Wyoming’s sprawling landscape offers an array of opportunity, whether you extract the minerals that sit beneath its surface, hunt the game that hide within its trees or hike the trails along its mountainsides.
But the varying interests for that land have left hundreds of thousands of acres in limbo.
In 1976, the Bureau of Land Management inventoried parcels of land that contained wilderness characteristics and those parcels were set aside as wilderness study areas to protect them from potential development. Those characteristics were defined as “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.” And Wyoming ended up with 42 of them, totaling over 700,000 acres of land throughout the state. Their future was up to Congress.
But decades later, the lands are still waiting for official designations.
Some would like the parcels protected, while others want them opened to motorized use or energy development. In 2015, the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative gathered representatives from participating counties throughout the state who want to find a long-term solution for the lands. The representatives range from county commissioners to sportsmen to environmentalists. The unlikely bedfellows are trying to reach a consensus.
And that process is working. The groups plan to have a recommendation for the wilderness study areas later this year.
But Wyoming’s lone representative may be throwing a wrench into the entire process. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney has impressed upon the group that she plans to draft legislation to address the areas. It’s unknown when a bill will be drafted or what her legislation may aim to do, but some say the possibility of a bill has put a chill on the collaboration.
The WPLI group’s effort over the last three years was to avoid any comprehensive measure for the lands and to tackle the diverse WSAs with a diverse solution. The hope was that a locally-driven solution would finally end the controversy over the lands.
Everyone is ready to find a solution. Everyone is ready to do something with the lands. But the lands have waited decades; they can wait another 6 months.
It’s the Wyoming way to do things for ourselves. And this process is doing exactly that. The collaborative effort would protect the land and the various interest groups from top-down legislation. Representative Cheney should wait for the recommendation of the groups before proceeding with any legislation of that sort.
The process is working. She should let it.