Controversy Continues with BLM Proposal

Controversy Continues with BLM Proposal

Area residents look at different maps highlighting special designation areas under different management alternatives proposed by the BLM during a public open house Sept. 25. File Photo

ROCK SPRINGS – Wyoming’s governor is calling for the withdrawal of the BLM’s draft environmental impact statement for its upcoming resource management plan involving lands managed by the Rock Springs Field Office. Gov. Mark Gordon says the BLM’s plan is focused too heavily on conservation; however, a representative of The Wilderness Society says much of the land that would be conserved under the BLM’s preferred plan can be used as a catalyst to develop new industries.

A letter Gordon sent BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning Tuesday requests the agency withdraw its proposal and resubmit a preferred alternative that more closely works with the impacted communities within the Rock Springs Field Office’s management area.

“Wyoming and local cooperators have worked long and hard to lead, build, and maintain partnerships for effective and responsible land management policies,” Gordon wrote in the letter. “Over a decade’s worth of contributions from local stakeholders, cooperators, counties, and state agencies are either falling on deaf ears or disingenuously being thrown by the wayside with this decision.”

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Gordon joins local officials in voicing displeasure with the BLM’s preferred plan, saying it ignores local communities in favor of a destructive proposal.

“The BLM’s RMP and Preferred Alternative threaten to eliminate all the hard work accomplished by bulldozing over state executive orders, stakeholder engagement, and interagency agreements. Simply put, existing and future partnerships are in jeopardy. A federal fiat won’t run efficiently or well over such a bumpy road,” Gordon wrote.

Not everyone is against the BLM’s preferred alternative. Julia Stuble, the Wyoming senior manager for The Wilderness Society, said Gordon’s request is interfering with a public process Wyoming residents and American citizens have to weigh in on the proposed draft while allowing the BLM to make adjustments to benefit everyone.

“This public comment period has been designed so that requested changes can be heard equally and considered fairly,” she wrote in an email to SweetwaterNOW. “When it comes to protecting the world-renowned lands and waters that Wyoming residents love and want to hand down to future generations for hunting, fishing, camping and many other outdoor pursuits, Gov. Gordon should support allowing public comments to continue on this draft proposal.”

Stuble is a former Green River resident and is familiar with the lands throughout southwestern Wyoming. She’s also familiar with the boom-and-bust minerals economy that has existed in Sweetwater County for generations and how markets or events outside the state can impact the county’s economy. Stuble said efforts to transition away from such a heavy focus on minerals is ongoing and the BLM’s proposal offers a chance to reckon with the economic drivers people want to embrace in the coming decades.

“The resources and types of production that have fueled Sweetwater County for decades may not be the resources that provide jobs and revenue for the next generation,” Stuble wrote. “This plan can be an opportunity to design future sustainable economic growth in sectors like outdoor recreation, carefully sited renewable energy, and heritage tourism while transitioning away from an over-reliance on volatile mineral markets.”

Alan Edwards and Craig Rood talk to one another as they wait in line with residents wanting to attend an open house meeting hosted by the BLM Wednesday afternoon. The meeting aimed to educate people about the land management proposals under consideration by the agency. Photo by David Martin.

A Packed Ballroom

Many of the people visiting the BLM’s open house at the Holiday Inn in Rock Springs Wednesday afternoon are not pleased with the BLM’s approach. The meeting attracted hundreds of residents and featured a line that extended from the hotel’s ballroom, through hallways, and out the main entrance.

Some voiced concerns about how the BLM’s proposed alternative could impact their livelihoods.

“Hager Industries will be no more,” Nathan Hager, a Rock Springs resident who operates businesses within the area, said.

Hager thinks the best alternative for Sweetwater County’s economy is Alternative C, which according to the BLM supports more development than any other alternative proposed. Hager also thinks Alternative C as giving the most access to public lands. He believes the implementation of the BLM’s preferred alternative will be disastrous for the county.

“We’re already struggling. It would put nails in a lot of coffins,” he said.

Others used the meeting as an opportunity to voice their displeasure with the federal government.

“I’d like to see them get the hell out of Wyoming,” Rock Springs resident Steve Logan said about federal agencies like the BLM.

Logan said people in Washington, D.C., and on the east coast don’t know or care about how people live in the west. He also said people like his father, who was born in Wyoming prior to it becoming a state, have taken care of the land for generations.

Not everyone was solely focused on airing their grievances with the BLM’s preferred plan. Green River resident Michelle Irwin said she wanted to see more comparisons between Alternative B, the BLM’s preferred alternative, and Alternative D, which focuses on an approach that seeks to balance conservation and development. She believes the BLM’s preferred alternative may allow for too much development, saying the conservation-based approach could still allow more development than the land can handle. She also said misinformation is an issue to contend with as people are reacting to inaccurate information about the process and proposal. She also thinks the BLM could have done a better job with informing residents about the process but doesn’t think it’s equipped to deal with the amount of misinformation that has spread.

A poster details how people can submit comments to the BLM. Photo by David Martin.

Mistakes Slipped Into the Draft

The BLM itself is working towards helping people understand what it’s doing and, in some cases, admitting mistakes were made in its draft document.

Appearing on KUGR’s “Let’s Talk” with Al Harris Wednesday, Brad Purdy, the deputy state director of communications for the Wyoming BLM said misinformation is circulating and there are some misunderstandings, but residents have some valid concerns as well.

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the BLM has decided which alternative to adopt. Purdy said while the BLM has a preferred alternative, a decision hasn’t been made.

“The entire range of alternatives remain on the table,” he said.

Purdy said the idea that Alternative B locking up more than 2 million acres of land from development is a misconception of the preferred plan. He admits Alternative B is an extension of the Biden Administration’s priorities and would restrict some development, but other alternatives exist. Alternative C would open more land for grazing and development while Alternative D is an approach that attempts to support both conservation and development. Meanwhile, Alternative A would leave things as they’re being handled currently.

What’s designated an off-highway vehicle route according to the proposal is causing confusion. Speaking about designated areas for off-road vehicles, he said one term used in the document is “designated roads and trails” and the other is known as “existing roads and trails.” He said the BLM is no longer using the term “existing roads and trails,” saying the term is being removed. It now favors using “designated roads and trails.” He said the amount of space with designated roads and trails, according to the executive summary in the document, is almost the entire amount of land being managed by the Rock Springs Field Office. However, that change in wording throughout the document has raised concerns.

“A simple change in terminology has caused, perhaps, some concern out there,” he said.

Regarding comments made Monday by Sen. Stacy Jones, R-Rock Springs involving the closure and removal of thousands of miles of roads from the BLM’s transportation network, he said issues like that are exactly what the BLM hopes people will call attention to. He said the language doesn’t appear in any other chapter or plan and is erroneously included in the document.

“I can tell you … that is a mistake in the draft RMP (Resource Management Plan),” Purdy said.

Harris wasn’t convinced.

“Work on this plan started over 10 years ago,” Harris said. “I bet this has gone through peer review like you wouldn’t believe.”

Purdy said the mistake was born out of the process where the document was reviewed and rewritten multiple times. He said there were internal comments pointing out the mistake and the final document would not have the language related to removing thousands of miles from the transportation network. He said the agency deserves the pushback it has received about the language and apologized on behalf of the agency for the error slipping into the draft.

With comments submitted to the agency, he said the National Environmental Protection Act requires them to be “substantive.” For example, simply stating preference of one alternative over another isn’t enough to be substantive according to NEPA. They need to include specific information and reasoning relating to why one alternative is preferable to another. A guide to submitting a substantive comment can be found here.

“There needs to be a why,” Purdy said.

Public comments for the draft are being accepted until Nov. 16. They can be submitted in-person or mailed to the BLM’s Rock Springs Field Office or emailed through the agency’s eplanning service.