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.
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.
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.