Word has been spreading like wildfire about a sweetheart land deal being pushed by out-of-state billionaire landowner Stan Kroenke, a 3:1 land transfer that could result in public lands hunters losing access permanently to some of the best mule deer hunting – and best wildlife habitat – in northeastern Nevada.
The Winecup Gamble Ranch, owned by Kroenke Ranches, is proposing to trade 235,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in exchange for 85,000 of Kroenke’s private acres – a tremendous public loss of hunting opportunity. If it’s finalized, this proposal would be the largest single transfer of public land in U.S. history and would require congressional legislation at such a massive scale.
Concrete information is limited, as no formal proposal has been shared. According to the 2023 Land Report, which focuses on private landownership, however, Kroenke is the 5th largest landowner in the U.S. He also owns the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Rams and English soccer club Arsenal F.C.
This past Friday, Wyatt Anthony, a representative of Winecup Gamble and Kroenke Ranches, pitched the proposal to the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners along with Western Land Group representatives Tom Glass, Andy Weissner and Melissa Sherburne. Their full presentation can be viewed on the Commissioners' YouTube Channel, and we highly recommend tuning in to hear details about this dubious proposed exchange. The presentation starts at 1:31:00 and includes maps showing potential transfers. Public comment from BHA and other conservation partners can be viewed at the beginning of the call.
Preliminary maps show a significant loss of public access for many units holding elk, mule deer, and sage grouse. Especially concerning is the mapped access closure to GMU 77 and 081 just north of the town of Montello. In addition to revoking access from some of the best mule deer hunting opportunities in the state, this specific closure would have a devastating economic impact to Montello. Much of the town’s economy is supported through recreational spending from sportsmen and women. If the Kroenke swap is greenlighted, hunters – and their economic impact – would be forced to take routes through Idaho and Utah to access these units. Currently 1:6 elk tags in this unit are reserved for landowners, but this expansion could result in 1:1 landowner tags to public draw tags.
This “non-proposal,” as the Winecup Gamble Ranch and Western Lands Group calls it, currently suggests a land exchange that would be based on “fair market value to fair market value,” not “acre for acre.” This so-called “value based non-proposal” would leave the Winecup Gamble Ranch with continuous property surrounding what NDOW data shows is the highest density mule deer migration corridor in the region. A conservation easement is allegedly being considered in this area; however, Nevada BHA feels that any details regarding this are lacking and far from a guarantee worth the significant loss of public lands and the privatization of such important intact big game habitat. Conservation easements would allow for the expansion of other nondevelopment uses, such as livestock grazing, which could have impacts on wildlife migration that haven’t been studied. Furthermore, the current draft proposal would be a “surface only exchange,” allowing the Winecup Gamble Ranch to keep the water and mineral rights on the proposed public land currently in possession of the ranch.
At this time, no formal feedback on the proposal has been incorporated, and while Winecup Gamble Ranch and Western Lands Group say they want to incorporate feedback from a variety of stakeholders, outreach so far has been limited to two agency stakeholders. We find this very concerning considering they began research for this draft proposal in 2020 and are hoping to have federal legislation proposed in 2024.
As hunters who value our public lands and waters, we are asking Winecup Gamble Ranch and Western Lands Group to incorporate an opportunity for formal feedback prior to introducing a bill in Congress next year. In the meantime, BHA will be engaging closely to ensure that we do everything we can as a conservation community to keep these public lands in public hands. If you care about keeping public lands out of billionaire hands, join Nevada BHA today and stay informed on the critical issues that impact fish and wildlife habitat, public access and our outdoor traditions.