ROCK SPRINGS—It’s hard to hear above the din in the hotel ballroom where hundreds of people have gathered to learn about the Bureau of Land Management’s draft plan for 3.6 million acres of southwest Wyoming.

Over by the maps displaying special land designation proposals, a gray haired woman pops forward with a question for BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Lauren Hazzard: “Are you going to tell me where I can walk?” she asks.

“You can walk anywhere,” Hazzard responds.

“Are you going to tell me where I can’t drive?” the woman asks. The BLM’s preferred alternative envisions a few minor motorized closures, Hazzard tells her — and those are in places where resource damage has occurred. Hazzard gives an example of vehicle-accessible petroglyphs in the Red Desert that have been vandalized. The BLM would close a couple miles of that road under its preferred alternative, but people could still walk or cycle to them. 

The woman softens her tone. “I can’t argue that,” she says, conceding that the vandalism there is extensive.

The exchange illustrates the depth of concern in this community over what will happen to outdoor recreation access under the BLM’s resource management plan update. It also underscores users’ struggles to understand the implications of a 1,300-page, acronym-heavy document rife with technical language — which has been widely misinterpreted thanks in part to a mistake the BLM inadvertently left in.

The agency released its draft environmental impact statement in August for its revised Rock Springs field office Resource Management Plan, a document that was 12 years in the making. The agency’s “preferred alternative” prioritizes conservation for the management of some 3.6 million acres of federal public lands in Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta, Sublette and Fremont counties. The choice has caused an uproar among Wyoming politicians and residents of towns like Rock Springs, who say the tentative selection of “alternative B” from among the four options ignores years of local input and will have devastating impacts on the region’s economy and ways of life. 

Along with guiding grazing and energy development, the final update will have a bearing on recreation on the enormous acreage, which includes the prized hunting grounds of the Greater Little Mountain Area, the badlands of Adobe Town and the Killpecker Dunes, a shifting sands play area in the Red Desert. Residents look for rocks, snowmobile, camp and hike on the lands. Indigenous residents visit sacred sites.

BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Lauren Hazzard explains maps to Jim Lee during an open house on resource management plan draft updates on Sept. 27, 2023 in Rock Springs. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Though critics claim the plan imperils outdoor recreation access, BLM staffers maintain that is not the case.

“When we see people getting upset and wondering if their hunting access is going to be diminished — no, that is not the case,’” BLM Public Affairs Specialist Micky Fisher said. “You’re going to continue to get the same access as you had before. Across the board and all alternatives will continue that same public access.”

‘Every recreation possible’

Sen. Stacy Jones (R-Rock Springs) called the draft “horrific” last week during a Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee meeting. 

“It affects almost every way of life and every recreation possible in our county,” Jones said. 

The travel committee is the latest collection of elected officials to formally discuss the plan. The Sweetwater County Commissioners, other legislative bodies, individual lawmakers and Gov. Mark Gordon have condemned it, asking the BLM to both withdraw it entirely and extend the comment period, which is currently set to close Nov. 16.

Jones and other critics have seized upon several aspects of the agency’s “preferred plan,” alternative B, as threats to recreation. 

One major source of consternation: Alternative B as it was released would close 4,505 miles of routes and eliminate another 10,006 miles of undesignated, illegal routes. Those provisions were a remnant from a travel management plan that has been scrapped, BLM officials say, and were left in error. 

“There’s absolutely an error in chapter four that we need to fix,” Rock Springs Field Office Manager Kimberlee Foster told WyoFile. “It’ll be fixed between the draft and final.” 

A man steers a dune buggy in the The Killpecker Sand Dunes Open Play Area. The non-fee area in Red Desert features a developed campground. (BLM/FlickrCC)

Under alternative B, several existing special recreation management area designations would be eliminated. That includes the Green River, the Killpecker Sand Dunes, the Oregon and Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trails and the Wind River Front SMRAs. SMRA designations provide specific recreation opportunities such as trailhead areas for hikers or off-road vehicle users. 

Though that would mean developed recreation would not be prioritized, the areas will remain open and the BLM would continue to maintain and make available current developed sites like campgrounds or parking lots, Fisher of the BLM said. 

In addition, Fisher told WyoFile: 

  • Existing campgrounds would continue to be open and maintained.
  • Dispersed camping would still be allowed.
  • Recreational activities such as hunting, fishing and backpacking would still be allowed.
  • Motorized vehicles would be allowed on established roads and trails including in the Killpecker Sand Dunes open play area.
  • There are no restrictions to activities such as snowmobiling or hiking proposed for the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail.

Critics also decry the transference of many acres of the field office into areas of critical environmental concern, a designation used to protect important historic, cultural and scenic values. 

BLM Rock Springs Field Officer Supervisor Kimberlee Foster listens as a man expresses his disdain for the agency’s preferred alternative resource management draft plan during a meeting in Rock Springs Sept. 27, 2023. “I think you better listen to the people,” he said. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Currently some 286,000 acres of the Rock Springs Field Office lands are designated ACECs. Under alternative B that would swell to more than 1.5 million acres. Alternative C, in contrast, would do away with existing ACECs, leaving zero acres so designated.

“For whatever reason, people latched on very quickly that any ACEC designation was going to automatically restrict public use, no hunting or fishing, no dog walking, no all the other things,” Foster said. “And none of that is true.” 

Minor restrictions

Alternative B proposes minor restrictions that would impact motorized vehicles, such as the aforementioned petroglyph road closure. The Boars Tusk, a striking rock obelisk in the Red Desert, would be closed to climbing activities under alternative B. As for rock hounding — another popular activity and area of concern — alternative B would require a permit for collection of petrified wood. Those permits would only be available to  academic, scientific, governmental or other qualified institutions or individuals. Alternatives C and D, in contrast, would allow “collection of petrified wood for hobby purposes and commercial use.”

Alternative B also addresses the threat of over-use in statements like this: “Where off-road vehicles are causing or will cause considerable adverse effects upon soil, vegetation, wildlife, wildlife habitat, cultural resources, historical resources, threatened or endangered species, wilderness suitability, other authorized uses, or other resources, the affected areas shall be immediately closed to the type(s) of vehicle causing the adverse effect until the adverse effects are eliminated and measures implemented to prevent recurrence.”

A Continental Divide Trail thru-hiker camps in the Red Desert. (Johnny Carr/Continental Divide Trail Coalition)

Motorized enthusiasts are worried, Wyoming State Trails Manager Forrest Kamminga told travel committee members. Among concerns, he said: “They have absolutely nothing in this document that explains how they’re going to manage over-the-snow-vehicle travel.” 

Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation Manager Patrick Harrington said the elimination of special recreation management areas could be in conflict with his office’s goal of dispersing users away from areas of concern and concentrating them in landscapes that can support them. 

“We see some concerns with this, in that without these special recreation management areas, it’s pushing all recreation towards dispersed recreation,” he said. 

The travel committee voted to send a letter asking the BLM to withdraw the draft resource management plan. When asked about the state preparing for potential litigation on the plan, Gov. Gordon’s Natural Resources Policy Advisory Nolan Rap told committee members that “yes, those conversations have begun.” 


Paul Kincaid, a retired Forest Service employee, drove to the Rock Springs open house from Green River. He was mostly interested in the Little Mountain area south of Rock Springs, he said, where he has been hunting since the ‘60s. He hopes the area remains as is — and isn’t subject to intensive energy development. 

“Just leave it like it is,” he said. 

Kathy Lichtendahl of northwest Wyoming has also spent time in the Red Desert area, camping and “wandering around” photographing landscape and vegetation. As a recreationist, she’s not threatened by the conservation-forward approach, she said. 

“Yes, I’m a recreationist, but I’m hoping that recreationists 100 years from now will also be able to enjoy the landscape,” Lichtendahl said. “And if that means there are places where I have to go to A instead of B or behave a little differently, that doesn’t bother me.” 

Runners in the Red Desert. (Courtesy/Citizens for the Red Desert)

Nikki Mann of Lander hiked the Continental Divide Trail in 2011, and said the Red Desert section left a lasting impression — even compared to the hundreds of miles crossing other states. It was hot and vast, a landscape so big you could see your path for days, she said. “It is a very special place.”

As a recreator who has also done the Run the Red event, Mann said she appreciates the plan’s acknowledgement of the landscape’s singular value. 

“I think this plan is a nod to, hey, there are lots of important ecosystems around the state … but there’s some that are truly unique among those, and this is one of them,” she said.

It may not be perfect from a recreation standpoint, she said, but “it’s a draft.”

BLM staffers stress that too. The draft is likely to change, especially as substantive comments flow in from locals and other interested stakeholders.

“Really the thing that we’re trying to push out the most is, we are out for public comment on this,” Fisher said. “The whole range of alternatives remains on the table, and all parts and aspects of every alternative remain on the table.”

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. It absolutely will restrict my favorite form of recreation, rockhounding. It will make it a crime to pick up rocks. I guess the folks back east and city folks believe it doesn’t count. So we rockhounders must oppose this plan if we want to continue our passion in life!

  2. Totally profiling certain groups of recreation types as if ethical hunters and offroaders are the problem to issues the concerns in this complete BLM draft. What evidence do they have that ethical outdoor recreationist are the causes of this blockade type draft ? The issues that are covered about vandalism? Who do they suspect? Destructive tweakers need destroyed not law abiding ethical recreators. Foolish agenda not dealing with the issues but taking freedoms and land from the good taxpayers . The intentions are clear by what BLM says in mistakenly left in draft.

  3. Typical government agenda, codifying 1% of the people over the wishes of the other 99% that actually use the area. The way I read it they will be shutting out development such as oil and gas and mining, pipelines and electrical transmission lines, will this also shut out wind turbines and solar farms? They also seem to be trying to push out the livestock producers and hunters and fisherman. Alternative D seems to be the most reasonable for most involved but Ms. Klingsporn barely mentions it.

    1. You should read it again and not listen to those who are against it Hageman is a clown who thrives on lies and deceit. The other clown who likened the plan to casualties of war(s) is a disgrace to wyoming and to all those who served in the military.

      Don’t believe the fringe. They don’t have a grasp on truth or reality

  4. If this is how much “care” was taken drafting this document “12 years in the making” it makes you wonder what other “errors” exist in the document.
    I am also troubled by Foster’s comment “It’ll be fixed between the draft and final.” So the BLM is going to take public comment and we as the public have to hope all the errors are corrected when we have the final regulations imposed? If BLM cannot get the correct draft out to the public, I have less confidence they can get the correct final regulations imposed.

    My other concern is Brad Purdy’s comment “Stuff like that should be shouted down from every corner of the state.” You may not like the comment, may not agree with another member of the public’s opinion, but tyranny is defined as cruel and oppressive government or rule. It is concerning when a senior member of the state’s BLM staff states contrary opinions – even when they are harsh – should be “shouted down.” This is the PUBLIC comment period and I would hope the BLM embraces all perspectives, not just their error filled Plan B. We want robust engagement, discussion of a plan that has major implications on the citizens of this state. Nobody needs to be shouted down, the radical left or extreme right wing.

    1. Likening a DRAFT environmental impact statement to all past casualties of war is asinine.

      You should “shout this down” because it’s an absolutely stupid comment. There was a day when honest folks would stand up for what is right. Today, everything is correct just as long as your political team is the one doing it.

      Make Republicans Have Backbones Again

      1. The first step is to be naive and trust the government to do what is right to protect your interests. Anyone that has been in Wyoming for a lengthy amount of time and recreated on BLM or Forest Service administered land knows that they close many roads and two tracks that have been in use for very long periods of time. Best remember a famous quote ” I’m from the government and here to help”.

        1. This said from a man who depended on govt. employment for his career and retirement. I applaud his service as ex-military and his help given to veterans in the area, but still he is the government man. Plan B is preferred as it may protect a little more the lands that make SW Wyoming unique different from the rest of the vast wasteland created by past oil and gas exploration.

  5. I don’t believe anything that comes out of the BLMs mouth. They outright lied to user groups in the Labyrinth Canyon near Moab.

    Hikers and equestrian have MANY wilderness areas to recreate in.

  6. I first visited the Red Desert in the 80’s on a Teton Science School natural history seminar with John Myonsenski. We spent three days exploring the plant diversity, human and natural history, fossils, and the quiet wild of the Red Desert. The BLM has done detailed research for more than 12 years and I’m in full support of the Preferred Alternative B. I hope there’s strong support of the Conservation Alternative.

  7. I was at the Rock Springs meeting and spoke with a BLM employee. I ask what was the purpose of a wilderness study area. He really couldn’t explain it. I asked what was to be studied. . Doesn’t appear that anything is going to be studied.I asked about access. I asked about road closures and if the BLM at their discretion could close two track roads. His answer was yes they could.The only part of the definition of a wilderness this proposal fits is that it limits access.This plan B IS just the opposite of the Multiple use concept. The existing two track roads need to remain open with few exceptions.

    1. WSA’s were created in the 70’s. The BLM identified areas with wilderness characteristics to manage for potential future wilderness designation but I’m not aware of any WSA that gained wilderness designation in Wyoming. The Forest Service had a similar program with their primitive areas, some of which (Cloud Peak and Huston Park) were designated by Congress during Reagan’s first term in the 80’s. If you’ve never done it I encourage anyone to saddle a horse and take a ride through Adobe Town. Just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we need to open up every trail to the newest sxs or fourwheeler. Multiple use means setting some places aside for the guys who want to cover country the old school way.

  8. If a stipulation has been allowed to remain in the document but is stated to be “an error”, why is still there? If the policy is implemented as written, will the error no longer be such? “Do you believe me or your lying eyes?” This should be considered here. And what of grazing?

    1. If the document is an “on-the ground proposal,” the authors cannot arbitrarily alter the proposed text, and it has to be subject to comment. Changing that document requires the process to respond to comments and submit the changed document through the same process used to publish it in the first place. These provisions are there to protect the commenters and those people charged with implementing the final policy.

  9. Thank you Katie for this well-written article describing the facts about this important BLM proposal.
    It saddens me that so many people seem to be listening to the few Wyoming loud shouting Far-Right Wing politicians who seem to want nothing more than creating chaos–factual information be damned.
    Hopefully, Wyoming people will start realizing that these crazies have no other interest than sewing misinformation and hate and quit listening to them and perhaps quit voting for them.

  10. I am curious about the difference between a recreationist and and recreator? Does the former study recreation–or just do it? Does the latter stand at the left hand of God (after the fact of creation, of course) or something more humble? Just asking….

  11. So the right wing fringe “alternative facts” were hyperbole, lies, and half truths? Isn’t that par for the course? You can’t have the gullible ol’ party without a good helping of gullible people.

  12. Its almost like one misinformed article fired up a base of people that dont do any of their own research.

  13. This is step one in limiting vehicle access and hunting/recreating on these lands.

    “”There’s absolutely an error in chapter four that we need to fix,” Rock Springs Field Office Manager Kimberlee Foster told WyoFile””

    If anybody believes this was left in by accident they are very naive!

    Kimberly Fister got caught trying to sneak something in!!

    1. The correct response to your claim, Dean, is to “prove that.” If the officials wanted to “sneak something in,” why would the say it was an error which they agree to correct? Accusing public officials of deliberately lying is subject to libel and defamation laws. If you cannot prove your statement, then stand down. Freedom of speech does NOT except the poster from libel laws. Most of these people like Kimberly are not famous people that cannot prevent false claims against them. You could have said “it appears” or “it seems.” Apparently, you are being quite naïve.

  14. I would welcome the closure of many miles of roads and off-road areas. Walking or riding or horse would allow many more people to enjoy the same land with much less damage to the landscape. There are 332 MILLION people in the US. This isn’t the uninhabited high desert anymore. If everyone drives their ATV everywhere, there will be nothing but dust blowing around in a few years.

    1. Thank You. Since I graduated in 69 when population of the world was at 3 billion, now in 2023 there are over 7 billion and counting. A lot of them have already come to Wyoming and impacted everything good about this state and not in a good way, exactly. One example: Been up in the upper Green River Lakes area lately? License plates on enormous RV’s parked at Rivers edge for all summer and fall show license plates from all over. Guides now drive to the lower lake with a trailer full of Kayaks or Canoes, drift the river with masses of people and fish out the entire accessible part of the river. It should be imperative for Wyoming and BLM to manage all remaining land for rehabilitation and try to return these desert lands back to a resemblance of what it was prior to sheep and cattle eating all the browse and oilfield contamination.