters. 

“I’m watching that case as a hunter. It (corner crossing) has always been an issue, but until a court decides it, I’m going to continue going with the laws and what the game wardens recommend,” Shawn Blajszczak of Powell told Cowboy State Daily.

A former game warden himself, Blajszczak is looking forward to this year’s archery elk hunt, in about a week. 

Wildlife researcher Gary Beauvais took a similar view, saying his team avoids corner crossings. 

“We pay a lot of attention to land ownership,” Beauvais told Cowboy State Daily. “We’re pretty conservative about that. If there is any question at all about accessing a particular piece of land, we tend to err on the side of caution, back off and not take the chance at trespassing.” 

Beauvais is the director of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database at the University of Wyoming. He and his staff frequently take to the field to document the numbers and distribution of Wyoming’s native wild animals and plants. 

The corner-crossing case in question stems from criminal trespassing charges filed against Missouri hunters Bradley Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemens and John Slowensky. They were accused of trespassing on Iron Bar Ranch land near Elk Mountain while attempting to cross from one corner of public land onto another section of public land in September 2021. A Carbon County jury later found them innocent of those charges. 

Iron Bar Holdings, LLC and its owner, Fred Eshelman of North Carolina, subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against the hunters, claiming they had violated the ranch’s air space when they used a ladder-like device to cross a fence from one piece of public land to another at a checker-boarded corner with ranch property. 

In the civil case’s latest development, the hunters’ attorney, Ryan Semerad, claims the ranch used “threats” and “intimidation” against the hunters, while unlawfully blocking access to public land, according to court documents filed on July 29. 

The civil case’s outcome could have implications for how trespassing claims are handled at corner-crossings, which are common across Wyoming at the intersections of parcels of public and private land. 

However, Blajszczak said the outcome might not go beyond “the specifics of this particular case.” 

“Most judges don’t want to overreach and change things (on the basis of a single case),” he said. 

The “air space” argument over corner crossings isn’t anything new, he said, although it’s interesting to see how it’s being applied to arguments in the Iron Bar civil lawsuit. 

Technology, such as drones and online maps from satellite data could change the dynamics of arguments over air space, Beauvais said. 

“I think that it was a lot easier to talk about air space rights about 30 years ago, when it was just fixed-wing aircraft, or airplanes, and helicopters involved,” he said, adding his department sometimes uses airplanes for research. 

Technology such as drones – some of them outfitted with night-vision cameras – and satellite imaging have changed things, Beauvais said. 

“Does a satellite up in space imaging your property for Google Earth violate your air space?” he said. “Technology has outrun the current laws, and will probably continue to do so.” 

Beauvais said access to private property is vital to his department’s research, because otherwise the data “will be skewed toward public land” and might not give a completely accurate picture of plant and wildlife distribution.  Toward that end, they will continue to rely on explicit permission from landowners, preferably written permission, Beauvais said.  

“Usually when we approach property owners and explain to them what we’re doing and the value of our research, we’ve had good luck getting access,” he said. 

Blajszczak agreed that getting permission, and knowing access rules, at corner crossings or otherwise, is vital. 

“Don’t just go off of what you see on social media,” he said. “Go talk directly to the game wardens in the area you want to hunt. They will know exactly what the rules are. And the local sheriff’s department can probably help you with that too.”     

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Hunters Claim “Intimidation” Used In Elk Mountain Corner Crossing Case

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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter  
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com  

The Iron Bar Ranch violated federal law by using “threats” and “intimidation” against four Missouri hunters in a trespassing case that could have sweeping implications for “corner crossings” between public and private land in Wyoming, according to court documents filed July 29 by the hunters’ attorney.  

The unlawful enclosures act of 1885 prohibits landowners from using force, threats intimidation or other unlawful means to prevent public access to public lands adjoining their property, according to document filed by attorney Ryan Semerad. 

The document does not detail exactly what sort of threats, intimidation or force Iron Bar allegedly used. 

 The move is a push-back against a civil lawsuit filed by the ranch against the hunters, who were accused of trespassing on ranch property in September of 2021 during a corner crossing. The hunters —  Bradley Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemens and John Slowensky – initially faced criminal trespass charges in Carbon County. A jury found them innocent of all charges in that case. 

Iron Bar Holdings, LLC and its owner, Fred Eshelman of North Carolina, subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against the hunters, claiming they had violated the ranch’s air space when they used a ladder-like device to cross a fence from one piece of public land to another at a checker-boarded corner with ranch property. 

Such checkerboard patterns of public-private land intersections are common in Wyoming. And the legal status has been murky regarding “corner jumping”, or passing between connected corners of public land while taking efforts to not set foot on private property. 

If Iron bar can demonstrate that the men still violated private “air space” while traversing the pinpoint intersection of the corners, that could mean that similar restrictions could apply at all corner crossings.

The matter is important to hunters, hikers, birdwatchers and other frequent public land users. Many public land allotments in Wyoming are essentially surrounded by private property and accessible only by corner jumping.

A ruling in Iron Bar’s favor in the civil suit could imply widespread prohibition against using corner crossings, essentially cutting off any affected land from public use. 

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BLM Land Purchase Will Cost Natrona, Carbon Counties Thousands In Lost Tax Revenue

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A $21 million purchase of private land by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management earlier this month will cost Natrona and Carbon counties thousands of dollars per year in lost tax revenue.

Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry said the 35,670 acres recently acquired southwest of Casper brought Natrona $17,800 in tax revenue this year alone.

Hendry said the tax revenue from this property goes toward pre-established tax mills to support institutions such as local schools, hospital and fire districts.

“They’re going to be hurting because of this,” Hendry said.

On June 2, the BLM announced it had purchased the Marton family ranch, located east of Alcova Reservoir and bordered to the north by 8.8 miles of North Platte River frontage. More than 93% of the land is in Natrona County.

The purchase, which is the BLM’s largest in state history, will also unlock access to 40,000 acres of existing landlocked BLM and state-owned land. 

Transparency

Hendry said he doesn’t disapprove of the sale on face value, but said he would have liked to seen a more transparent sale process and an exchange take place for an equal amount of public land to go into private hands. He said there are many unused 40-acre BLM tracts in the eastern part of the state that could be sold off for private grazing.

The BLM didn’t publicly announce the sale until it was finalized, a point Gov. Mark Gordon criticized in his formal appeal of the purchase made on June 16 to the U.S. Department of Interior, the agency that oversees the BLM. Members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation also criticized the decision in a letter blasting the BLM. 

Both Gordon and Hendry said they take no issue with the Marton family’s decision to sell their land to the government. 

“No Comment”

Tyson Finnicum, public affairs specialist for the BLM High Plains District, said a non-disclosure agreement was in place prior to the sale that he could not comment on.

“I cannot comment on the non-disclosure agreement that was in place, nor can I provide further comment on the project while the appeal process is ongoing,” he said.

The Marton family did not immediately respond to request for comment.

In recent years, nearly 70,000 acres of Marton property had been listed for sale at a price of $28 million. 

“No Input”

In the governor’s appeal, Travis Jordan, Wyoming senior assistant attorney general, said the BLM failed to seek input from local officials and the public, or analyze the economic impacts of the sale, although Hendry said he and his fellow Natrona County commissioners were informed about the sale about two weeks before it became public. 

“They kind of, sort of, followed protocol,” Hendry said. “I just didn’t like the way it was handled.”

Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, the BLM must notify a state’s governor and congressional delegation before making a land purchase with funds from the LWCF. None of these parties said they received any notification prior to the sale.

While the counties will lose property tax income from the land, the federal Payment In Lieu of Taxes program is designed to cover some of the losses by paying counties for some of the taxes they cannot collect on federal land.

Vague Promises

But Gordon, in his appeal, said the state can’t depend on any vague promises from the BLM regarding the PILT payments.

Hendry said the BLM may consider putting some of its new public land into private hands — generating some property tax income — or increasing PILT payments to Natrona County, but no promises have been made.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.

Even though counties directly receive these PILT funds, they cannot directly use the money to fund entities like schools and hospitals. Hendry said in contrast, about 76% of the annual Marton tax revenue goes directly to local schools.

Gordon also criticized a “cursory” environmental assessment made by the BLM in preparation for the sale, a study that typically takes years and involves public engagement. Information about the proposed sale was posted publicly online in February.

“This action is not about limiting access for sportspeople or challenging the rights of private property owners rights,” Gordon said in a press release about the appeal. “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.”

Gains For Sportsmen

But the gains for outdoor enthusiasts are legitimate, Hendry said, with the purchase offering an incredible access point for antelope hunting and world class fishing. 

“It’s really good frontage to the North Platte River,” he said. 

The river offers blue ribbon trout fishing, unobscured views of the Snowy Range Mountains and  abundant wildlife.

Finnicum said in an earlier Cowboy State Daily interview there are no plans to add or alter any infrastructure on the property at this time, but the BLM hopes to engage with the public to discuss possible future changes such as road upgrades and improved fishing access.

BLM staff were studying the purchase as early as September 2021 and received $21 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that year to purchase the ranch in its entirety. 

The Fund was established by Congress in 1964 as a way to apply off-shore mineral royalties to conservation, but Hendry said when it was originally established it was not intended for surface land purchases. 

“Most of the West supported it and were told it would not be used for purchasing property,” he said.

The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit, said it had been working with the Marton family for five years to find a conservation solution for the land and purchased the land initially before transferring it to the BLM. That detail is not explained in any BLM document or press release regarding the sale. TCF did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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Joining Gordon, Wyoming’s Delegation Blasts ‘Secretive’ BLM Land Deal

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation joined forces on Wednesday to pen a letter blasting the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a “secretive” land deal made to purchase thousands of acres of land in Natrona and Carbon counties.

This letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Halland comes less than a week after Gov. Mark Gordon announced that the state would be appealing the land purchase due to a lack of transparency and concern over its potential impacts.

In Wednesday’s letter, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said the BLM did not involve the public or local and state officials in the purchase process and failed to consider the impacts of lost revenue on local communities.

“We steadfastly respect private property rights, and the rights of individual landowners to sell to willing buyers. We also understand the desire to increase access to our public lands so that all Americans can enjoy them,” the delegation wrote to Haaland. “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 BLM earlier this month announced the purchase of 35,000 acres of private land spanning the two counties. The purchase was intended to provide “endless” recreational opportunities for Wyoming residents and visitors alike, a BLM spokesman previously told Cowboy State Daily, by opening access to public lands that may have been blocked in the past.

But the delegates called on Haaland to “neutralize” the expansion of the “federal footprint” by identifying other lands available for exchange, trade or purchase elsewhere in the state. They also called for the reinstatement of a previous DOI policy requiring local and state support before the federal government can acquire more land.  

The three also said they were “troubled” there appeared to have been no coordination or communication between BLM and state and local officials prior to the purchase and acquisition and no notice was given prior to the June 2 announcement of the purchase.

They argued that private landowners and local officials were the best stewards for lands within Wyoming.

“While federally-owned lands can offer opportunities such as recreation, tourism, and wildlife habitat, they can also yield costly drawbacks,” Barrasso, Lummis and Cheney wrote. “For instance, when the federal government owns land in a county, the county cannot collect property tax on that acreage and such losses need to be offset by additional federal spending…

“In addition, in spite of major recent investments, federal land management agencies continue to struggle to adequately address significant maintenance needs,” the letter continued. “Federal ownership of land has not, and never will be, equivalent to conservation. [We] would urge both the (Interior) Department and the Bureau to make decisions based upon what’s best for the land, not what might be in the Administration’s political interests.”

Last week, Gordon said while he supported the BLM’s stated goal of expanding public access of the land for hunters and anglers and the rights of private landowners to sell their property, he also had concerns about the process followed to achieve the purchase.

The nonprofit Land and Water Conservation Fund funded the purchase of the 35,670-acre Marton family ranch, which stretches through Natrona and Carbon counties, bureau spokesman Tyson Finnicum previously told Cowboy State Daily.

The private land is located about 25 miles southwest of Casper, just east of the Alcova Reservoir and stretches from the North Platte River south into Carbon County.

Finnicum said the money to purchase the land came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which gave a $21 million appropriation last year to purchase the Marton ranch in its entirety.

He added that the LWCF is largely funded by offshore oil and gas revenue.

“Money from the LWCF goes to a variety of programs to support recreation and conservation, from building city parks, to protecting historic and cultural sites, to providing public access to rivers and lakes,” Finnicum said.

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State Of Wyoming Appealing BLM’s Massive Land Purchase Near Casper

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The state of Wyoming is appealing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s purchase of a massive amount of land south of Casper in May, Gov. Mark Gordon announced on Friday.

The state is appealing to the U.S. Department of Interior the BLM’s purchase of more than 35,000 acres of land southwest of Casper

Gordon said the state was concerned that the BLM did not involve the public in the acquisition process and that an environmental assessment of the purchase did not adequately consider impacts on tax revenues, school funding, grazing, mineral development and other natural resources.

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

While Gordon said he supports the BLM’s stated goal of expanding public access of the land for hunters and anglers and the rights of private landowners to sell their property, he also has concerns about the process followed to achieve the purchase.

The BLM earlier this month announced the purchase which is intended to provide “endless” recreational opportunities for Wyoming residents and visitors alike, a bureau spokesman told Cowboy State Daily.

The nonprofit Land and Water Conservation Fund funded the purchase of the 35,670-acre Marton family ranch, which stretches through Natrona and Carbon counties, bureau spokesman Tyson Finnicum told Cowboy State Daily.

“This acquisition is part of an ongoing, strategic effort by the BLM to enhance public access to the North Platte River and surrounding areas,’ Finnicum said. “As an agency, the BLM is committed to increasing opportunities for recreation and expanding access to public lands and waters.”

The private land is located about 25 miles southwest of Casper, just east of the Alcova Reservoir and stretches from the North Platte River south into Carbon County.

With this purchase, the public will now be able to access 30,000 acres of existing BLM-managed lands and 10,000 acres of state-managed lands that were formerly inaccessible because they were intermingled with by private land, according to Finnicum.

Finnicum said the money to purchase the land came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which gave a $21 million appropriation last year to purchase the Marton ranch in its entirety.

He added that the LWCF is largely funded by offshore oil and gas revenue.

“Money from the LWCF goes to a variety of programs to support recreation and conservation, from building city parks, to protecting historic and cultural sites, to providing public access to rivers and lakes,” Finnicum said.

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BLM Purchases 35,000 Acres Of Land Southwest Of Casper

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Bureau of Land Management this week announced a purchase of more than 35,000 acres of land south of Casper, which will provide “endless” recreational opportunities for Wyoming residents and visitors alike, a bureau spokesman told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

The nonprofit Conservation Fund funded the purchase of the 35,670-acre Marton family ranch, which stretches through Natrona and Carbon counties, bureau spokesman Tyson Finnicum told Cowboy State Daily.

“This acquisition is part of an ongoing, strategic effort by the BLM to enhance public access to the North Platte River and surrounding areas,’ Finnicum said. “As an agency, the BLM is committed to increasing opportunities for recreation and expanding access to public lands and waters.”

The private land is located around 25 miles southwest of Casper, just east of the Alcova Reservoir and stretches from the North Platte River south into Carbon County.

With this purchase, the public will now be able to access 30,000 acres of existing BLM-managed lands and 10,000 acres of state-managed lands that were formerly inaccessible due to being privately owned.

Now there is a 75,000 acre contiguous block of public land, allowing outdoor recreationalists to take full advantage of Wyoming’s beauty, Finnicum said.

“Putting a 75,000-acre intact chunk of public land on the map and eight miles of additional access to the North Platte River is a huge win for the American public,” he said. “Not only for the endless recreation opportunities it provides for residents and visitors but for economic and conservation benefits as well.”

He added the land acquisition would add to the “menu” of things to do in Natrona County and provide more opportunities for the tourism and recreation industry statewide.

Plus, the land supports habitats for multiple big game species, the greater sage-grouse and eagles, so the purchase will allow BLM to continue to manage the property as a landscape, not unlike how the Marton family did previously.

Finnicum said the money to purchase the land came from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which gave a $21 million appropriation last year to purchase the Marton ranch in its entirety.

He added that the LWCF is largely funded by offshore oil and gas revenue.

“Money from the LWCF goes to a variety of programs to support recreation and conservation, from building city parks, to protecting historic and cultural sites, to providing public access to rivers and lakes,” Finnicum said.  

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Corner Crossing Lawsuit Will Stay In Federal Court, Judge Says

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The lawsuit filed against four Missouri hunters because they allegedly violated the airspace of private land in Carbon County will stay in federal court, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled against an attempt by Iron Bar Ranch to return the lawsuit to a state court, finding the claims of damages suffered by the private landowner put the lawsuit under the jurisdiction of U.S. District Court.

“Based on (Iron Bar’s) claim that it has suffered more than $50,000 in damages, (Iron Bar’s) claim that (the hunters’) corner crossing has clouded title to its lands, and … the cost to (the hunters) if the requested declaratory and injunctive relief is granted, the Court has little difficulty finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the monetary amount that will be put at issue in the course of this litigation exceeds $75,000,” Skavdahl’s order said.

The lawsuit is the last remaining legal action stemming from allegations that hunters Bradley Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yeomans and John Slowensky trespassed when they used a ladder-like device in September 2021 to move between two pieces of public property without touching neighboring private property.

The four were charged with criminal trespass in state court and a jury found them innocent of all charges.

Separately, Iron Bar filed a lawsuit against the four in state district court, seeking damages on claims the four violated Iron Bar’s airspace when they crossed from one piece of public property to another.

The hunters successfully moved the lawsuit to federal court, arguing it has to do with federal laws that prohibit private landowners from blocking access to public lands.

Iron Bar asked that the case be returned to state district court, saying it was seeking damages against the hunters based on alleged violations of Wyoming’s trespass laws, not federal laws.

Several conditions must be met to file a case in federal court, among them that the parties in the lawsuit come from different states and that damages being sought in the case exceed $75,000.

Skavdahl, quoting from Iron Bar’s lawsuit, said Iron Bar claimed the corner crossing caused it damages in an amount “exceeding the minimal jurisdictional limit of” Wyoming courts, which is $50,000.

In addition, Iron Bar asked that the hunters pay the ranch’s legal fees. 

Finally, since Iron Bar asked for a declaratory judgment in its favor and an injunction against similar activity in the future, the court has to add in what those requests would cost the hunters, Skavdahl said.

“If (Iron Bar) prevails, (the hunters) would be effectively barred from accessing the landlocked public lands on which they enjoy hunting,” his order said. “Such access to public lands has value to (the hunters), who traveled from Missouri to Wyoming to engage in recreation on public lands, and that value must be included when determining the amount in controversy for this case.”

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Public Right To Public Land At Stake In Fed Corner Crossing Lawsuit, Wyoming Hunters Say

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily.

Federal court is the only place to decide whether a private landowner can control access to public land, according to the latest legal filing in the battle over hunters accused of violating a ranch’s private airspace.

As a result, the lawsuit filed against the hunters — an ongoing action separate from the criminal trespass charges some continue to face in state court — should remain in U.S. District Court and not be returned to state courts for resolution, said the documents filed on the hunters’ behalf.

The hunters face legal action on two fronts — criminal trespass charges filed against them in circuit court in Rawlins and the lawsuit filed against them by the ranch seeking damages for their alleged trespassing.

A six-member jury on Friday found the hunters innocent of trespass charges filed in connection with a 2021 incident, when they were accused of using a ladder-like device to cross from one piece of public land to another. New trespass charges were filed against three of the hunters on April 25, accusing them of trespassing on private land to access public land them in 2020.

Meanwhile, in the separate federal court action, the hunters on Friday filed a document expressing their desire to keep the lawsuit filed against them in U.S. District Court, arguing the issue of control over public land is one that needs to be settled by a federal court.

“Lurking behind and hulking over (Iron Bar Ranch’s) state court pleadings stands a federal law behemoth: exclusive control over ‘common corners’ in checkerboarded lands shared by private lands and federally owned public lands and, as a result, the right to access public lands,” the hunters said in their response to Iron Bar Ranch’s attempts to move the lawsuit back to state district court, where it originated. 

“(Iron Bar’s) claims necessarily raise substantial, deeply disputed questions of federal law because (Iron Bar) effectively seeks ownership and exclusive control overt the federally owned public domain, a question expressly controlled by federal laws and assigned to the federal courts for resolution,” it continued.

Wyoming’s “checkerboard” land pattern creates a situation where parcels of public and private land alternate. Often, parcels of public land are diagonal from each other and share a common coroner with private lands.

The four Missouri hunters used a ladder-like device to cross from one piece of public property to another without trespassing on Iron Bar’s property, but they were accused of violating Iron Bar’s airspace.

The lawsuit filed by Iron Bar — separate from the criminal charges filed against the hunters — seeks $75,000 in damages on charges they violated the ranch’s airspace. It was originally filed in state court however, the hunters successfully argued that because the lawsuit raised issues of access to public lands, it should be heard in federal court.

Iron Bar, in a filing April 14, asked that the lawsuit be returned to state district court because the trespassing laws being debated are state laws, not federal.

But the hunters, in their April 28 filing, argued that through its lawsuit, Iron Bar is trying to control access to federal lands in violation of federal law.

“(Iron Bar) claims the exclusive right to possess, use and control the common corners in its property shares with federally owned public lands,” the filing said. “Through this case, plaintiff seeks to enforce this claimed right. Because exclusive control of the common corners is exclusive control over access to the public domain, (Iron Bar) necessarily raises the federal issue of whether private landowners may exclude the public from the public domain in this way.”

Because the final decision on the case will determine whether the public can access its own land, the lawsuit should remain in federal court, the filing said.

“The federal issues raised by (Iron Bar’s) claims are substantial because resolution of these claims here—in favor of (Iron Bar) as a private landowner or (the hunters) as members of the public— will decisively control whether the public may cross common corners shared by private and federally owned public lands to reach adjoining public lands for lawful purposes in every case, it said. 

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Corner-Crossing Isn’t Solved Yet; U.S. District Court Now Hearing Case Against Hunters

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

A jury’s decision that four hunters did not break trespassing laws when they moved from one piece of public land to another may not have an enormous impact on federal land access laws, according to several experts.

However, a lawsuit pending in federal court over the same issue could have historic implications, they said.

Last Friday, four hunters from Missouri were found not guilty by a Carbon County jury for all criminal trespassing charges filed against them for allegedly crossing into the airspace of the Iron Bar Ranch.

The four were charged with trespass even though they used a ladder-like device to move from one piece of public land to another without touching the private property.

An attorney for one of the hunters, Katye Ames, said while the verdict was a victory for her client, it meant little as far as future cases go.

The verdict doesn’t set legal precedent and won’t keep Carbon County Attorney Ashley Davis from filing trespass charges in similar cases in the future she said.

“People could still be cited for this behavior,” Ames said.

William Pendley, acting director of the Bureau of Land Management from 2019 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump, said he supported the jury’s decision.

“In this case it appears the hunters went out of their way to ensure they remained on public land,” he said. 

He added a guilty verdict from the jury might have deterred tourists from choosing Wyoming as a destination for their next hunting trip.

Ames said although she has not spoken to any of the six jurors yet, she thought it likely they found fault with the prosecution’s case. 

“They are on public land, trying to be on public land, this shouldn’t be a crime,” Ames said. “The public thinks this is ridiculous. It’s some rich guy trying to control the land.”

Iron Bar Ranch is owned by North Carolina businessman Frank Eshelman, who Forbes estimated had a net worth of at least $380 million in 2014.

Meanwhile, Karen Budd-Falen, who previously worked in the Trump Administration and has represented many property owners in private property rights disputes, opposed the jury’s decision. 

Budd-Falen said the Wyoming Game and Fish “Access Yes” program is specifically designed to grant hunters and fisherman access to private, state and landlocked public lands with the participation of private property owners. 

She also said local authorities have no right to enforce the federal laws the hunters claim they were infringed.

“They would have to go to the U.S. Attorney for that,” she said.

The three agreed however, that the question of whether corner-crossing is legal activity will likely be decided by the ongoing federal court case related to trespassing case. In that case, pending in U.S. District Court, Iron Bar has filed a lawsuit against the hunters, seeking damages for trespassing.

“It’s a big deal as far as private property rights,” said Budd-Falen said.

Budd-Falen said the future of private airspace will be influenced by the federal decision and may affect, in particular, the laws implemented regarding the flying of drones.

“I believe you own your private airspace above you until you reach a certain height,” Falen said. “That case will have an impact.”

Falen, Pendley and Ames — who is not representing the hunters in the federal case — all agreed that the civil matter still pending will hold more of a lasting legacy when it comes to this complicated issue, a matter of great importance to many Wyoming residents who hunt and recreate on public lands.

“I’m optimistic the outcome of that will be in our favor,” Ames said. “I think that will make future criminal charges void.”

Iron Bar has requested the federal case be remanded back to Carbon County, a move the defendants have opposed but Budd-Falen supports, saying the case might be viewed differently by a new jury. 

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Elk Mountain Ranch Owner Wants ‘Corner Crossing’ Case Returned To State Court

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The owner of a Carbon County ranch suing four Missouri hunters for crossing into the ranch’s private airspace wants the case returned to state district court.

Iron Bar Holdings, in a motion filed in U.S. District Court on April 14, told the court it had no jurisdiction over the case, which stems from allegations the hunters trespassed on Iron Bar’s property while moving from one piece of public land to another.

“While it is true (the hunters) trespassed across (Iron Bar’s) property to reach land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, that fact is of no consequence to the jurisdictional analysis here” the motion said.

The case stems from an incident in late September when the hunters used a “ladder-like” device to cross from one parcel of public land to another.

Southern Wyoming has a “checkerboard” land pattern in which public and private lands are intermingled. Those properties often share corners, with two public parcels resting diagonally from each other.

The hunters did not actually touch the private property owned by Iron Bar when they moved from one public parcel to another, but the company alleged they violated private airspace by “corner crossing.”

The four hunters are facing criminal trespass charges in Carbon County and Iron Bar had filed a civil lawsuit against them as well over the alleged trespass.

But the hunters successfully argued that because the lawsuit had to do with access to federal land, the case should be heard in federal court and it was moved there on March 31.

Iron Bar, in its request to move the case back to state district court, maintained that there is no issue for the federal court to settle, since both the lawsuit and criminal charges were filed under Wyoming trespass laws.

In addition, Iron Bar did nothing to prevent the hunters from entering public land, it just enforced its rights to prevent trespass on its private property.

“(Iron Bar’s) claim for civil trespass is that (the hunters) made an unauthorized entry upon (Iron Bar’s) private property,” its filing said. “(Iron Bar) does not claim the (hunters) cannot enter public lands, only that the (hunters) are not permitted to enter (Iron Bar’s) privately owned property and airspace.”

As a result, the hunters have failed to show that the case should be tried in federal court, Iron Bar’s motion said.

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Hunters Say ‘Corner Crossing’ Lawsuit An Attempt To Close All Public Land Access

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Four hunters accused of trespass are asking a federal judge to rule a private landowner in Carbon County is illegally blocking access to public lands.

In the latest filing in a lawsuit against the hunters filed by Iron Bar Holdings, the four ask U.S. District Court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the company’s efforts amount to an attempt to control public land.

“(Iron Bar) claims that it and other private landowners like it may dominate the open range and enclose the vastness of the public domain in the American West,” said the request for dismissal filed Monday. “(Iron Bar) claims that private landowners alone may control who among us gets to access, enjoy and step foot on certain federally owned public lands.

“Because (Iron Bar’s) claims depend on violations of federal laws governing the use of and access to federally owned public lands and are, accordingly, preempted by these federal laws and related federal policies, (the hunters) respectfully request that this case dismiss (Iron Bar’s) claims,” it continued.

The lawsuit stems from allegations the four Missouri hunters — Bradley Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemans and John Slowensky — violated Iron Bar’s airspace when they crossed from one parcel of federal land to another in Carbon County.

Southern Wyoming has a “checkerboard” land patter in which public and private lands are intermingled. Those properties often share corners, with two public parcels resting diagonally from each other. 

In late September, the four hunters used a “ladder-like” device to cross from one piece of public property to another at a corner shared with Iron Bar’s property without actually touching the private property.

But in its lawsuit, Iron Bar said the hunters invaded the airspace above its private property. The company wants the court to rule such activities, known as “corner crossing,” amount to trespass.

But the hunters said the company’s claims are to an effort to keep the public off of public lands in violation of federal law and contrary to previous federal court rulings.

“Federal law prohibits (Iron Bar) from intentionally enclosing federally owned public lands as well as excluding others from the public domain,” it said. 

The request cited the Unlawful Inclosures of Public Lands Act of 1885, which was adopted to keep cattle producers from locking away large tracts of public land from farmers.

“For over a century, Congress has maintained federal laws that expressly forbid any private individual or private corporation from enclosing the public domain for the purpose of monopolizing both access to and use and enjoyment of the public domain,” the request said.

In addition to violating federal law, Iron Bar has not alleged that the hunters caused any actual damage to its property, meaning it has no cause to file a lawsuit, the request said.

The request asked the federal court to uphold the federal laws governing access to public lands and dismiss the lawsuit.

Because this Court should not repeal those federal laws by implication or otherwise displace those laws to accommodate (Iron Bar’s) preferred rendition of its property rights and entitlement to control access to federally owned public lands, (Iron Bar) has failed to state any claim upon which relief can be granted,” it said. “For all the reasons provided herein, Defendants respectfully request that this Court dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint. 

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GoFundMe Page To Support Cross-Corner Hunters Now Up to Nearly $70,000

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Four Missouri hunters are being sued in federal court for crossing the airspace of private property while moving from one parcel of public land to another in Carbon County.

Iron Bar Holdings is asking the U.S. District Court to find the hunters guilty of civil trespass because they used a device to move across the private property — without touching it — while moving from one piece of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land to another in a practice called “corner crossing.”

“(Iron Bar) owns and controls the airspace above its real property and is entitled to exclude others from the use of that airspace by a ‘corner crossing,” the lawsuit said.

Meanwhile, a “GoFundMe” campaign set up to support the hunters, who also face criminal charges of trespass, had raised more than $69,000 as of Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, hunters Bradley Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemans and John Slowensky were on BLM land in Carbon County in late September.

Southern Wyoming has what is referred to as a “checkerboard” land pattern because public and private lands are intermingled. Often, public lands are positioned diagonally to each other and share their corners with private lands. Crossing from one public land parcel to another without accessing the private land can be difficult, if not impossible.

According to the lawsuit, the hunters built a “ladder-like” device to cross from one public land parcel to another without touching the private land.

However, in doing so, the four crossed into the airspace of the private land, the lawsuit said.

“(Iron Bar) has a right to exclusive control, use and enjoyment of its property, which includes the airspace at the coroner, above the property,” the lawsuit said. “For purposes of this complaint and under controlling law, the property includes the airspace above the surface of the land, the surface of the land and the subsurface below.”

Although the hunters were hunting on public land, they did not have the authority to trespass on Iron Bar’s land, the lawsuit said.

“The ability of (the hunters) to be upon and use public lands does not include any right or privilege whatsoever, whether express or implied, to cross private property to get to adjoining public lands.,” it said.

The hunters did not ask for permission to enter Iron Bar’s property, the lawsuit said, and as a result of the trespass, the company, based in North Carolina, has suffered damages.

The lawsuit asks the court to find the four hunters guilty of trespass and to issue an injunction barring them from “corner crossing” in the future. It also asks for damages from the hunters in an amount to be determined at trial.

The four hunters were also charged in Carbon County with trespassing to hunt and all have pleaded not guilty. Their trial is to begin April 14.

A GoFundMe campaign organized by in part by Wyoming Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has raised $69,325 for the men.

The campaign page said the support is needed to make access to public lands easier.

“Acquittal of these hunters would set the stage for more access to the public lands we own,” it said. “It is crucial public land hunters band together to fight for access to cornered public land!”

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State of Wyoming Closes On Pilot Hill Deal Near Laramie

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

An exchange of lands expected to open up recreational opportunities on land east of Laramie has been completed by the state, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Monday.

Gordon, in a news release, said the state Board of Land Commissioners has closed on the exchange of 11,668 acres of state trust land for the 4,343-acre Pilot Hill property in Albany County.

“The culmination of this effort is a win for all Wyoming residents,” Gordon said. “The state will see increased leasing revenues and access to this land will enhance our recreation economy by attracting additional visitors and improving the quality of life for citizens.”

The state land used for the exchange in Albany and Laramie counties is valued at $7.98 million, while the Pilot Hill parcel is valued at $8 million

In addition to making the land available for recreation including hiking, bicycling and horseback riding, the exchange protects the Casper Aquifer, a geologic feature that filters rain and snow to provide drinking water for Albany County residents, the news release said.

Discussions over the land began more than two years ago when the land’s owners, the Warren Livestock Co., offered to sell it to Albany County.

The university bought an adjacent 1,233 acres of land and the two properties will be managed jointly.

Plans call for a trail system to cross the land link it to the Medicine Bow National Forest to the east.

More than $1 million has been donated to help pay for access and infrastructure development on the land.

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Act Now And Save! Free Entrance Fees at All National Parks on Wednesday

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It’s like one of those crazy “Christmas in August” sales you used to see in the 1970s and 1980s where the prices are so low, its C-R-A-Z-Y!

Except this time, it’s not Crazy Eddie wearing a Santa hat and yelling about discounted boom-boxes, it’s Department of Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt offering free entrance fees at all national parks on Wednesday.

This goes along with President Trump’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act which will provide a sizable and long-term boost of funding to national parks and other federal lands.

“President Trump has just enacted the most consequential dedicated funding for national parks, wildlife refuges, public recreation facilities and American Indian school infrastructure in U.S. history,” Secretary Bernhardt said. “I’ve designated August 4th as Great American Outdoors Day and waived entrance fees to celebrate the passage of this historic conservation law.”

This means all entrance fees will be waived Wednesday on public lands managed by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And just like the Crazy Eddie commercials, there’s legalese at the very end of the announcement.

In this case, they just want to make sure you are aware that the fee waiver only applies to entrance fees. You don’t get a month of free camping if you act now, for example.

“Other fees, such as overnight camping, cabin rentals, group day use, and use of special areas, will remain in effect,” according to the Interior Department.

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Wyoming Top Officials Authorize Bid For 1 Million Acres of Occidental Land

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s top elected officials on Monday authorized the state to submit a bid for the purchase of more than 1 million acres of private land in southern Wyoming.

The officials, meeting as members of the State Loan and Investment Board, voted unanimously to authorize the state to move ahead with a bid for land currently owned by Occidental Petroleum.

The action came after a more than seven-hour meeting that included an executive session that ran for more than three and one-half hours as members of the board debated whether to proceed with the bid.

The motion approved by the board authorizes Gov. Mark Gordon, Treasurer Curt Meier and the state’s chief investment officer to submit a bid for the land — along with 4 million acres of mineral rights — that would provide the best return for the state. The measure specified the three can submit a bid for all or only part of the Occidental holdings.

In response to criticism that the state has not been transparent enough in how it has been handling the possible purchase, the motion also specifies that before any purchase is approved, four public meetings will be held during which public comments will be accepted on the deal.

“I feel particularly good about the current motion where it requires additional time for additional public comments,” said state Auditor Kristi Racines.

Racines echoed earlier statements buy Gordon and Meier that the decision to submit a bid does not make the state’s purchase of the land a foregone conclusion.

“This is far from a done deal and there are certainly a lot of prices where I would not support an end result,” she said. “This is just not final. It is just one step in a process that may or may not go forward.”

4 Million Acre Occidental Land Purchase Could Have 7.25% Return

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s purchase of 1 million acres of land in southern Wyoming could generate a long-term return of about 7.25% if the state purchased the rights to trona in that land as well, a consultant told state officials Monday.

Becky Gratsinger, CEA and senior consultant with R.V. Kuhns, said if the trona was removed from the purchase, the purchase price would be lower and the long-term return could be higher, around 11%, but the risk for that return would be higher as well.

Gratsinger’s comments came as the State Loan and Investment Board held a public hearing to discuss the state’s possible purchase of 1 million acres of land currently owned by Occidental Petroleum, an potential investment referred to as “Project Bison.”

The board, made up of the state’s top five elected officials, took comments and heard reports on the proposal during a lengthy meeting. At around 2:30 p.m., members moved into an executive session and had not returned to open session by 4:30 p.m.

Wyoming officials are to decide by Wednesday whether they will submit a bid for the land, which also includes about 4 million acres of mineral rights.

State Treasurer Curt Meier, one of the state’s top five elected officials who make up the SLIB, said if the board members decided after Monday’s meeting to submit a bid, it would just be the start of a lengthy process that could end with the state’s purchase of the property.

“This is a non-binding bid, more or less,” he said. “This is just authorizing the process to start, not authorizing the process to finish.”

During the hearing, conducted via an onllne video conferencing app, almost 20 people commented on the purchase in their first opportunity to address the issue with the SLIB.

A number of those speakers criticized the board for what they said was a lack of transparency in examining the issue.

“You have dissembled, misdirected, stonewalled and hidden what you are doing,” said Larry Wolfe. 

“At this time, many of us are in the dark about this deal and are shocked and disappointed at the lack of transparency and the enormity of the transaction,” said Julia Willis.

But Gov. Mark Gordon, chairman of the SLIB, said the state has been as open as possible in discussing the potential deal and noted that at least four more public hearings will be held to collect comments before any deal wins final approval if the state decides to proceed with the purchse.

Several others noted that the nature of a real estate purchase makes it necessary to keep some information confidential.

“Why would you present your bid documents,” said state Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper. “That’s like handing your competitors the relevant knowledge that we have as a state.”

Current plans call for money for any purchase to come from the state’s Permanent Mineral Trust Fund  and Common School Fund. 

Officials said if the land is purchased, some of it might be leased to mineral producers. 

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, said he was worried that the state’s ownership of the land could lead to political pressures being put on land managers.

“The temptation will be for the trona industry to come to the governor, the Legislature … and say ‘Give us a break on the rent of we’re going to have to lay people off,’” he said.

Other legislators said they supported the purchase as a wise investment for the state.

“This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the state of Wyoming and all our citizens,” said Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.

Several speakers said they wondered why Wyoming officials believe the state can make money through mineral production on the land when mineral companies have been unable to do so.

“We have a history in Wyoming of thinking we can always outthink the mineral industry,” said Anne McKinnon. “That’s a temptation we’ve always had and it’s never proven to be a good idea. I worry about us taking this investment on thinking we can play with the big boys.”

Meier said he thought it was possible Wyoming would not have the successful bid for the land, but might get an opportunity to buy some of it from the successful bidder.

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State To Consider Occidental Land Purchase Monday

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s top five officials on Monday will consider offering a bid for about 1 million acres of private land in southern Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.

Gordon, speaking during a news conference, said the state’s top five elected officials, meeting as the State Loan and Investment Board, will decide whether to offer a bid to Occidental Petroleum for the purchase of the land and about 4 million acres of accompanying mineral rights.

Occidental had originally set a deadline of July 1 to accept any bids for the land, but Gordon said the company extended the deadline by a week because of complications created by the coronavirus.

He added members of the public will be able to comment on the proposal during Monday’s meeting. If a bid is made and accepted, triggering a start to negotiations, a series of public meetings will also be held where input will be accepted, he said.

“I want to assure the people they will have every opportunity to understand the details of this bid and not only that, they will have a chance to comment,” he said.

He added the decision of whether to offer a bid will depend entirely on whether the purchase makes sense as an entry into the state’s portfolio of investments.

“This is strictly a case of will this investment pay dividends back to the state,” he said.

The Legislature, during its general session, approved a bill authorizing the executive branch to look into the purchase. Gordon vetoed the bill because he said it imposed too many restrictions on the executive branch, but he vowed to continue reviewing the possible deal and to keep both the Legislature and members of the public informed as to its progress.

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