A legislative committee will draft a measure to prohibit state and local authorities from aiding or cooperating with federal land management agencies “when they pursue policies which harm Wyoming’s core interests.”
The move is in response to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s draft plan for managing 3.6 million acres of federal land in southwest Wyoming.
The Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee also voted unanimously to draft a bill creating a new full-time position in the governor’s office to act as a watchdog “protecting the state’s interest against federal overreach.” Lawmakers on the panel suggested recruiting current and former BLM employees for the position with a signing bonus. They also discussed offering “bonuses and or opportunities for promotion” for state employees who go “above and beyond in protecting the state’s interests” against perceived federal overreach.
After hearing several hours of testimony on Friday regarding the BLM’s draft resource management plan revision for the Rock Springs field office the committee determined it poses an existential threat to the state’s economy and outdoor culture.
The draft proposal’s preferred alternative — “alternative B” — would expand “no surface occupancy” designations for industrial activities to protect wildlife habitat and cultural resources, and increase the acreage that’s off-limits to new rights-of-way for things like maintained roads, power lines and pipelines by 481%.
Public discussion of the RMP has been rife with misinformation, much of it coming from or amplified by elected officials. Widespread restrictions on recreation, for example, have elicited significant public outrage despite the plan largely leaving recreational access untouched, according to the agency.
Regardless of assurances from BLM officials that alternative planning scenarios are still in play during the draft comment period, committee members heard pleas from local officials to safeguard against potential federal actions even prior to the agency implementing a plan. That included testimony from Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle.
“The [BLM’s planning] process and its plan reflect nothing less than a continued effort of the current administration to weaponize executive privilege and rulemaking authority to circumvent the democratic process to impose a political agenda that bypasses voters and the will of our people,” Grossnickle said. “Because of this, if the restrictions of the preferred alternative of the Rock Springs RMP are set in place, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office will take a hard stance [regarding] cooperative law enforcement with the Bureau of Land Management. In particular, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office will not cooperate with or assist the BLM with enforcement action regarding the Rock Springs RMP.”
Committee members agreed the state should mirror the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office’s stance and extend a statewide prohibition on enforcing federal land management agency policies, including those of the U.S. Forest Service.
“I love your stance and I wholeheartedly agree with you,” Rep. Reuben Tarver (R-Gillette) told Grossnickle. “And I think the rest of Wyoming needs to get behind you.”
The committee’s other draft bill creating a federal land management watchdog position is needed to ensure “continuity from one governor’s administration to the next” regarding potential federal overreach and ongoing negotiations between state, local and federal officials, co-chairman Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) said.
The measure would also include “an incentive program for state employees who go above and beyond in protecting the state’s interests and are offered bonuses and, or, opportunities for promotion,” Boner said. The bill draft will also include language “offering signing bonuses for current federal land management agency employees who would rather work for the state,” he added.
The committee also agreed to submit a letter to the BLM asking that the draft plan be withdrawn and if it is not withdrawn that the public comment period be extended by 120 days. Currently, the deadline to submit comments on the draft EIS is Nov. 16.
The committee will again consider the measures when it meets Nov. 13 in Cheyenne.