BLM receives 40,000 comments on Big Horn Basin land plan

2011-08-13T00:00:00Z 2012-09-19T15:02:13Z BLM receives 40,000 comments on Big Horn Basin land plan

By MARTIN KIDSTON

The Billings Gazette

Casper Star-Tribune Online
August 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

CODY — The Bureau of Land Management has received more than 40,000 comments — most of them form letters generated by advocacy groups — on its plan for managing public lands across the Big Horn Basin for the next two decades.

The BLM released the draft plan in early April, attempting to balance energy development in the region with the protection of significant habitat and scenic landscapes.

Since then, the draft has drawn criticism and praise from across the spectrum.

The agency has received about 150 hand-written comments on the document over the past few months.

Caleb Hiner, the plan’s project leader, said the BLM also has received several hundred form letters from supporters of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and nearly 40,000 electronic form letters from members of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

No matter how the letters were generated, Hiner said, the agency will look for substance in the comments.

“What we’ll do is categorize all the letters,” Hiner said.

“We’ll go through those to make sure they are form letters. We’ll pull out the substantive comments and we’ll go forward and see what we need to modify in the plan’s preferred alternative.”

As written, the BLM’s preferred alternative attempts to strike a balance between sensible energy development and conservation. While it has gained support from both sides, some elected officials have called the preferred alternative too restrictive to oil and gas interests.

The four Big Horn Basin counties — Park, Washakie, Hot Springs and Big Horn — are preparing their own summary to counter the BLM’s preferred alternative.

The summary hasn’t been made available to the public yet, though Park County commissioners voted Tuesday to direct their consultant, Ecosystems Research Group, to release it for public review.

“It’s basically a 30-page summary of our 566 pages of comments to the BLM’s 1,900-page document,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf. “It summarizes our points of discussion and what we’ve found incorrect and what we disagree with.”

Hiner said the BLM has been anticipating the executive summary, which commissioners said was

“99 percent done.”

Hiner added that weighing the many comments may prove challenging.

“I don’t look at [it as] a voting exercise,” Hiner said. “People make some good cases for one resource or another.”

The public commenting period is set to close Sept. 7. Hiner said it will take a few months before the BLM releases a final draft.

Contact Martin Kidston at mkidston@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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