The Right Way
There has been a lot of talk this summer about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) buying ranches in the West. The loss of private lands and more federal lands in the West will always bring on a discussion.
People will be quick to criticize the landowners who sell to the government, but in reality, it is nobody’s business. The right to do anything with your private property is one of the most important rights we have as American citizens and it should never be tampered with.
When the current administration came into office, the president signed an executive order creating the 30×30 Plan, now called the America the Beautiful Initiative. The plan was to conserve one-third of America’s lands by 2030.
No one really knows what is going to happen with the initiative, but it has some huge concerns from agriculture, mainly in the West where most of the conserved lands will be located.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, currently around 12 percent of America is protected or conserved. The new initiative aims to redefine what constitutes “conserved” land, to change the definition from “protected” land to conserved land and to cede power to local communities and the Tribal nations to reach the target. Access to federal lands is a big push also.
Another source of revenue to buy up private lands is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). In August of 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law, authorizing $900 million annually in permanent funding for LWCF. The primary source of revenue comes from federal oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. One can purchase a lot of land for $900 million annually. In the last year, more money was added.
The big concern was the BLM review and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. This concern prompted Gov. Mark Gordon to take action against the BLM and the sale. Many felt the BLM’s NEPA process was too quick and not thorough enough, and if an organization or agency, like the governor’s office, had cooperating partner status with the BLM they were left out, as I understand it.
As anyone who deals with federal lands knows, if we want to do anything on federal lands, we must complete the NEPA process, which might take years. One could say the BLM may have bypassed their own rules.
There are ongoing BLM negotiations to acquire a ranch in southeast Wyoming by trading BLM land for private land to improve access to public lands and to block up those federal lands. For those who believe there should not be any gain of federal lands in Western states, this is a great method to use.
Years ago, some ranchers acquired private lands north of Gillette and they traded the BLM those lands for the public lands on their ranches. It turned out great, but the best part was the BLM closed access to all users except the grazing permittee for the time it took stakeholders to complete a management plan of the federal allotment.
When the gates opened, signs were up, maps were complete and the public was aware of the management actions. It worked a lot better than just opening those lands to the public.
I’m all for no net loss of private lands in Western states – it’s the only way to ensure the future of the West.