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This opinion piece was written and submitted by Joshua Coursey, Muley Fanatic Foundation President/CEO.
One of the many things I love about living in Western Wyoming is the abundant amount of public land that is available for recreation. As an avid sportsman who relies on access to public lands, I was relieved to see that the Sweetwater County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management requesting that they delay their Draft Resource Management Plan for Rock Springs until the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the public can safely engage in this important process.
The Rock Springs plan will determine how 3.6 million acres of Wyoming’s public lands are managed for the next two decades, including whether and to what extent the Greater Little Mountain Area is conserved or opened up for development. This hidden gem is the most important outdoor recreation area in the region. Little Mountain and the Flaming Gorge reservoir are where many seek to recreate — and local businesses depend on the tourism of such to keep their doors open.
For more than a decade, folks from all backgrounds and political stripes, myself included, have been working collaboratively to finalize a comprehensive plan for the management of this area that protects the places we cherish. But there are mounting concerns that, based on other plans that DOI has recently issued in Colorado and Montana, the BLM’s forthcoming plan may not do that and will instead prioritize oil and gas development.
DOI’s recent suggestion that planning efforts like the one underway for Rock Springs should continue with “virtual” public meetings is insufficient; instead, in keeping with years of practice, DOI is supposed to hold in-person public meetings to hear comments from nearby communities and stakeholders. Once this plan is finalized, it will be decades before the public has another opportunity to weigh in. Now is not the time to rush the planning process through, depending on unreliable, and sometimes inaccessible, online forums to collect public input.
The BLM should answer our calls to postpone the publishing of its draft plan for Rock Springs until the public is able to meaningfully participate in the planning process. Failure to do so would ignore years of collaboration with local leaders, and threaten the places where we have always hunted and fished, for generations to come.