SWEETWATER COUNTY – Sweetwater County opted out of the Wilderness Study Area discussions as the commissioners voice concerns over the direction the discussions are headed.
At the regular board meeting on Tuesday, the Sweetwater County Commissioners stepped away from the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner John Kolb voted against the move saying he believes Sweetwater County needs to continue to be involved in the discussions.
The move comes one week after neighboring county, Lincoln, also stepped away from the debates.
The initiative was started in 2011 with the purpose to look at wilderness areas in the state and decide if the lands should be released back to the state or if they should be protected. There are currently 42 areas in the state with 13 in Sweetwater County. The County is 70 percent federal land.
While the county was instrumental early on in the process, a recent kick-off meeting discussing the direction they wanted to go caused concerns.
“This is not what the county wanted when we started this,” Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Wally Johnson said. “I was very disappointed.”
While Johnson agreed there are areas in Sweetwater County which need to be protected, he voiced a strong opinion that other areas must be open for development.
We can’t let 70 percent of Sweetwater County be excluded from mineral development. We have got to keep those lands available.” – Wally Johnson
All the commissioners voiced concerns about what the initiative was transforming in to. It was noted a similar study is being done in Utah which is causing a lot of issues.
Commissioner Don Van Matre questioned if the state would even be able to take care of the lands if they were released back to the state. His biggest fear was once the lands are released back to the state, they will be sold and privatized.
While Kolb agreed in multiple uses for the lands, his concerns were about the discussions themselves. He said by stepping away from the talks, they would be taking their voice away from the process.
“If you’re not part of the conversations then you’re done,” Kolb said.
Johnson said let the Wyoming County Commission Association go their own way and Sweetwater County will look at the county lands themselves.