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public lands

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

in News/public land
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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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Corner Crossing Lawsuit Will Stay In Federal Court, Judge Says

in News/public land
19957

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

in News/public land
19412

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

in News/public land
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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

in News/public land
18195

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

in News/public 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.”

Outdoor recreation major contributor to Wyoming’s economy

in News/Recreation/Tourism/wildlife
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By Cowboy State Daily

Outdoor activity in Wyoming contributes a larger share to the state’s economic activity than the majority of states, according to a federal report.

The report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that in 2017, outdoor recreation in Wyoming generated $1.6 billion, about 4.4 percent of the state’s economic activity, well above the national average of 2.2 percent.

And the industry in Wyoming shows no signs of slowing, said Dave Glenn, of the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, a division of the Parks and Cultural Resources Department.

“The RV industry’s continuing to grow, the mountain bike industry’s continuing to grow, the (off-highway vehicles), the snow machines, the fly fishing, hunting, all those thing are growing in the state of Wyoming,” he said.

Wyoming is behind only Hawaii, Montana, Maine and Vermont in terms of how much outdoor recreation contributes to the state’s economy. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s jobs are also in outdoor recreation, the highest figure in the nation.

Glenn said he believes the state is poised to see tremendous growth in outdoor recreation, thanks to its plentiful resources.

“I think we have the ability to double or triple that number,” he said. “Wyoming has the access to public lands, we’ve got our big three national parks, we have all kinds of national forests, (Bureau of Land Management land), Red Desert, all kinds of great country. We need to work on our infrastructure so when people come here, they have something to do and to stay longer as well.”

The Parks and Cultural Resources Department, along with the state Game and Fish Department, recently joined forces to promote activities on state lands by helping commemorate National Public Lands Day.

The observation on Sept. 28 was designed to encourage people to get out and enjoy their public lands.

“Whether it’s recreation, hunting, hiking, fishing, the Game and Fish (Department) properties are open to all that,” said Ray Bredehoft, with the department.

Bredehoft said his department is working to minimize conflicts between recreational users of the land and wildlife as the number of people using public lands grows.

“We’re trying to balance that, there’s always going to be some sort of conflict,” he said. “We’re here for the wildlife, to make sure they’re here for generations to come.”

Not To Be Critical, But Let’s Try Critical Thinking: From fast fashion to landlocked public lands, the devil is in the details.

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
The devil is in the details
2043

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I’m a news hound, and when I come across a topic that interests me, I try to read about that topic from a variety of news sources in attempt to see a range of perspectives. I read news from major media in the United States, Europe, Russia, and Turkey on a regular basis. Every few days I hear or read statements that give me pause. I am routinely perplexed at reporters allowing these statements to go unchallenged – not even questioning the veracity of the claims being made.

For example, last week as Dana Thomas, author of the new book “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” was making the rounds talking up her new book, some of her statements were grating, such as her insistence that vegan “leather” may help to replace “industrial farming which is horribly polluting on so many levels” and how this is great because then people won’t be killing animals to make clothing.

Of course, leather is a byproduct of meat production; sheep and cattle aren’t killed for the purpose of making leather. But what really struck me was a statement I heard Thomas repeat as she made her media rounds: “the average garment is worn seven times before it’s thrown away.”

What? Seven times? Who does that? A quick internet search revealed news outlets around the globe repeating the claim during the last four years. Australian women, British women, American women – apparently we all discard our clothes after wearing them only seven times. It took about 15 minutes to track down where this claim originated: from Barnardo’s Retail, which encourages women to donate clothing, which is then sold at its 590 stores across the United Kingdom. How did they come up with the wearing-seven-times-before-tossing number? According to a press release, Barnardo’s conducted a 2015 survey of 1,500 British women, hardly providing for the worldwide consumer insight being touted. 

Other alarming statements making the news come from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and onX (a GPS tech firm) claims that “The American people are currently locked out of 9.52 million acres of our own public lands” and “Wyoming holds the most inaccessible public lands with 3.05 million acres – or almost a third of the total landlocked acreage across the region.”

Although the press release for the “Off Limits, But Within Reach: Unlocking the West’s Inaccessible Public Lands” report didn’t go into the details, the report itself added an asterisk to these claims, directing the reader to the details of the calculations.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and the report defined landlocked public lands as federal lands “that cannot be accessed directly from a public road (direct access) and cannot be accessed via adjoining public land by way of a public road (indirect access).” Thus, the report deemed land as landlocked unless it can be accessed by a public road.

The report also noted: “Only permanent legal access was considered for this report, but existing access across some private lands may be given at the discretion of the landowner, and in many places permanent public access is assumed but not proven. Unless such access is legally documented, it was not included in our analysis.”

And since “comprehensive public easement data is not available for federal public lands,” no lands with such public easements were deducted from the total landlocked acreage calculation.

There are huge information gaps that are being used to claim that millions of acres are “off limits.” The existence of “checkerboard” lands is one example. Checkerboard land ownership is found throughout the western states, the result of railroad land grants offered by the federal and state governments in the mid-1800s for western expansion and construction of infrastructure. 

In Wyoming, much of the I-80 corridor is alternating public and private lands in one-square mile plots. This huge checkerboard corridor stretches for 80 miles from north to south and across most of the southern tier of Wyoming. Most of the private property in the checkerboard is held by energy and railroad companies, and grazing associations, many of which leave their properties open to the public unless otherwise marked.

And the importance of state access programs isn’t even factored into the “landlocked” claims. Last year Wyoming’s Access Yes Program provided hunters and anglers access to 2.6 million acres of private, state and federal lands that otherwise lack legal public access. In Montana, 1,200 landowners enrolled more than 7 million acres of land in that state’s Block Management Program which provides free hunting access to private land and isolated public land.

While western states do have landlocked public land, which should be a priority for land exchange or other remedies, the problem isn’t as extreme as the claims being made. Millions of acres are accessible through state programs, goodwill of landowners, and other means. What some parcels lack is permanent legal public access, which is entirely different than the American public being locked out of more than 9 million public acres.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Range Writing: Our Public Lands Aren’t Killing Us

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
Your Public Lands Aren't Killing US
A Hereford cow with her newborn calf on private property in Wyoming, with a drilling rig on public land nearby. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I’ve enjoyed several nonfiction books by writer Timothy Egan, including his detailed accounts of the survivors of the Dust Bowl era, and chronicles of the massive wildfire complex that swept through several western states in the early 1900s. Ergo it was with great disappointment that I read his recent New York Times editorial “Your Public Lands Are Killing You.”

I’ve concluded Egan’s opinion piece is an exercise in hyperbole – the deliberate use of extreme exaggeration. It’s unfortunate that naïve members of the public will not recognize Egan’s overuse of literary device and will instead take his assertions literally. As in this case, hyperbole can be used to take a factual grain and twist it into something unrecognizable, whether coming from left-leaning zealots or from right-wing fanatics.

Seattle-based Egan writes of “out in the way beyond” of “a vast kingdom now being used to hasten the demise of the planet.” As a rural resident in Wyoming (our nation’s least populated state), I live in the “way beyond” Egan writes about, but I know that the Big Empty isn’t empty. It is home to thriving human and animal communities. We may have more elk and livestock on the landscape than people, but that’s the way we like it. We are the stewards of America’s public lands.

Public lands: home of national parks and landmarks, forests, mountains, wild rivers, wilderness, historic sites, the sagebrush sea, flowing grasslands, just to name a few characteristics. Some are set aside for protection from development, or place limits on human uses, while others are multiple-use landscapes in which mineral and energy development, logging, and livestock grazing are allowed, along with hiking, biking, camping, hunting, skiing, and other recreational pursuits. This glorious mixture is our national heritage.

The Wind River Mountains serve as the backdrop for a drilling rig on public land in Wyoming.
The Wind River Mountains serve as the backdrop for a drilling rig on public land in Wyoming. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

The Bureau of Land Management manages one of every 10 acres of land in the United States, including about 30 percent of the nation’s minerals. Public lands provide a quarter of the nation’s domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. Egan asserts that public servants “have been busy giving away drilling rights on your land for next to nothing,” but we know that the BLM’s competitive oil and gas leasing allows the private sector to make deep investments in energy development in oftentimes remote lands that have limited utilization, and that other human use of these areas is not excluded. These investments provide for economic output and employment for local communities and state government budgets, as well as funding to the U.S. Treasury. Public lands are used not just for fossil-fuel energy, but for renewable energy, and non-fuel mineral development.

Competitive oil and gas lease sales are based on lease terms of a minimum of at least $2 per acre. That sounds low, but a review of recent sales in Wyoming shows leases in the $10,000-$12,000 per-acre range. A lease sale in Wyoming last month netted $88 million, according to press accounts, with that revenue split about even between state and federal coffers.

These onshore oil and gas leases are based not just on the annual rental fee that Egan appears to take issue with, but holders of those leases then pay 12.5 percent of production value in royalties, in addition to corporate income taxes and other taxes and fees. That money fuels federal, state and local budgets.

Leases are offered with a variety of restrictions or stipulations and are subject to protests and further environmental analysis before development commences. If exploratory drilling on a lease reveals an economically recoverable field, the cost for preparing an environmental impact statement (which takes years to complete) can be in the range of $3-$8 million before full-field development can proceed. It takes years to develop a lease, and then there are a variety of restrictions, inspections, monitoring, and reclamation that takes place.

A recent US Geologic Survey report (commissioned by the Obama administration) found that fuels produced from federal lands in Wyoming had were responsible for the highest CO2 emissions (57%) from fuels produced on all federal lands, which is no surprise since Wyoming produces so much of the nation’s energy from its federal lands.

Coal-fired power plants are responsible for 60 percent of the nation’s public lands carbon emissions, but since the coal industry has already undergone drastic decline, Egan’s piece focuses instead on the “Trump administration plan to drill till we drop.”

An E&E News piece in Scientific American last fall noted the USGS report “showed emissions peaking around 2009 before decreasing about 6 percent. The Trump administration has overseen a bounce in coal mined on federal lands – but the amount mined in fiscal 2017 was still less than all but one year under Obama .…”

We do need to address global climate change, but hysterical calls that our public lands are killing us create a false narrative. Wyoming is home to what much of the nation holds dear: abundant wildlife populations, breathtaking landscapes, wide open spaces, and places where although the towns may appear to be small, the sense of community is huge. Our public lands are the places outsiders dream about. And it’s these places that also produce energy for our nation.

Productive dialogue, investments and advancements in technology, and addressing energy demand as well as supply are needed. We need to do better in terms of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and in sustainably utilizing natural resources. We also need energy that people across this nation can afford – being careful that energy policy not further impoverish already underprivileged people.

Egan has joined environmental advocates in calls to halt to oil and gas leasing on federal lands (lest your public lands kill you), but an economical and efficient energy option is not offered in these ploys. Likewise, opposition to David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary sound eerily similar to the “sky is falling” calls when James Watt was appointed to the same position. Egan and his cronies survived Watt, we survived Bruce Babbitt, and I’m confident our western lands, with its Big Empty inhabitants, will survive whatever D.C. throws at us. It’s our nature, as stewards of our heritage.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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