Wyo County Commissioners pursue initiative on public landsWritten by Saige Albert
On Dec. 3, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) launched their Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI). WPLI develops a locally led, Wyoming-specific legislative lands package to address designation, release or other management for wilderness study areas in Wyoming.
WPLI will bring interested stakeholders to the table to develop agreements on the final designation or release of Wyoming’s 45 wilderness study areas, as well as other potential land designations that could benefit from legislative intervention.
“WPLI seeks to resolve the final disposition of wilderness study areas and any other land designation issue,” says Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson. “We have a lot of land in wilderness studies areas and other classifications, and there are more suitable ways to classify some of that land. They may become wilderness areas, be released or be designated as any level of use in between, but it is important for the well-being of livestock, wildlife and economic activity to have those suitably classified.”
“The last time Congress passed a major lands bill specifically for Wyoming was more than 30 years ago,” Thompson adds. “We believe it’s time for a new effort that tackles the temporary wilderness study areas in Wyoming and faces head-on some of Wyoming’s most difficult land designation challenges.”
WCCA adds, “The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is the first grassroots effort to create a comprehensive lands package for Wyoming in more than three decades. It is an opportunity to make meaningful decisions about the designation and use of public lands in this state.”
Beginning with a vision
“This started almost a year ago as a vision,” Thompson says. “There has always been a desire to get some final resolution on wilderness study areas.”
Similar efforts have taken place in other states, but Thompson says they are tailoring a process that will work for Wyoming.
“Idaho did a state-wide program to address roadless areas that was focused in the Governor’s Office,” he says. “This is going to be a county-level initiative, but we will have touch-points in the Governor’s Office.”
A look at WLPI
Thompson explains that Wyoming’s County Commissioners are currently preparing a draft process to help counties get involved and determine how lands should be classified.
“WCCA is putting together a draft process, and we need to finalize that,” he says. “At our next meeting, we will look at the latest draft and finalize the process.”
Each of Wyoming’s 23 counties was invited to be a part of the voluntary process.
Thompson comments, “Counties will have to look at the process, decide if they want to be involved and make a decision.”
Working individually or as a bloc, counties will appoint a County Advisory Team (CAT) charged with determining the scope of the land designations they seek to address, visiting the areas and making a recommendation on their designation, says WCCA.
CATs will be formed from a variety of interest groups.
“Everyone’s interests – from producers to wilderness advocates to wildlife advocates to industrial interests – will be considered.”
Thompson further notes that the process is fair and strives to bring all interests to the table, similar to the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT).
“Everyone who has an interest in public lands and the ability and track record of working together to achieve goals will be invited,” Thompson says. “Everyone working together doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they want, though.”
After working together, Thompson explains that the final product will be in the form of a package of bills presented to Congress.
“Final designations will, optimistically, be finished in a year to a year and a half,” he said. “The final disposition would be a bill going to Congress to address a wide range of land designation issues.”
Because of the wide representation, Thompson notes that the effort is more likely to be successful.
Optimism for success
Thompson strongly believes that this process has the potential to succeed.
“One myth is that any change in the status of a wilderness study area would automatically be detrimental,” he says. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
“The well-being of wildlife will always be on the table, but it will be broad-based,” Thompson continues.
“The WPLI is about local Wyoming people making decisions that are best for Wyoming,” adds WCCA Executive Director Pete Obermueller. “Ultimately it is up to us to decide on the future of these areas. County Commissioners are well positioned to lead this effort given their knowledge of the land in their counties and their elected mandate to represent the best interests of their entire county. This will be a long and sometimes difficult process, but if we don’t work together to make decisions about these lands, eventually someone else will do it for us.”