U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources introduced legislation on May 20th, that aims to resolve the management status of thousands of acres of federal public lands in seven counties in Wyoming.
The legislation includes: 5 wilderness designations totaling 20,381 acres, 3 designations of a “Special Management Area” totaling 27,711 acres, 10 release and manage as multiple-use totaling 99,750 acres, and 2 policy directives.
According to the news release on Sentor Barasso’s website, “The bill is the direct result of a collaborative process started under the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI). The WPLI was created by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association in 2015 to seek locally driven solutions on the future of federal public lands that have been in management limbo for more than 30 years.”
However, this legislation being passed years after the Public Lands Initiative process began has been a cause of concern for some Wyomingites with ties to the outdoor and public lands community.
“We don’t know why this bill was introduced now, three years after the conclusion of the deeply flawed WPLI process,” states Wyoming Public Lands and Energy Associate Julia Stuble.
Julia shared the following statement from Wilderness Society Representative Andi Clifford, and the Wyoming Back Country Horsemen in response to the legislation:
Public lands legislation introduced by Senator Barrasso is drawing heat from outdoor users and tribal representatives who say it would harm Wyoming’s outdoor way of life and the lands they depend on. They say Wyoming’s senior Senator adopted a failed experiment to resolve the fate of Wyoming’s last remaining wilderness study areas.
The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act would erode Wyoming’s wilderness legacy by reducing or removing completely existing protections from over 135,000 acres of forests, sagebrush foothills, and mountains that are cherished for their outstanding hunting, cultural, and recreational values. In contrast, the bill only protects just over 17,000 acres as designated Wilderness.
“This bill will harm Wyoming’s outdoor way of life and the hunters, horsemen, and hikers who cherish these wild areas to camp, fish, and hunt,” said Don Saner, of Wyoming Back Country Horsemen. “The legislation doesn’t pass the sniff test because the ingredients were rotten.”
Legislation Excludes Tribes and Public Barrasso’s legislation adopts several contentious county recommendations from the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI).
According to the WPLI founding charter, this multi-year process was intended to be, “a collaborative, county-led process intended to result in one, state-wide legislative lands package that is broadly supported by public lands stakeholders in Wyoming.” However, many Wyomingites involved say the process was neither collaborative nor the resulting recommendations ever broadly supported.
Wyoming State Representative Andi Clifford is a former Fremont County Commissioner and Northern Arapaho tribal member. She says Fremont County’s recommendations, which Barrasso’s legislation adopts, failed to consult either the Arapaho or the Eastern Shoshone business councils and that tribal members were excluded from the county advisory committee.
“It was disingenuous at the time for Fremont County to backpedal on the agreement to consult with the tribes before finalizing the recommendations and it is extremely troublesome that this would now serve as the basis for federal legislation,” said Clifford.
Dan Smitherman of The Wilderness Society says while his organization was originally supportive of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative, they withdrew support after observing a lack of leadership and a failure to adhere to guidelines intended to foster collaboration.
“The Wyoming Public Land Initiative gradually deteriorated and sadly the majority of the county recommendations failed to find common ground,” said Smitherman. As a result, says Smitherman, Senator Barrasso’s bill lacks broad public support in Wyoming.
“The path to legislative success starts with legitimate collaboration. Congress rewards balanced and pragmatic compromises that have broad support, not one-sided giveaways that sow division and discord,” said Smitherman.