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Bureau of Land Management

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

in News/public land
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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

in News/public land
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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

in News/public land
20636

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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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Barrasso: Biden’s Eco-Terrorist BLM Nominee Should Be Removed

in News/politics
11709

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The involvement of President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in what U.S. Sen. John Barrasso described as an “eco-terrorist operation” should be cause to withdraw her nomination, Barrasso said.

Barrasso said a recent discovery of activities by Tracy Stone-Manning linked to a plan to embed spikes in trees that were targeted for harvest should lead to her being removed from consideration for the post.

“Tracy Stone-Manning collaborated with eco-terrorists who had booby-trapped trees with metal spikes,” Barrasso wrote on Twitter Monday morning. “She mailed the threatening letter for them and she was part of the cover-up.”

This was in reference to Stone-Manning’s involvement in a 1989 incident in Idaho, when individuals placed metal spikes in trees in a national forest to prevent them from being sold in a timber sale.

“Tracy Stone-Manning lied to the Senate (Energy and Natural Resources) Committee by claiming the tree spiking was ‘alleged’ & that she was never investigated,” Barrasso said on social media Monday. “Now, we have confirmation that neither of those things are true. @POTUS must withdraw her nomination.”

According to Fox News, Stone-Manning was granted immunity in the incident in exchange for testifying that she retyped and sent an anonymous and threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of John P. Blount, her former roommate and friend.

“This investigator has confirmed what I have been saying,” Barrasso also wrote on social media Monday, linking to an article about the BLM nominee from E&E News, which covers energy and environmental issues. “Tracy Stone-Manning collaborated with eco-terrorists who had booby-trapped trees with metal spikes. She mailed the threatening letter for them and she was part of the cover-up.”

Barrasso is a ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and has been outspoken about Stone-Manning’s ties to the incident. He has said before that her involvement with the environmental group Earth First should disqualifying her for the BLM post.

Stone-Manning eventually testified against two activist friends, Blount and Jeffrey Fairchild, both of whom were later convicted of embedding spikes in hundreds of trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest in an effort to block a 1989 timber sale, according to E&E News. Court records indicated she had no knowledge of the tree spiking.

Stone-Manning is a longtime Montana government official and current senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation.

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Despite Federal Judge’s Order, William Perry Pendley Remains Head Of Bureau Of Land Management

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By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune

Two weeks after a federal judge in Montana ruled the Trump administration’s choice to direct the Bureau of Land Management rose to his position illegally, William Perry Pendley told an audience in Cody that the decision has changed nothing.

Pendley paraphrased Mark Twain in saying, “News of my political demise has been greatly exaggerated,” while speaking to the Free Roaming Equids and Ecosystem Sustainability Network conference on Tuesday at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris of Montana ruled late last month that Pendley had “served unlawfully” as the acting head of the BLM for 424 days, enjoined him from acting as the director and suggested any actions that Pendley took as director must be reversed.

However, Pendley said in a Tuesday interview that Judge Morris’ decision “has no impact, no impact whatsoever.”

“I have the support of the president. I have the support of the Secretary of the Interior and my job is to get out and get things done to accomplish what the president wants to do — which means increase recreational opportunities on federal land and to increase opportunities for jobs, so we can [economically] recover back to where we were pre-pandemic,” Pendley said.

Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt temporarily authorized Pendley to carry out the duties of the BLM director in July 2019, and extended those orders multiple times. President Donald Trump formally nominated Pendley for the position permanently in late July 2020, but withdrew his nomination in August. Senate confirmation of the former oil industry lawyer and Wyoming native was thought to be a tough sell with testimony possibly affecting election results.

Pendley, who previously served in the Department of Interior during the Reagan Administration and in other high profile jobs, has made controversial statements about selling off public lands, and has a long history of actions and statements concerning Native Americans and other minority groups that have been described by his critics as being racist.

In July, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock filed suit, claiming Pendley’s service unconstitutional. Bullock asserted that Pendley’s extended “acting director” service violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution’s Appointments Clause requires the president to nominate, and the Senate then confirm heads of significant federal agencies.

On Sept. 25, in response to Bullock’s suit, Judge Morris barred Pendley from continuing to perform the duties of the BLM director and also blocked Bernhardt from selecting another acting chief to temporarily fill the position.

Bullock celebrated Morris’ ruling, saying “Montanans can rest easy knowing that National Public Lands Day [Sept. 26] will begin with William Perry Pendley packing his desk and vacating the Director’s Office at the Bureau of Land Management.”

Yet, Pendley said Tuesday there have been no changes to his ability to lead the bureau, which oversees 245 million acres of public land, mostly in 11 western states and Alaska, with a workforce of more than 10,000.

“I’m still here, I’m still running the bureau,” Pendley said, pointing out he has never been the acting director. “I have always been from day one … deputy director of policy and programs.”

Pendley said the suit was brought by Bullock in an attempt to hurt the Trump Administration. “It’s just an attempt — and we’ve seen this since, I don’t know, 2016 — as an attempt to delegitimatize this administration,” he said.

On Monday, Bullock asked a judge to negate three land use plans in Montana that would open most BLM land in the state to energy development, saying the documents were invalidated when the Trump administration’s public lands boss was removed for being in the post unlawfully.

Conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians, also asked for permission to join the case to overturn a long list of actions taken under Pendley’s watch. The list includes the approval of the Moneta Divide project, which would allow the development of up to 4,250 oil and gas wells in an area east of Shoshoni, in Fremont and Natrona counties.

If Judge Morris grants permission, even the bureau’s decision to move its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado, could be challenged.

But Pendley is proud of progress made in the past 15 months leading the BLM, including the move to Grand Junction, which “allowed me to jump in a government rig and run up here to give a speech today [in Cody],” he said.

“On the way I stopped in Rock Springs and Worland. When I go back, I’ll go to Casper and Rawlins — just to be out on the road and visit, see what we’re doing in the field and see what help people need to get more work done,” Pendley said.

He said the move was needed because 99% of BLM lands and 97% of BLM employees are in 11 Western states and Alaska, “but our decision makers were all in Washington.”

About 550 positions were moved to Grand Junction in the past year.

“It allows us to be out here where the people are most directly affected by what we do,” Pendley said.

On Tuesday, Pendley spoke at the conference and then toured the McCullough Peaks with members of the Cody Field Office, enjoying views of wild horses and meeting with regional leaders. The office oversees 2.2 million acres of the northern Big Horn Basin, including portions of Park and Big Horn counties.

Proud of his record

Pendley spoke of his pride of working with President Trump, who recently signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which fully and permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund supports the protection of federal public lands and waters, including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and voluntary conservation on private land. The fund was used locally to build Powell city parks and most recently helped improve the Powell Golf Club.

“When you think about the fact that five presidents and nine secretaries of the interior have passed through government and have not been able to get a permanent [funding] of the Land and Water Conservation Fund through, that’s really quite miraculous,” he said.

One of the most recent actions in Park County is the BLM’s pending purchase of 1,820 acres of land on Sheep Mountain, west of Cody. In an area traditionally suspicious of federal land purchases, the acquisition by the BLM to open hunting in the area was well received.

The property is an important wintering ground for elk, deer and wild sheep as well as a popular place for hiking, hunting and horseback riding. The fund will also be used to catch up on maintenance backlogs on federal property, including national parks. Pendley said while the parks have more than $12 billion in backlogs, the BLM has a large backlog of deferred maintenance as well.

“It’s obviously not the magnitude of the Park Service, but we have backlogs,” he said. “And having those funds available so that we could increase recreation and how appealing our recreational lands are to visitors, that’s huge.”

He pointed out that at the height of the pandemic, people were going stir crazy wanting to get out and recreate.

“State parks were closed, forest lands were closed, but the BLM kept its lands open,” Pendley said. “Every facility in Wyoming was open simply because of the hard work of BLM employees who said, we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure those restrooms have toilet paper, the trash gets dumped and the doors are open.”

Pendley thinks the interest in outdoor activity will survive after a vaccine is found and the pandemic is behind us.

An uncertain future

Pendley is just one of several senior officials in the Trump administration who have run federal agencies and departments without Senate confirmation. The agencies have defended skipped deadlines on Senate hearings, saying the senior officials involved were carrying out the duties of their acting position, but not actually filling the position and didn’t require a vote before the Senate.

Last month, the Government Accountability Office, a bipartisan congressional watchdog, said acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy Ken Cuccinelli were illegally serving under the Vacancy Reform Act. The two have been in high profile positions in the Trump administration’s immigration and law enforcement efforts.

Pendley said every administration for the past 30 years has done the same thing.

“It has been done for almost 30 years throughout all administrations,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats, over the decades, have said they will designate somebody who’s in the chain of command, as exercising the authority of the assistant secretary, or the director, so that person has the authority to sign something, and we can move on with life.”

Opponents are watching the Pendley case closely, hoping to use the precedence set to undo actions taken by Wolf and Cuccinelli. The Trump administration has said it will appeal Judge Morris’ “outrageous” decision.

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Wyoming Native in Charge of BLM: Can He Transfer Federal Lands to States?

in News/wildlife/Agriculture
Wyoming public lands transfer
2084

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The transfer of federal lands to Western states, once championed by President Donald Trump’s Bureau of Land Management acting director, would be a challenge as tall as Gannett Peak, say natural resource experts who have looked at the issue. 

Cheyenne native William Perry Pendley, who earned his law degree from the University of Wyoming and once worked for U.S. Sen. Cliff Hansen, has represented ranchers and others in lawsuits against the federal government’s land and water policies. He’s argued that the federal government needs to transfer its lands to the states — a position he’s recently walked back as he serves the Trump as the helm of the BLM. 

Regardless of where he stands, an act of Congress or a lawsuit would precipitate a land transfer, experts say. 

Act of Congress

Drumming up support in Congress for a land transfer law would be difficult, said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming group that opposes transfer.

Roughly half the revenue from federal mineral production goes to the U.S. Treasury. Saying goodbye to the revenue would be a tough sell for many members of Congress. 

“Look at the Midwest – Michigan and Minnesota,” she said. “They say to come to Wyoming to go hunting…. There would be constituent backlash to that kind of idea. People see these lands as a shared national treasure.”

Anderson believes the end goal for the land transfer movement is selling the lands the private landowners, but people who support the movement dispute that conclusion.

Derek Monson, vice president of policy at the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, doesn’t agree that members of Congress from outside the West want the federal government to hold onto the public lands. They’d be interested in disposing the lands if they studied the cost of fighting wildfires and other projects, he said. 

The group considers the transfer of public lands just one option to solving perceived problems with public land management.

However, during the first two years of the Trump administration, both the U.S. House and Senate were under Republican control, and no privatization bill passed, he noted. 

Lawsuits

If Congress fails to act, states or individuals could always try litigation. The problem with a state-initiated lawsuit – at least with Trump as president – is the risk of alienating the administration, Monson said. 

“If a court rules it has to be done, what does it mean?” Monson asked. “Does the federal government dump it on the states, all at once?”

Utah has spent over $1 million in legal analysis and public relations associated with a potential lawsuit, but the state’s attorney general hasn’t yet filed a complaint. 

State Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, a proponent of land transfer, is watching Wyoming’s westerly neighbor. 

“Utah is the lead on this,” he said. “If they get traction, maybe other states will join.”

Has the movement died down?

During the President Barack Obama years, the Wyoming Legislature discussed federal land transfer, and even paid a consulting company $75,000 to look at the issue.

Since then, there’s been less talk. Anderson believes it’s because environmental regulations have relaxed.

“They have the Trump administration in their corner, rewriting the rules,” she said. 

Miller, however, said that proponents of land transfer lost the public relations battle in Wyoming, since sportsmen groups and their mostly Republican members were among the most vocal against it. 

“The outdoor people got into the hands of keeping the lands in the swamp,” Miller said. “It makes no sense to me but the PR people did a good job.”

Driskill: DC judge’s ruling on Wyoming oil & gas permits “idiotic… a tragedy”

in Energy/News
1163

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming Senate Vice President Ogden Driskill for Senate District #1 has strong words on the ruling from Washington, D.C. judge Rudolph Contreras.

The federal district court judge ruled in favor of environmental activists, finding that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to consider climate change when issuing permits on 300,000 acres of federal land in Wyoming.

The ruling blocked further development on those lands until climate change’s impacts are assessed.

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