SWEETWATER COUNTY – A Wyoming legislator is accusing the Bureau of Land Management of stifling public input for its proposed environmental impact statement for the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan. Meanwhile, BLM officials are saying there is misinformation being circulated regarding the purpose of its open house meeting Wednesday and what the agency intends to do with public lands.
The meeting, which BLM officials say is designed to educate residents and allow them a chance to ask questions about the different alternatives proposed, will take place at the Rock Springs Holiday Inn Ballroom from 3-6 p.m. Wednesday.
The public comment period for the BLM’s plan opened Aug. 18. The plan itself, known as Alternative B, is one of four proposals highlighted in the BLM’s environmental impact statement. The proposal would focus on conservation of public lands, which has drawn significant criticism from local officials.
Appearing on “Let’s Talk” with Al Harris Monday morning, Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, said the BLM’s actions were done in such a way that has severely limited how the public can comment on the proposal. Kolb said a prior meeting in Lyman lacked chairs for people to sit in during the meeting. Rock Springs Field Office Manager Kimberlee Foster said the meetings are not meant to allow people to voice public comments but educate residents about the different alternative proposals featured in the document. The events will feature BLM specialists on hand to talk about different alternatives, along with a five-minute presentation that will be looped. People can learn more about the proposals and ask questions.
Foster said a table will be available for residents to write and leave written comments.
Brad Purdy, the deputy director of communications for the Wyoming BLM, said one of the criticisms often made of the agency is its employees don’t know the land as well as the residents who live there, and he says that’s true.
“We couldn’t agree more,” he told SweetwaterNOW Monday afternoon.
He said the BLM is aware of people working on public lands and needs to hear from them regarding if the agency’s preferred alternative is appropriate for the area and to present information the BLM’s studies may have not covered. Residents are asked to submit substantive comments to the agency. Purdy said 100 form letters stating the same thing is counted as one comment, but unique comments will be individually reviewed. Purdy said the comments will be reviewed and may have an impact on what the final decision is.
Foster, speaking to the Rock Springs City Council Monday afternoon, said public comments regarding the area’s wild horse herds saved the White Mountain herd from being rounded up after comments regarding the importance the herd had to local tourism and residents, something that wouldn’t have been known without those comments.
Requests for a comment period extension have been made by the Sweetwater County commissioners and by legislators, with another request having been proposed by Rock Springs Mayor Max Mickelson during the special Council meeting Monday afternoon. Purdy said the extension would need to be approved by the federal office in Washington, D.C., but no decision has been made.
A guide to what is considered a substantive comment can be found here. Written comments can be mailed or hand-delivered to the Rock Springs Field Office. Foster said one of the best ways to participate is through the BLM’s eplanning service, which allows people to access documents and submit comments electronically.
A political agenda pushed
Kolb said the preferred alternative represents an agenda being pushed by the federal government. Foster and Purdy say this is true because the BLM is a branch that is headed by presidential appointees. The alternative aligns with the agenda of the Biden Administration for conservation, which puts it at odds with the energy industry that drives the local economy. Rep. J.T. Larson, R-Rock Springs, appearing with Kolb on “Let’s Talk,” said more than 2 million acres of land would be excluded from mineral development.
“It’s a huge, huge plan,” he said.
Kolb alleges the BLM did not negotiate with local stakeholders in good faith but is also critical of stakeholders like the Coalition of Local Governments and the Sweetwater County Conservation District. Kolb views Alternative A, which proposes no action to be taken, to be the least problematic. For Kolb, the other alternatives all represent the BLM taking away access to public lands. Kolb is urging people to show up to the BLM’s meeting Wednesday to ask questions, but also urges residents not to grab their pitchforks.
Foster said threats have been made against BLM staff and the FBI are investigating those threats. While at the Rock Springs Council meeting, Foster was escorted by a police officer.
Foster said a large amount of misinformation is circulating amongst residents. Some of that focuses on what the BLM will do with the land, including putting barricades up on federal lands. She said people have called the BLM’s Rock Springs Field Office asking to know where the barricades would be placed. Additional misinformation Purdy cites involves uses that some are claiming will be restricted is Alternative B is adopted. Kolb said some activities like hunting and off-road vehicle usage would be restricted, but Purdy said those uses would still be allowed regardless of the alternative chosen by the agency.
Foster said criticism about the plan limiting access for outdoor recreation vehicles is baseless, but Sen. Stacy Jones, R-Rock Springs, cited information from the draft EIS document highlighting where Alternative B would close thousands of miles of trails and two-track roads to access. Citing information found on page 507 of the first volume of the EIS, she said the 16,930 existing miles and trails would be cut significantly. Under Alternative B, 2,352 miles would remain open, 4,505 miles would be closed to all use, and 67 miles converted to non motorized use. According to the document, the remaining 10,006 miles would be removed from the BLM’s transportation network be allowed to return to a natural state.
“Reducing the number of routes could reduce the availability of motorized recreation but could provide solitude and naturalness to visitors seeking a pristine experience,” the document states.
“That is a huge amount of ORV travel that would be not allowed,” Jones said.
When asked why the agency hasn’t done any public outreach to correct the perceived misinformation being presented, Purdy said the agency has spoken with news agencies regarding articles published about the proposals. Additionally, opportunities to speak about the proposals have been taken, which include Foster appearing before the Rock Springs City Council and BLM representatives speaking before the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee earlier this month.
Purdy said a final decision hasn’t been made and hopes people will speak about which alternative they think best suits the Rock Springs Management Area. Kolb also hopes people make their voices heard.
“This is it,” he said. “If you don’t speak now, you’re done.”