BHA and our Nevada chapter continue to closely follow the moves of Kroenke Ranches and Western Land Group regarding the "yet-to-be-proposed" Winecup Gamble land exchange. Stan Kroenke, the 5th largest landowner in the U.S., is proposing a land swap that could result in a net loss of 138,000 acres of public land, down from his initial proposal outlining a net loss of 150,000 acres of public land.
After strong opposition out of the gates from landowners and public land users alike, Western Land Group and Kroenke Ranches shared updated details of this audacious land exchange at a special Elko County Advisory Board (CAB) meeting on Sept. 27. Called specifically to hear this updated "non-proposal," the meeting featured the groups' presentation, which, in addition to public comment from BHA and other invested stakeholders, can be found here.
Following introduction of the Winecup Gamble land exchange by Western Land Group and Kroenke Ranches back in August, both the Elko CAB and the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners have voted to formally oppose it. Additionally, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) has expressed a lack of support for the exchange, as it is not clear “where this benefits wildlife or the public.” Of course, BHA is also in strong opposition to what has been shared so far, and we are relieved to hear from members of our Nevada congressional delegation not only that they have not been approached but also that they have had no hand in planning this exchange to date.
We are encouraged to hear that Western Land Group and Kroenke Ranches have pushed their timeline back to allow for further development of the proposal and stakeholder engagement. Their new stated goal is to introduce federal legislation in 2025 instead of 2024. They also plan to begin stakeholder engagement “immediately,” though no dates have been set. We look forward to participating in stakeholder engagement, but we also remain skeptical as their response to immediate opposition was merely lowering the trade ratio from 2.7 acres of public land for every acre of private land to 2.5 acres of public land for every acre of private land.
While BHA is not outright opposed to legislative land transfers, there are some eyebrow-raising components as well as key criteria missing from this proposal. When paired with the missteps taken during the roll out of this theoretical transfer, we have what feels like a laundry list of major concerns about the intention behind this exchange and its potential impact on hunting access and wildlife resources in Eastern Nevada.
Western Land Group also stated in their initial presentation to the commissioners that the Bureau of Land Management “does not want” to retain the water or mineral rights on the property. After further investigation, it appears that many of the water rights on this land are specific to livestock. Since the BLM does not own livestock, there is no legal mechanism for the agency to hold livestock water rights. According to NDOW Deputy Director Caleb McAdoo’s Aug. 21 presentation to the Elko CAB, NDOW could potentially hold these water and mineral rights as a wildlife management agency, but more investigation is needed. BHA feels strongly that that no land transfer resulting in a net loss of public lands, waters and wildlife is acceptable, and that a transfer where the proponent maintains the mineral water and grazing rights is not really a forfeiture of the land, or a gain for the public.
This land exchange also has the potential to decimate economies in small town like Montello, where each seasonal hunter is a vertebra in the backbone of the local economy. There is also concern as to whether this exchange could block landowner access to lands that are currently accessible to owners through existing parcels of public land. Furthermore, as currently written, this exchange has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenue for the proponents through Nevada’s landowner incentive program for deer and elk tags.
We are also wary of the role of potential solar development that may be wrapped into this land exchange. During the Elko CAB meeting on Aug. 21, BHA member Don Klebenow flagged public comment from a February Planning Commission meeting where a representative from Blue Earth Renewables discussed solar development on parts of the Winecup Gamble Ranch. Energy development, including renewable energy, can be directly at odds with conservation and biodiversity goals across the state, an unintended problem we hope will be addressed with the BLM’s Solar Proposed Environmental Impact Study PEIS. While BHA doesn’t oppose energy development, we do want to ensure that siting for development and transmission is done responsibly and avoids conflict with valuable wildlife habitat. The potential for renewable energy development that threatens to decimate sensitive habitat should the acreage in discussion be transferred to private ownership is alarming. Of course, this may not be the intention of Western Land Group and Kroenke Ranches, but once in private ownership, previous intentions no longer matter.
We want to offer special thanks to BHA member Don Klebenow - and express appreciation to BHA members across the country - for birddogging new developments on this issue and others like it. It truly takes a village, and we’re grateful to the community of BHA members far and wide that give us legs to stand on when we tackle these issues. If you’re interested in joining the fight for our public lands, waters and wildlife, click here to join BHA today.
Lastly, but certainly not least, please click here to contact your member of Congress to oppose any version of this land exchange that would result in a net loss of our public lands, waters and wildlife.