Submitted by Joshua W.D. Coursey
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to show mayors, county commissioners, Governor Gordon, and other elected leaders and stakeholders around one of my favorite places in the world — the Greater Little Mountain Area (GLMA). This special place is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, cherished for its sought-after hunting and fishing, and deeply valued for its significant economic and cultural significance to Wyomingites.
Newcomers are always stunned by the beauty of the wide-open spaces and wildlife — and I find myself humbled by the opportunity to share this area with them and relive the joys of my own past recreational experiences within this landscape. That was especially true during my most recent tour with Senator John Barrasso and Representative Liz Cheney’s staff at the end of August. But what’s different is that this landscape and its sensitive fish and wildlife habitat could be at risk right now.
Their visit came as we await the release of a new Rock Springs Resource Management Plan. This plan will determine how 3.6 million acres of public land and resources in southwest Wyoming will be managed for the next 20 years — including the lands and watersheds within the GLMA. For more than a decade, local stakeholders have worked tirelessly to protect this special place, providing input to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on how best to balance development in the region with the conservation of critical wildlife habitats and sensitive soils that healthy fish populations require.
There is no one else who knows the land better than our local sportsmen, ranchers, and community leaders. These local folks have cut their teeth on this landscape and their intimate knowledge of the significance of this landscape is of tremendous value. This is the place that never fails to awe us all or anyone else who I’ve been lucky enough to show firsthand. Each time I venture out onto this vast landscape, I am inspired to keep fighting to protect this landscape and the rest of our valuable public lands in the Rock Springs region for future generations.
From the red striped badlands to the pine forests, and its cutthroat trout, mule deer, elk, pronghorn and sage-grouse this unique high desert region is truly an icon of the American West — and everyone should be able to come here and experience it for themselves… today and tomorrow.
There is no question that sensitive big game habitat and trout streams within the GLMA should be off-limits to development. And although these protections would be a step in the right direction, we must also ensure that the draft resource management plan does not stop at Greater Little Mountain and includes protections for several other sensitive landscapes in the Rock Springs region. Wyomingites are forever connected to these public lands and wildlife, but our outdoor heritage and the integrity of this region hinges on responsible resource management.
I am concerned that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt could ultimately ignore years-long local efforts and choose to put special interests ahead of local economies, public lands, and wildlife. So far in 2020, we’ve seen BLM release several draft management plans on more than 30 million acres of public lands in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and New Mexico that open the vast majority of these lands to leasing and reduce decades-long protections for fish and wildlife habitat. If these plans are any indication of how the Rock Springs draft resource management plan will be written, our valuable open spaces and resources are at grave risk.
The forthcoming decision by the BLM will be critical to the future of the Greater Little Mountain Area, and I am grateful for the Wyoming Congressional delegation and Governor Gordon’s attention to this plan and all of the local leaders who have been in this fight for so long. It is my hope that the agency honors the public input they received and put forth a plan that fully protects Greater Little Mountain for present and future generations. Our children and their children should have the same opportunity to enjoy these special places the way that I and so many of you have for so many years.
Joshua Coursey is president, CEO and co-founder of the Muley Fanatic Foundation, a nonprofit committed to engaging local stakeholders to keep mule deer conservation, the furthering of the sport of hunting and sound wildlife management a staple of discussion and action.
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