Bighorn Basin Resource Management Plan nears completion after long processWritten by Saige Albert
Worland – Beginning in 2008, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began to consider revisions for resource management plans (RMPs) in the Bighorn Basin, and three plans – the Washakie RMP, Grass Creek RMP and Cody RMP – were wrapped into one plan for future management.
“Generally an RMP is a 15 to 20 year document,” comments Holly Elliott, planning and environmental specialist in the Worland BLM office. “The current plans have reached the ends of their life spans. We have had policy changes, new issues and economic drivers that have come up recently, and they need to be addressed.”
“The purpose of the Bighorn Basin RMP is to look at opportunities, current policies and management that covers everything,” Elliott continues. “This RMP looks at a balanced approach between resource development, resource protection and how we can balance those with local and regional economies and uses such as recreational activities. It looks at the whole spectrum.”
When BLM first issued its Notice of Intent to revise the RMP in 2008, the agency began to move forward by involving the public in a full revision process.
“Public lands in the Bighorn Basin have oil and gas, mining, recreation, wide open spaces and pristine wildlife habitat, so there was a great deal of interest,” Elliott says, adding that many public meetings were held throughout the Basin over the past several years.
“We got together with our cooperating agencies,” Elliott says, noting that cooperating agencies include four county commissions, seven conservation districts, a variety of departments and offices at the state level, as well as federal agencies.
Cooperating agencies worked with federal land management agencies to delve into creating a plan.
“Cooperating agencies are huge in our process,” Elliott mentions. “Without their expertise on the local economies, it would be difficult to make decisions on management actions.”
“We don’t just work here – we live here, too,” she continues. “We wrapped ourselves into this plan and looked for balance to keep everything in perspective.”
Elliott adds, “We are grateful for the support and involvement of our cooperating agencies. Not all plans have the same support.”
Working towards completion
After working together for several years, in 2010, the groups had come together with a plan and several options.
“We were close to being finished with the plan when the sage grouse issue became more significant than anyone anticipated,” Elliott says. “It became central to the planning process.”
With the addition of the latest information involving sage grouse, on May 28, the Bighorn Basin Proposed RMP and final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) were released for a 30-day protest period.
“It was a very involved process,” she comments.
The 3,000-plus pages of the Bighorn Basin Proposed RMP looks at management across 3.2 million surface acres and 4.2 million acres of federal minerals.
BLM comments, “The revised plan will establish goals and objectives for resource management; identify lands that are open or available for certain uses, including any restrictions and lands that are administratively unavailable to certain uses; provide comprehensive management direction for all resources and uses; and make broad scale decisions guiding future site-specific implementation decisions.”
“The Bighorn Basin RMP truly does try to find a balance between all of the multiple uses,” explains Elliott. “The Bighorn Basin has it all – it is multiple use at its finest.”
Role of agriculture
“Ag plays a pretty big role in this plan,” Elliott says. “The Bighorn Basin has some of the first grazing districts in the state of Wyoming. Ag has always been a major lifestyle and cultural component of the Bighorn Basin, so that plays a role in the RMP’s management prescriptions.”
The RMP looks at utilizing rangeland health standards and guides, prioritizing allotments for monitoring efforts and prioritizing areas for renewal of grazing permits.
“Only 5,000 acres of the 3.2 million acres of public land in the Bighorn Basin are closed to grazing,” she comments, noting that the same acreage for grazing was maintained from the old plan to the new document. “There is a huge role for agriculture and those interests.”
The 30-day protest period ends on June 27, says Elliott, though BLM will accept protests postmarked through June 29 to accommodate for the weekend.
“Anyone who made comments throughout the process has the opportunity to protest points they don’t feel were addressed the way they had expected,” she explains. “After the 30-day period, we will do a response to the protests and try to resolve them.”
BLM will make a change, point out where the protest is addressed or provide justification as to why the concern was not included.
“Concurrently, a Governor’s Consistency Review is also happening,” Elliott says. “The Governor’s Office is reviewing the RMP for consistency with state law and local plans to make sure we are consistent.”
It is anticipated that the RMP will be approved after the protest period, and a record of decision is anticipated to be signed in late summer 2015.
After the RMP is signed, implementation of the plan will begin.
“This is the real meat of the process when we take decisions made in the RMP and apply them to on-the-ground actions,” Elliott comments. “Implementation of some RMP decisions will take place immediately, while other will be implemented throughout the coming months and years.”
Elliott notes that the process will be a big undertaking that will require participation from the public and cooperating agencies. Numerous opportunities for public involvement will be available as the plan is implemented.
“This plan will help guide us for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Elliott. “We have to have a document that is flexible, has good value and is consistent with our way of life. We feel like we have a truly multiple use plan.”