Wyoming’s governor traveled to the southwestern reaches of the state this month to tour the scenic Greater Little Mountain Region and prepare for the imminent release of a revised resource management plan. The tour was led by the Greater Little Mountain Coalition — a diverse organization composed of conservation organizations, hunters, miners and other individuals dedicated to protecting the wildlife habitat in the region.
“It was a pleasure to see the area and its wildlife, and to hear from local sportsmen, a local rancher and others about their passion for this place,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement. “Wyoming takes pride in the responsible stewardship of our land and resources and I expect to see the (Bureau of Land Management) honor the local input they received.”
The BLM in Rock Springs has long been working to revise its resource management plan, defined as a “land management blueprint.” In other words, it’s a document used to manage activity (including energy development) and has the potential to safeguard the treasured high desert region for years to come. As required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the BLM has been tasked with updating the existing plan to account for new data, policies and research.
But it’s a tenuous balancing act: weighing the need to protect sensitive wildlife habitat, with the drive to support the state’s main economic engine, energy development.
Kimberlee Foster, manager at the bureau’s Rock Springs field office, told the Star-Tribune on Thursday she anticipates having the land use plan released soon, but declined to provide a specific date.
“We’re working on it, but we don’t have a date,” Foster said of the draft Resource Management Plan. “It should be fairly soon, we’re hoping that it will be ready in the next month or so.”
A 90-day public comment period will follow. Public meetings will also take place during that time, as required by law.
“The forthcoming decision by the BLM is a critical one for the future of this incredible place, and we hope that the agency will take into account the strong local and state support for a balanced plan,” said Josh Coursey, with the Greater Little Mountain Coalition.
This spring, several conservation groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council, requested the BLM consider the obstacles to public participation caused by the coronavirus pandemic before releasing a draft plan. The region in question holds significant economic and cultural significance for Wyoming residents, the groups noted. The revised plan will apply to 3.6 million acres of surface land and 3.5 million acres of mineral estates located in parts of Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta, Sublette and Fremont counties. The public also has not been able to offer comments on the plan since it was initiated nearly a decade ago.
Conservation advocates hope to conserve parts of the region, especially the Red Desert to Hoback mule deer migration corridor and sage grouse habitat in the Golden Triangle, as well as a plethora of historic trails and sacred sites.
In a March 31 letter signed by six conservation groups working in Wyoming, advocates urged the bureau to wait on releasing the draft, asserting that barriers to public participation could potentially violate federal environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and guidelines set by the Council on Environmental Quality. But the Wyoming Outdoor Council has not received a response from the BLM to the letter.
Sweetwater County’s Board of Commissioners also wrote a letter to the BLM this spring requesting the federal agency postpone the release of the draft plan in light of the pandemic. The commissioners called the plan “vitally important” to the county’s economy and residents’ quality of life. Yet they feared public participation would be compromised if a comment period is opened too soon.
Initiated in 2011, the Rock Springs resource management plan has hit several bumps along the way, much to the ire of several state officials and residents. According to land agency officials, such plans take about eight years. But the process of finalizing the Rock Springs plan stretched longer than anticipated, due in part to policy changes and complex environmental considerations throughout the past decade.
At the end of January, the agency released a draft resource management plan amendment specifically for wild horses in the region. The public comment period for the amendment ended in April. Once the revised draft is published, the public will have 90 days to review and comment on it.
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