Wyoming coalition focuses on Wild Lands at local levelWritten by Christy Martinez
A Wyoming-based, grassroots coalition has formed in response to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Secretarial Order 3310, or the Wild Lands Initiative, with the end goal of supporting opposition efforts on several fronts.
Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says that, informally, a large coalition of Wyoming multiple use interests has met since the order was released early in 2011. That group includes representatives from the mineral industry, agriculture, sportsmen, attorneys, the Attorney General’s office and the Governor’s office, as well as the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.
Recently members from the group attended a meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah that was organized by the Utah County Commissioners and brought together similar interests from both states. During the gathering they discussed whether or not to join forces in a singular coalition.
“It was a good, constructive meeting,” says Magagna. However, he says Wyoming declined to join with Utah’s group, known as the Western Homestead Legacy Alliance, in favor of keeping its Wild Lands coalition at more of a grassroots, local level.
“We ultimately decided to do our thing here in Wyoming, working closely with the Governor’s office and Wyoming multiple users, and we thought we could keep communication more effective that way,” says Sublette County Commissioner and Wyoming County Commissioners Association President Joel Bousman of Boulder.
“We didn’t think it was the place we were ready to go, but we certainly want to be coordinated with Utah, and sometimes we can get more done with two entities working on the same project,” explains Magagna.
“Our intent is to coordinate very closely with any other coalition that comes up, including the Western Homestead Legacy Alliance,” says Bousman. “They have some advantages with their coordinating effort in D.C., where our staff could be more effective locally with local multiple use partners. I think we’ve got the good of both sides of it, and that it might work out as a good scenario.”
Following that decision, Wyoming’s coalition is now working to put together a proposal for a structure.
“This won’t be an organization, but a collaborative structure approved by the group, and we’ll meet soon to put that together, as well as a request for proposals,” says Magagna.
The request for proposals will seek an entity to provide service to the group, including coordination, research and public relations. All the interests involved in the coalition will jointly fund the service.
“The end goal will be to support efforts on several fronts,” says Magagna. “That will include the litigation along with Utah and the Congressional efforts initially to defund the order and now to do away with the Wild Lands Initiative completely, as well as public information to tell our story and why we’re concerned about Wild Lands.”
The focus of the lawsuit with Utah against the federal government includes arguments that the secretarial order is illegal because it violates the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires public input process and public notice, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because there was no assessment on the order’s affects.
Magagna says last semester WSGA retained a UW Law School extern who did an extensive legal analysis on those two issues, and which the association has now shared with the Attorney General’s office.
Bousman says the Wyoming County Commissioners Association is working closely with the Governor’s office through the Attorney General’s office to identify in Wyoming a scenario that could be pointed out as harm inflicted on a multiple use industry as a result of the secretarial order.
“The Governor will ultimately determine when we hire an attorney and litigate,” says Bousman of the lawsuit that would be in addition to the one ongoing.
As far as the defunding of the initiative in the 2011 budget, Magagna says interest groups have yet to find out what that defunding means.
“We know what we think it ought to mean – that they drop it – but we’re seeing evidence that that’s not what they’ve done,” he states, giving as an example six wells on mineral leases in Sweetwater County near Adobe Town. “The BLM was supposed to issue well permits, but then announced in early May that they were delaying those permits because of Wild Lands.”
Magagna says the Big Horn Basin is also seeing Wild Lands effects through the renewal process of its BLM Resource Management Plan.
“Originally the BLM had proposed some 40 or 50 potential Wild Lands areas, and even now they’re still telling cooperators that they’re keeping eight or nine of them,” he explains. “So what does defunding mean? It’s maybe slowed Wild Lands down, or changed the approach. It’s all up in the air, and my view is we need to keep the pressure on – it hasn’t gone away.”
“There are places now where the BLM has asked proponents of projects to do the assessment for them, because they don’t have the money,” says Bousman. “I’m not convinced that taking away the money really stopped the progress.”
“We don’t know how the BLM and Department of the Interior are reacting to the defunding, and it’s only good through Sept. 30, so we need to keep defunding it, or do something more substantive to keep it from going forward,” continues Magagna.
From a rancher’s standpoint, Bousman says he’s concerned the BLM will find a way to restrict multiple use on Wild Lands designations, which could include livestock grazing and the ability to manage allotments.
“If they determine through their wilderness characteristics assessment that we shouldn’t allow roads, for example, that will restrict our ability to maintain our improvement, and may not allow for the placement of improvements,” he says.
Of the Wyoming coalition, Magagna says, “We don’t want to create another organization – just something that brings organizations together.”
Of the future of the coalition, Magagna says Wild Lands is the issue of the day, but not the only one out there.
“They fall one behind the other, and if working together in this way proves productive in this issue, we may move with this same approach onto other key resource issues that would apply to all these same interests,” he says. “Some EPA issues would fit in very well, as well as sage grouse, and how the BLM chooses to manage to accommodate sage grouse.”
Bousman says a statewide multiple use coalition proves the opportunity to address other issues that are more localized in Wyoming, as opposed to national issues.
“The whole purpose is to be more effective at shedding light on issues that need to be resolved in regard to the multiple use components of the Wyoming economy,” he notes. “Those include livestock grazing, energy development and recreation, among others.”
He lists one potential challenge as harvesting beetle kill timber.
“Beetle kill timber has a tremendous potential impact on the degradation of watersheds in Wyoming, and we may come up with scenarios to address the issue locally that may not exist in other states,” says Bousman. “We’re not far enough down the road to say these are the issues we’ll address, but hopefully we’ll get closer to that as we move forward.”