Gov. Mark Gordon and some state legislators are up in arms about the Bureau of Land Management’s recently released proposed land management plan for the Red Desert and surrounding area. Rep. Bill Allemand (R-Midwest) declared that it was the worst disaster in American history, affecting “more people than the Civil War, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined.” For perspective on that outrageous statement: Over 750,000 American citizens were collectively killed in those tragic, historical events — far more people than live in the entire state of Wyoming. 

I would hope most Wyomingites are grounded enough to identify alarmist, inflammatory rhetoric when they see it. To suggest that anyone is being killed by a BLM management plan is to offend the memories of real lives lost. We live in a world of hyperbole, with politicians desperate to prove themselves as the most virtuous member of their party. Lucky for those of us who live in Wyoming, we have an abundance of crisp, fresh air. So let’s all take a deep breath and look at the facts.

I was born and raised in Sheridan and permanently reside in Laramie. Wyoming is unique. We are one of the last remaining places that still has space! I always tell outsiders that no one lives in Wyoming for the people. We all live here for the land. Regardless of our political backgrounds, careers or socioeconomic status, those of us who choose to live here, choose it for the landscape. The vast expanse that makes us feel like we are home. 

As one of the last high-elevation ecosystems left in North America, the Red Desert is one of these inspiring swaths of Wyoming’s geography. This nearly 6 million acre region is home to the largest living sand dune system in the U.S., the largest migratory herd of pronghorn (50,000) in the lower 48 states and the world’s largest herd of desert elk. Tribal Nations have been living holistically throughout the Red Desert since time immemorial. Native rock art, dating back more than 11,000 years, can still be seen in the Red Desert. The Oregon Trail also passed through this area, and wagon wheel ruts can still be spotted on the landscape. 

Recently, the BLM released a draft management plan for the Red Desert that has seemingly caught our politicians off guard. This proposed plan, however, did not materialize out of thin air. Rather, it is the product of a years-long public process beginning in 2011. This has included a 60-day public scoping comment period, four public scoping meetings, an open house and the opportunity to submit nominations for Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. The plan has been and will continue to be shaped by public engagement.

There are four proposals in the plan, one of which, Alternative B, the BLM has selected as its preferred choice. Alternative B would prioritize wildlife, conservation, Indigenous cultural areas and historic values within about 60% of the area to be managed by the plan while leaving about 40% open to one or more types of industrial development such as oil and gas, mining and renewable energy. 

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

The BLM’s plan would not affect existing natural resource leases and mines — or their associated jobs and economic benefits. Under Alternative B, 1.4 million acres would remain open to oil and gas development, 223,109 acres for coal mining, 1.8 million acres for oil shale, 1.8 million acres for trona mining and nearly 1.9 million acres for hard rock mining. 

By conserving areas where energy development and mining have low economic potential and could conflict with other uses, Alternative B ensures that beloved hiking trails, hunting areas, designated OHV routes and camping spots remain accessible and are not tarnished by industrial development.

Whether or not people in Wyoming want to admit it, the federal land that makes up around 50% of our state is not ours alone. It is our great privilege to live amidst such boundless expanses of untouched land, and it is our duty as Wyoming residents to safeguard what makes Wyoming home. Not what makes us money. 

Alternative B is not set in stone and can still be shaped and amended through public comment. When Wyoming politicians attempt to impede this process through inflammatory rhetoric, as well as bills like U.S. Rep. Harriett Hageman’s proposal to preemptively block the draft plan before it’s finalized, they distort the facts and seek to silence the voice of Wyoming citizens. Rather than getting caught up in the flurry of irresponsible and incendiary comments made by politicians with personal agendas, take a moment to learn the facts, and speak up during these public comment periods to provide constructive feedback. Our dignified engagement as citizens will remind politicians representing our state to respect our public due process. 

As a board member of Wyoming Wilderness Association, I am proud to say that while we naturally support provisions for wildlands in Alternative B, we are remaining grounded and open-minded by asking the BLM to collaborate with the ranching community and Tribal rights holders to create a durable, actionable plan that protects a wild, working landscape. 

Martha (Tate) Jenkins is a Wyoming attorney and proud board member of the Wyoming Wilderness Association. She recently returned home from Tanzania, where she was working at a refugee camp for the UNHCR....

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  1. well to Val Jones I wonder by leaving the red Desert alone and allowing public access as they always have is sweeping changes? I live in Wyoming not for the coal oil and gas but for the land and the lack of people and in Wyoming you can get away The red desert is a perfect place to do that. Some people and legislators in Wyoming feel they own the BLM lands including our representative who in my opinion is a disgrace Harriet Hageman. Plan B sounds reasonable the BLM land has to be managed and certainly Wyoming government is not capable of properly Managing that land they would just turn it over to the petroleum industry. Keep in mind Wyoming doesn’t own it.

  2. I cannot see the benefits of such sweeping changes to a large tract of remote and wild country. What I do see is Wyoming people losing access and economic benefits as the Feds increase oversight and pile on additional regulations. When the Federal Government gets involved we almost always lose some of what we love about Wyoming.

    1. If managing land were up to Wyomingites there would be absolutely nothing left. The Feds always set up better goals than those that surround and exploit the resources. History clearly shows that to be true, but Wyoming loves to believe lies….see 70% support for Donald Trump.

  3. My main concern is the protection of the wild horses in the Red Desert, the McCullough herd, who has been a major tourist attraction for years and are native to the Red Desert. The BLM would be making a serious mistake by rounding up this exquisite herd, removing them from the land, leaving it barren and empty.

  4. I just think public land needs to stay public. It’s all we have and that’s 100% why I live here. Government or BLM shouldn’t have the right to speak on our behalf. It’s public and it belongs to the people. To much of our land is already landlocked and untouchable by law only by a corner of someone’s land who most likely don’t reside here. Keep our land wild and full of the creatures we all love to go out and see on our outings. Oil and mining companies have enough places to drill and mine they don’t need our lands too. Other states well just let us know how much public land you have before telling us what to do with ours. I love our state, our people, our wild places, our weather that keeps most people out. Don’t change our Wyoming

  5. Martha(Tate)Jenkins is a 4th generation Wyomingite. Her Grandfather(Bob Tate)was one of the most respected horse trainers in the Sheridan area. Her father(Hardy Tate) was a multi-term legislator. Don’t misbrand her as some east coast diletante. That said, I respectfully disagree with her and think the BLM should fix their self-admitted printing errors and come back with corrected alternatives so we can see exactly what they intend.

  6. Alternative B sounds good bcs it protects wildlife & seems to promote conservation. I’m not familiar with the other Alternative proposals. My main concern is that the Wild Horses in the Red Desert be protected & not rounded up. The Wild Horses on Federal Lands are protected by law & yet the BLM continually breaks the law rounding them up without the proper procedure. They shouldn’t be rounded up at all but be allowed to remain as is as a tourist attraction & for prevention of wildfires.

    1. Catherine: Wild horses reproduce at an astonishing rate of about 20% per year and their numbers spiral out of control if they are not managed/controlled. The BLM has an effective wild horse management program in place which out places thousands of wild horses on private land where they live out their lives in an environment that provides adequate forage free from predators. If the BLM did not control their numbers, they would become the number one threat to the health of the Red Desert ecosystem which they share with antelope, deer, elk, cattle and sheep. Tens of thousands of wild horses are grazed by private ranchers in states such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota at a cost to the taxpayers of about $60-65 per month per horse. Their forever home is a dream come true for the horses – much better than wintering at 7000 feet in a Wyoming winter. Its expensive but the BLM’s program is working.

  7. When did public access to natural beauty become politicized? Who among Wyoming residents don’t want the option of enjoying these natural areas? A place to escape for an hour or day to put the travails of modern life into perspective, who needs this? We all do. Please let the politicians know, maybe they have the same needs along with keeping the rich wealthy.

  8. Well said, Martha, may we all avoid sound bites and think clearly and speak simply on the important subject.

  9. I as a tax payer am thankful that the federal government historically had enough foresight to create the BLM, forest service, as well as the the US Fish & Wildlife Service. If left to the short sighted western states politicians lobbied heavily by self interests we would lose our natural lands completely to the energy industry, ranchers, and off to road vehicle destruction. The idea of Wyoming spending $50 million in tax money is simply a tax supported ploy by private interests to further feed Wall Street investors.

  10. With all this land which belongs to the Federal Govetnment that makes me also a land owner too as I am a citizen and pay taxes to fund the BLM even though I reside 1,500 miles from the Red Desert. I don’t appreciate it that Harriett Hageman wants to steal my propety but she’s perfecty welcome to walk or ride on it like I have done.

  11. Bom land should be managed for all..not just extractive enterprises and cattle grazing. I have personally seen the stark differences where blm land ends and private land starts. It seems that some individuals abuse public land, but would not do the same on their own land. We should all have equal say in how public land is used.

  12. I surveyed the Red dessert for a year with Western Geophysical in 1980 and the destruction i witnessed then was terrible.

  13. If you aren’t from Wyoming, or weren’t born here, then stay out of our business. This is government overreach, as always. They killed logging in the Medicine Bow National Forest, and now it’s a massive fire hazard because of the beetle kill. So much so that a massive fire easily swept through the Rob Roy reservoir area destroying thousands of acres and sweeping south in Colorado. But because of some folks back east and some folks in California, Oregon and Washington, the thinning of the forest had to end and now created a tinder box. This is just going to be worse. People hunt pronghorn, Elk and mule deer in these areas and now they are being cut off. It’s not just the gas exploration they are eliminating, it’s ranching and hunting. You people who don’t live here try to tell us how to live our lives but the only places in Wyoming you are familiar with are Jackson Hole, Cody, Grand Teton and Yellowstone. You ignore the rest of the state because we don’t follow your political views or live the way you do. Stop telling us what to do! Stop trying to California, New York, and all other failed places my Wyoming! Stay out of our business!

    1. Joshua Brudigam you are 100% correct! I am a native of 68+ years, I sure as hell don’t need someone from another state telling us how to govern “our beloved state”. I recreate on public land as much as possible. I don’t misuse or destroy, we act responsible so we can return

    2. The federal lands in Wyoming belong to all 330 million Americans. Wyoming citizens represent .2% of that 330 million. Yep, that’s right. One out of every 500 Americans reside in Wyoming. Don’t you think that the 499 out of 500 owners of our public land should have a say in its management?

      1. Fred. NO! Do we make decisions about Central Park or the Beaches in California. The people that live do that. This will affect us not them.

  14. Thanks for a thoughtful commentary. It is unfortunate that our elected leaders lack nuance and immediately launch into predictable diatribes that demonstrate their inability to be responsible stewards. When BLM’s recommended plan looks intelligent, it reminds that our state leaders are ill equipped for tasks ahead.

  15. The open spaces of Wyoming give evidence of the world of nature that we all depend on for our existence. Buildings do not feed us. Nature teaches us and entertains us. Let us protect it while we still can.

  16. Thank you! I know far too many people who won’t take the time to sit down and thoughtfully read anything. Instead they listen to those who are loud and “important” and base their opinions there. It’s very sad. Especially when so many use these lands for recreation. We need to protect as much as we can in our changing world.

  17. Martha, you, like so many others, have intentionally omitted material facts. Just like the BLM themselves. How long has there been OGM (oil,gas and mineral) development in the Red Desert area ? 50-100 years? And yet you claim irreparable harm and destruction of natural resources. Guess what? The Red Desert is alive and flourishing! By your own words, home to all of the wonderfully unique aspects of the Red Desert in every season! We don’t need or want any more federal overreach! Have you heard the saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it ! Please elaborate on the massive road closures to everyone for half of the year? That’s just for starters. The BLM has supposedly been working on the RMP for many years and yet left glaring errors and omissions intact! This is intentional and disingenuous to say the least. Wyoming says “NO” ina statewide, unified voice! Several Western States are being attacked in similar fashion. No means no !

  18. A refreshing and reasoned article, as opposed to a draft bill passed by a legislative committee that would dedicate $50 million to help Wyoming fight the BLM’s proposed plan. This would be an unwise and wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money.