A federal lands bill that would diminish protections on more Wyoming acreage than it would protect is up for discussion Tuesday by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. 

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso sponsored Senate Bill 1750 – Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act of 2021. The legislation is the culmination of a contentious Wyoming County Commissioners Association-led process, launched in 2015, intended to provide local recommendations about what should be done with Wyoming’s 758,044 Wilderness Study Area acres. 

A Wilderness Study Area classification offers what are intended to be temporary protections for wilderness-quality land, but in Wyoming they’ve been around for several decades. The designations in the Equality State trace to the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act and 1991 Bureau of Land Management wilderness recommendations. 

Barrasso’s bill, introduced in May 2021, would create five permanent wilderness areas totalling 20,381 acres. That would represent only 14% of the eligible areas from four counties that submitted recommendations: Carbon, Fremont, Washakie and Big Horn counties. 

The act would release 99,750 acres of protected Wilderness Study Area acres for multiple uses like logging and oil and gas development, along with creating three special management areas covering 27,711 acres. These zones would have protections preventing major development, but not be as restrictive as designated wilderness. 

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association assembled this map of BLM Wilderness Study Areas. It does not include three study areas in national forests in northwest Wyoming. (Wyoming County Commissioners Association)

Why it matters:

The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative was pitched as a collaborative process that sought to identify locally palatable middle-ground proposals, but conservationists and other stakeholders who were appointed to county committees contend that the effort went off the rails. Proponents of Barrasso’s bill point out that it would create the first new designated wilderness in Wyoming in generations, and argue that the initiative stayed true to its collaborative intent. 

Who said what: 

“Overall, it’s a net loss for wilderness protections in Wyoming, so we oppose it on that basis,” Sarah Walker, policy coordinator for the Wyoming Wilderness Association, said in an interview.  “Anything tied to the [Wyoming Public Lands Initiative] process is not something that we will support because it was so rife with issues and exclusion.” 

Jerimiah Rieman, executive director of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, told WyoFile the proposals that emerged from the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative  “represents, in our opinion, the wishes of communities and the vast majority of those that participated in the process, and we’re excited to see this legislation move forward in the Senate.” 

Julia Stuble, Wyoming public lands and energy manager for the Wilderness Society, said calling the process collaborative is misleading. 

“When I look at this bill it’s as though the [Wyoming Public Lands Initiative] blueprint was for a community center, and what the contractors came out with was a gated McMansion,” she said. 

Tune in: 

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Public Lands, Forests and Mining Subcommittee will take up the legislation Tuesday. The hearing, which starts at 1 p.m., will be livestreamed on Energy.senate.gov.

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. I am unequivocally opposed to designating any more wilderness areas. This designation does not protect the land but allows the government to neglect it. It also discriminates against older people who like to get out in these areas but cant hike long distances or ride hoses. There are other means that can be used to protect these areas. I was a strong supporter of wilderness back in the 60s whe it first came up, but they came up with such ridiculous rules its a joke.

  2. The collaborative meetings that occurred concerning the Encampment wilderness study area was very inclusive and civil and open. The group worked hard together and made a unified proposal. They very actively reached out to the community as well. I hope this bill leaves intact their hard work and recommendations. I think we were the only group with that much success. Good job!

  3. WYOMING COUNTIES HAVE A SEAT AT THE TABLE: Its clear from some of the comments, that many readers do not realize that the Wyoming Counties have a legitimate seat at the table as a GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY when decisions are being made with respect to land use planning on State and Federal lands. The counties involvement is SUPERIOR to advocacy groups which are not governmental agencies. Legitimate governmental agencies have elected officials, can impose taxes and mill levees and adopt land use plans of their own. In this matter, Harden references the Fremont County land use plan for State and Federal land within Fremont County.

    The counties involvement in Federal land use decisions, such as USFS Forest Plans and BLM Resource Management Plans extends to the ” scoping ” stage of land use planning; that is, the counties have a seat at the table during the earliest stages of planning whereas advocacy groups can not participate at this time and usually cannot comment until the draft plan comes out.

    With respect to the re-evaluation of the Wyoming WSAs, the counties participated as an elected form of government most of which have adopted land use plans for State and Federal land. These plans are approved by the County Commissioners after a public review process. Like it or not, the Wyoming counties had an absolute right to participate as a governmental agency equal to and as a partner with the State and Federal agencies. Advocacy groups are not governmental agencies and cannot adopt rules and regulations such as the counties can.

  4. Good way to get rid of some areas which need protection. Clever way to claim local input, mostly from special interest groups. This onslaught against the vast majority should be defeated. Wilderness bill, indeed. Anti-protection describes it best.

  5. Regardless of your position on SB 1750, take time to become well versed with the
    Natural Resource Plan adopted by the Fremont County Commission, the language
    of this bill and the current wilderness study regulations in place. This should be a fact based process with all parties understanding the opposing view. The “Fix” is not in, generalizations and half truths are an impediment to reaching a workable solution. A respectful contention of the issue is the only path.

  6. Wilderness bill? Let’s call this what it actually is, which is exploitation and development of public lands at the expense of wilderness bill.

  7. My prediction: Wyoming residents will suffer a loss of access to wilderness areas and national forests. Under the guise of raising money for local economies or a dearth of federal funding to pay for maintenance, a portion of these areas will go on the auction block. That’s when adjacent property owners, (some of whom worked on this scheme in their position as elected officials), will receive first right of refusal to purchase the newly released property. And, you ain’t gettin’ past those fences…

  8. Mike,
    As added prospective to the article, give or take a few acres. The 3 largest landowners in the US own over 6,600,000 acres. There are 3,067,697 acres designated as wilderness in Wyoming. Wyoming’s has a total of 62,630,000 acres.

    1. This bill is a handout to the gas and oil companies. When leases are sold to gas and oil company’s that public land is no longer public land, it’s oil company land. We can see that in the Jonah Field near Pinedale and millions of other acres around the west. Oil and gas companies own enough public land already. I hope this bill does not see the light of day.

  9. The county commissioners found out that their were other opinions in regards to wilderness study areas other than their own. Everyone was suppose to gain something in regards to these lands and if conservation was suppose give up protection on these lands then they were to gain it some wear else . The commissioners didn’t see it that way even though it was in the policy that they adopted. I wander if any of them ever read the agreement that they adopted from the state county commissioner association. That’s why it failed .

    1. The Barrasso/County Commissioners Wilderness bill is a total shame. Even the BLM reccomended more acreage be put into wilderness status than what the Barrasso/ Co. Commissioners/ Oil & gas/ minerals bill would provide. If many of the hunters and anglers knew how hard there brothers and sisters fought 20 years ago to get the BLM to add reccomendations for wilderness status and that is only the starting point in the event any Wyoming Rep or Senator were to drop a bill. Please get ready to shove this bill where it belongs.