Free-ranging cattle stand before the Boar's Tusk, an isolated butte within Wyoming's Red Desert. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith)

Developing a plan to manage about 3.6 million acres of federal land in southwest Wyoming was never going to be easy. The fact it has taken a dozen years — involving hundreds if not thousands of people and untold numbers of stakeholder input sessions — to create a draft environmental impact statement is testament to that.


And it’s getting more difficult. Hard-line conservatives have never liked the federal government in general and the Bureau of Land Management in particular. Any plan that doesn’t allow for either major mineral extraction or livestock grazing on every square inch of undeveloped federal land in the state is sure to elicit “they’re-trying-to-put-us-out-of-business” histrionics and thinly veiled threats of armed rebellion.

The BLM’s preferred “Alternative B” for the Rock Springs District’s Resource Management Plan prioritizes conservation, a word that isn’t even in the vocabulary of far-right groups like the Wyoming Freedom Caucus. 

The planning area includes portions of Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta, Sublette and Fremont counties. The most recent RMP was signed in 1997, and the BLM has been working on a rewrite since 2011. The process was slowed by political disputes, litigation over wild horses and controversy about protection of sage grouse habitat.

Out of 18 million acres of federal land managed by the BLM in Wyoming, nearly 11 million acres are leased for oil and gas production, as reported by Wyoming Public Media. The Freedom Caucus isn’t content with that level of industrialization and wants more, even though fossil fuel companies are already sitting on undeveloped leased acreage the size of a small state. Yet those leases sit idle because they’re not profitable to drill.

Those market forces aren’t the BLM’s fault, but the Freedom Caucus is beating the drum against the plan, leading hundreds of figurative pitchfork and torch-wielding opponents flocking to town halls, open houses, city councils and legislative meetings.

The caucus, which controls at least 26 seats in the 62-member Wyoming House, is setting new lows for political discourse while also putting targets on the backs of BLM employees. It’s a serious issue. Many workers have been abused by people who believe the deliberate campaign of misinformation.

Last week, BLM-Wyoming Rock Springs Field Office Manager Kimberlee Foster told WyoFile the agency has received hateful comments, name calling and threats. “It’s not really about specifics in the document,” she said. “It’s more that anti-government thing, which we get a lot. The hate has been more political in nature.”

The familiar anti-federal response by the Freedom Caucus is dangerously off the rails. Nobody’s told more whoppers about the Rock Springs RMP than Rep. Bill Allemand (R-Midwest)

At a recent Freedom Caucus town hall, Allemand said the plan and environmental policies of President Joe Biden’s administration are “probably the biggest disaster in the history of the United States,” and affect more Americans than “the Civil War, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined.”

What?! That outrageous claim should shame the entire caucus, but it’s typical of the group’s fact-free arguments. The Civil War alone led to about 1.3 million military and civilian deaths, more than twice Wyoming’s current population. The other attacks sparked international wars. A draft EIS is worse?

Allemand has made other offensive comparisons. He said Biden’s 30×30 Plan which aims to conserve at least 30% of U.S. land and waters by 2030, imposes “more tyranny and oppression than the colonists were under King George.” Can somebody buy this guy a history book?

Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) was flat-out wrong when he claimed the BLM’s plan will “take away the livelihood of hundreds of ranchers in the state of Wyoming. And it’s only going to expand from here.”

Bear makes it sound like most of the 3.6 million acres covered by the new plan will be unavailable for leasing to cattle and sheep operations. In reality, it’s the opposite: only 8,576 acres — about 0.02% of the region — would be off-limits to grazing. That’s hardly the death knell of the livestock industry.

Rep. John Winter (R-Thermopolis) said the plan would impose wilderness-like restrictions on most of the land and effectively lock out hunters. 

If Winter’s statement was true, conservation groups like the Wyoming Outdoor Council wouldn’t enthusiastically support Alternative B. WOC noted the RMP “ensures unparalleled opportunities for hiking, camping, hunting, biking, and other recreational activities for generations to come.”

WOC said the plan would fully protect vital winter range and migration corridors for mule deer, pronghorn and elk herds. It would have “enormous implications for the future of the world-renowned and beloved Red Desert,” home to some of the state’s most iconic wildlife.

The Greater Little Mountain Coalition also praised the BLM for prioritizing conservation of the area’s hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities.

Thousands of Wyoming residents want to preserve significant cultural and historical resources, not endlessly subsidize ranchers who demand cheap grazing leases and extractive industries exploiting our energy resources to make huge profits for shareholders. 

So far, members of the Freedom Caucus have gotten away with lying to the public about what’s in the draft EIS. It’s particularly egregious because critics have every opportunity under a fair public process to present facts that might change the BLM’s preferred option or send the agency back to the drawing board. Public comment on the draft EIS is due Nov. 16, unless the BLM extends the deadline.

Republicans are content to try to spin the issue, sow dissent and raise money. They falsely claim Democratic administrations have waged wars on livelihoods in the West, most notably mineral extraction and ranching. It’s the quickest way to rile up an audience, and get Wyomingites to fill up GOP campaign coffers even if their candidates don’t face serious Democratic opposition.

Wyoming’s Republican Party railed for eight years against former President Barack Obama’s so-called “war on coal,” which despite GOP propaganda didn’t exist. It didn’t help coal states like Wyoming when former President Donald Trump failed to keep his promise to revive the industry, but the GOP just doubled down against Biden’s environmental agenda.

Expect the Freedom Caucus at the 2024 Legislature to exploit the controversial management plan to renew calls for the state to take over managing all federal lands in Wyoming, and perhaps ownership as well.

Wyoming has walked down this road before, spending $75,000 on a 2016 study of what would happen if Wyoming simply managed — but didn’t own — 25 million acres of BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands. The conclusion?

It would be an economic disaster. The Wyoming Office of State Lands manages only 3.5 million acres, and employs 96 people full-time. The BLM has 800 full-time employees, who would have to be replaced by the state.

If ownership was transferred to the state, the rules and laws governing public lands would remain the same, including federal labor laws and government contracting. The feds also require extensive environmental reviews which the state would have to take over.

Meanwhile, Wyoming wouldn’t get a dime more than it does now for mineral leasing and grazing and recreation fees.

Would any of the additional red tape and responsibilities benefit Wyoming? I submit it would not.

But the Freedom Caucus apparently thinks it would be a great deal. “When we talk about that, one option will obviously be to try to move the lands out of the hands of the feds and into the state,” Bear said.

Facts, not far-right talking points espoused by the Freedom Caucus, should decide what’s in the BLM’s final plan. But no matter which plan prevails, the Legislature should not use the outcome as an excuse to push for the state to be in charge of managing federal lands. It’s a guaranteed failure, and an incredibly expensive one.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I’m grateful for Kerry Drake and WYO File for educating people on the shenanigans, and dire threats to our public lands. Currently the Wyoming State Land Board has 2 items on the agenda for their December 7, 2023 meeting which will have far reaching effects on Wyoming residents’ quality of life. The crown jewel in the state’s inventory is the Kelly Parcel in Grand Teton National Park. This 640 acre property enjoys wonderful views of the Grand Teton Range, and is just north of the National Elk Refuge.

    The logic of selling the parcel involves the hypothetical case of interest from investments outpacing the property value. Note: This property is so valuable, that the auditor section of the proposal to sell the land has recommended that 70 acre parcels would probably fetch a higher price. This outrageous proposal has the overpaid “C-suite” executives palpating for the opportunity to either show off their purchasing power, or to clandestinely buy the property through a holding company, but in either case they will procure an irreplaceable crown jewel.

    The other property is less well known, but it involves one of the largest landowners around, who is lusting after the WY State Land dubbed “Columbus Peak,” just outside of Dayton, WY. He has offer to compensate the state with a parcel of land on the other side of Dayton, WY. To be clear, the appraisal that is being considered by the state should be ruled invalid, and out-of-date, but the appraisal glossed over wildlife corridors connecting the target property with the Bighorn Mountains, the reservoir on that property (extending into the adjacent lands), and the lack of any value for the proposed swap except for weeds to be cleared for development of real estate sales.

    These two proposed sales of some of the very best property in the inventory of the State of Wyoming, should be ringing the bells of the State Legislature, our Teton & Sheridan County Commissioners, and the national press. Can anyone imagine Britain selling their Crown Jewels? The promise of a return on investment rings hollow to me.

    I will never qualify for the fat cat club of billionaires bidding for the Grand Teton parcel, and I don’t care about that. I do care about the Wyoming State Land Board selling off irreplaceable properties for a nonsensical reason. Specifically, the property appreciation in this area is highly likely to exceed both the mere monetary value of the properties in question, and the legacy of teaching idiotic values to our youths.

    It is not like Wyoming is broke. We not only have more money than we apparently can put to productive use, but we have a legislature that has actually drafted a bill to refund (WY SF0149, sponsored by WY Senators Boner, Biteman, Cooper, Landen, Perkins, & Rep Harshman), the “excess” federal mineral royalties (FMR) caused by President Biden raising the FMR, as he promised to do during his first week in office. Why raise the FMR?

    Joining the First World royalty rate comes to mind. The 2007 publication GAO-07-676R provides a survey of mineral royalties from around the world. When I first read that document I thought that countries that invested in education, infrastructure, and the rule of law would of course be able to command a higher royalty rate. So, where did that document place the USA? Near Cameroon, a poor under developed country in Africa.

    Why? Corruption. Our representative democracy needs to be overhauled. President Biden raised the FMR split (with Uncle Sam) for WY from 12.5% to 16.67%, and the sky didn’t fall. Ask yourself why the adjustment was not equal to ND or NM? Didn’t our US Congressional delegation raise holy heck? No, of course not. Keeping a safe seat in Wyoming means not making the petroleum industry or the cattle ranchers angry. The above referenced Government Accountability Office (GAO) publication will put things into perspective. The last time the FMR was raised was for offshore drilling, which led to the 12-1/2% being raised to 16-2/3 under President Bush. Note the sky didn’t fall, and offshore drilling increased dramatically.

  2. Kerry Drake makes more sense than the Freedom Caucus hands down.How can we get rid of this “institutional”paranoia? The past is NOT the future.

  3. Thanks Kerry, for keeping this topic front and center. One would think that our citizens would not stay dumbed down into believing this far right rhetoric without checking out the facts. But that is the Freedom Caucus modus operandi – tell enough lies and people assume they must know what they are talking about. Sure sad to see our state being accosted by the Freedom Caucus agenda; our best retaliation is an informed public – and you are doing a great job putting out the material.

  4. Thank you for reporting this. How can we fight these ridiculous lies? What can the “Everyman” (and woman) do??

  5. What angers me the most is that while BLM has spent time on a DRAFT plan based on research and years of tracking migration pathways, the caucus uses fear mongering and manipulation of fact to stir up hatred against what most Wyoming people want…preservation of our way of life and open lands. Stop letting self.serving politicians tell us what to think. Decide for yourself and read the plan. Then give your fact.based feedback to the people who can actually make plan changes.

  6. The fate of Wild Horses is also an indirect target of Freedom Caucus shots. If it were not for the “mis”management of these populations by the BLM, there would be a target population of them that had wildlife like access to both public and private spaces. Check out the facts. They were here before cattle and sheep but after Bison and Deer and Elk!!

  7. Thank you, Kerry Drake, for bringing some sanity to this important issue! The far right-wing crazies don’t seem to have the intellectual capacity to have evolved much from their kindergarten days of their mothers reading them “The Little Red Hen,” who as you might recall, went around screaming to everyone who would listen that the sky was falling!
    These loud shouters are still running around screaming their mantras–while saying absolutely nothing–essentially telling us that the sky is falling whenever the sane and educated propose something that would benefit us all. I hope Wyoming people are listening to single-digit IQ idiots, but instead thoroughly examine the true facts of the important issues facing Wyoming and respond accordingly.

  8. Kerry, please don’t generalize by dropping responsible livestock managers and other citizens into the same bucket with The Freedom Caucus. Similarly, “Republicans” aren’t all of the mentality of Freedom Caucus. Instead of promoting your viewpoint on the BLM Plan B you’ve caused a defensive posture in reply, which then creates antagonism and anger. Do you suggest that everyone take a side?

  9. Kerry – perhaps the BLM should take a step back, correct errors w/i the document and restart the process? Per Katie Klingsporn’s Wyofile article of 10/10/24: … ‘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.’

  10. Thank you Kerry Drake… Finally, something factual. Harriet Hageman could take a few pointers from you.