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Southwestern Wyoming is a paradise for sportsmen and women, from small streams in the Greater Little Mountain area – providing excellent native cutthroat trout fisheries – to the moose and mule deer in the Big Sandy area to the desert elk herd of the Jack Morrow Hills. People from across the state and region travel to the area for the great hunting, fishing, recreation and breathtaking landscapes.

The area is beloved by Wyomingites and is a national treasure. That’s why the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and other sportsmen’s organizations are seriously urging the Bureau of Land Management to carefully consider the invaluable wildlife resources and irreplaceable landscapes as it writes a new management plan for the area. The Rock Springs office of the BLM is revising its Resource Management Plan, which will guide decisions on such things as oil and gas development, wildlife habitat, grazing and recreation on the public lands for the next couple decades.

Conservation of fish and wildlife populations and habitat, the area’s stunning vistas and protecting air and water quality must be priorities as the BLM decides how the 3.6 million acres of public land will be managed. This long-term plan represents 20 percent of all BLM lands managed in Wyoming. It is that important.

Writing this plan with fish and wildlife in mind is important because healthy wildlife populations contribute to our own well being. For example, most of the Big Sandy area is within crucial winter range for big game. New scientific information has charted a 150-mile mule deer migration corridor that runs through the entirety of the area. The Big Sandy and Sweetwater rivers are favorites of anglers. Any development in the area should include riparian buffers to protect the waterways and protections against disturbances in the highest-used portions of migratory routes.

Throughout the area, the BLM must thoroughly assess the potential impacts of development on fish, wildlife and the habitat. Hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism are a big part of Wyoming’s economy, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in spending annually, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that wildlife-related recreation alone totals roughly $1.1 billion.

Much of the outdoor recreation that provides a sustainable part of the state economy takes place in southwest Wyoming. Elk tags for the Greater Little Mountain area are among the most highly prized in Wyoming. Sportsmen and women support BLM’s nomination to prepare a Master Leasing Plan for the area, which will take a comprehensive look at the resources and address potential negative effects on fish and wildlife before management decisions are made.

In the Jack Morrow Hills, where the sporting heritage is strong, with its rugged, desert landscape of buttes, mesas, and bluffs, is vital habitat. The area is home to ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls, and greater sage grouse and is an important birthing area for elk and mule deer. It should continue to be managed under the guidelines in existence today mirroring the BLM’s Jack Morrow Hills Coordinated Activity Plan with no management changes that would deplete the character and wildlife habitat available.

The Wyoming Wildlife Federation is submitting several recommendations for managing the public lands in the southwest part of the state, including: maintaining contiguous, intact habitat; prohibiting surface disturbance in sensitive habitat and important migration corridors; suggesting wildlife-friendly fencing; and development and implementation of plans to mitigate the impacts of development on fish and wildlife.

We must do everything we can to ensure that some of the country’s most impressive fish and wildlife populations and spectacular and varied landscapes will endure and thrive for generations to come.

Joy Bannon is field director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation in Lander. 

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