County Commission Discuss Concerns Regarding BLM Draft RMP

County Commission Discuss Concerns Regarding BLM Draft RMP

SweetwaterNOW file photo

SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County Commission expressed concern with the preferred alternative for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Rock Springs Field Office (RSFO) during its meeting Tuesday.

There are four alternatives that the BLM has drafted, which Commissioner Mary Thoman explained is done so they can analyze the full spectrum of management options. Alternative A keeps management as it currently is, while Alternative B and C are what Thoman describes as “extremes”. Alternative B is the plan that has the most conservation, and C has the least conservation. Alternative D aims to strike a balance between development and use and conservation.

“You have to analyze the full range,” Thoman said.

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The BLM has selected Alternative B as its preferred plan, which has raised concern not only for the Commission but for many throughout Wyoming. With this plan, Thoman said “access is going to be limited”. She said over the course of the 12 years that the BLM has been working on this RMP, cooperating agencies have been advocating for a balanced plan.

Thoman said that in past RMP’s for Kemmerer and Lander, which she was a cooperator on, governments and other entities would get together with BLM staff and resource specialists to discuss preferred plans. This would include ensuring the RMP is consistent with the county’s Federal Land and Resources Plan, which is approved by the County Commission.

However, she said that the cooperators on the RMP hadn’t had any communication with the BLM on the RMP since June 2022. Thoman said that on August 17, Kimberlee Foster, BLM RSFO Field Manager, wanted to organize a cooperator meeting and before they could get together, the BLM came out with their preferred alternative and made the draft public.

Alternative D Strikes Balance

Josh Coursey, Muley Fanatic Foundation CEO and member of the Greater Little Mountain Coalition (GLMC), said that there have been people heavily involved in this RMP with the interest of protecting the Greater Little Mountain Area. He said that when the draft came out, he was “shocked” as it “exceeded all expectations”.

“The ask has been to limit what is a accounting for 15 percent of the entire RSFO, about 522,000 acres, that has been identified as the Greater Little Mountain Area, to limit some of the development within that landscape,” Coursey said.

He said that the GLMC had submitted a proposal with over 2,500 sportsmen and anglers supporting it, as well as the 2019 Sweetwater County Commission, and both municipalities of Rock Springs and Green River.

“That is what is called Alternative D in this current release,” he said. “It was not anti oil and gas, it was truly just recognizing that there were some areas within that landscape that we wanted to see protected for generations to come.”

Thoman said that the Federal Land Management Policy Act (FLMPA) requires the BLM to “manage public lands in a manner that not only protects natural resources but which recognizes the nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber from the public lands, while providing for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use, and that it be on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield.”

While Thoman said she couldn’t provide a firm statement on RMP yet, she did say that the preferred plan should be Alternative D.  However, Foster said that Alternative B is the preferred as it “conserves the most land area for physical, biological, and cultural resources.”  

Impact on Industrial Development

While existing leased lands will remain available to develop, there are still concerns with how restricting access to some of these lands will impact industrial development in Sweetwater County. One of the biggest concerns discussed by the Commission is in regards to trona projects.

Coursey noted that not matter which alternative the BLM selects, “it does not impact the 1.8 million acres of lease land that is currently leased that is undeveloped within the Rock Springs Field Office, which is a pretty significant amount of landscape. It does not even limit land development and energy development within the Little Mountain area, as there’s still quite a few existing leases in that Salt Wells area, and that was part of our initial proposal as well.”

Foster previously shared a similar comment with SweetwaterNOW, stating, “Trona (sodium) is a solid leasable mineral and all existing leases will remain valid and would be renewed as long as the production criteria is met, regardless of which Alternative is eventually selected in the Record of Decision.”

However, Thoman pointed out that the issue is that Alternative B will exclude around 2.4 million acres of land from right of way use.

“It will hamper our new trona projects because some of those are going to be on right of ways, they’re going to need right of ways for water lines and things. So it’s going to limit and restrict a lot of things going forward,” Thoman said.

Thoman said that the existing RMP includes 10 Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and 286,000 acres of restricted and protected land.

“They’re proposing a preferred that would take 16 ACEC and 1.6 million acres,” Thoman said. “…They are proposing to eliminate 10,000 miles of roads. That’s going to be every two-track in the county as well as 4,000 other roads of BLM.”

While Commissioner Island Richards agreed that areas such as Little Mountain do need to be protected, Alternative B overreaches.

“Alternative B takes that line we drew around Little Mountain and expanded it to take up most of Sweetwater County. The limits on new right of ways in Alternative B would pretty much end new industrial development in Sweetwater County. It threatens huge projects that are already in the pipeline and has the potential to cost SWC billions and billions in investment. That’s the money that keeps our economy churning,” Richards said.

Coursey said that striking a balance is difficult, especially when the RMP must be fit for multiple use. While Thoman understood that Coursey’s concern is with conservation of land to protect wildlife, she said the county’s economic stability is at stake.

“I know your heart is with the wildlife, as it is for all of us, but the point is if they go with Alternative B instead of D, we might not have Muley Fanatics, and we might not have jobs. We might not have income in this county. That’s the bottom line,” Thoman said.

They think they’re going to determine our future just by limiting everything.

~ Commissioner Mary Thoman

Encouraging Public to Voice Opinions

Thoman said that is is very important for the public to attend the public meeting on the RMP, which is set to take place Wednesday, September 27, from 3-6 p.m. at the Rock Springs BLM office. She said people need to ask how this will affect their access to hunting, camping, and other recreation, as well as how it will impact industrial development.

The meeting in Rock Springs is the last of three public meetings, all taking place in September. The first meeting will be in Lyman on Tuesday, September 19, from 3-6 p.m., and the second meeting will take place in Big Piney on Tuesday, September 26, from 3-6 p.m.

Coursey also agreed that the public needs to attend the public meeting and let the BLM know how this impacts their lives.

“We have a Wyoming way of bringing people with differences to the table and figuring them out and talking them out and coming to a conclusion together through compromise and understanding, and this was kind of done differently,” he said.

Commissioner Robb Slaughter suggested that the Commission try to get the BLM to add an additional meeting in Green River.

The draft RMP has a 90-day public comment period, which began August 18 and will close November 16. Ultimately, Foster said that the public will inform the final RMP and it can take anything from the different alternatives.

“The preferred alternative is a draft recommendation. Comments from cooperating agencies, Tribes, stakeholders and the public will inform the final, which can draw from any of the alternatives analyzed,” she said.

The draft RMP can be reviewed online.