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SWEETWATER COUNTY — Comprising over half a million acres in southwestern Wyoming’s Sweetwater County, the Greater Little Mountain Area is one of the West’s hidden gems and home to some of the most sensitive fish and wildlife habitat in the state. As an avid sportsman myself, this landscape has served as the backdrop to countless hunting, fishing, and camping trips I’ve taken over the years and is a key destination to many others who travel and support our local economy by coming to recreate within this pristine landscape.
The fate of Greater Little Mountain Area is hanging in the balance, as the U.S. Department of the Interior is expected to release a new draft management plan for this area early next year that will determine which resources in the area will remain protected, and which will be designated for development.
During this current administration, the Department of the Interior has often cited the importance of hearing directly from local communities about how public lands in their backyard should be used and managed. And, for several years, the Greater Little Mountain Coalition, which represents more than 2,500 local sportsmen, miners, ranchers, and business owners and enjoys support from the city of Rock Springs, the city of Green River, and Sweetwater County Board of Commissioners, has let it be known that Greater Little Mountain Area must be protected from irresponsible oil and gas drilling.
Yet, I am growing concerned that the administration will not listen to us. In recent months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has released six draft plans covering more than 20 million acres of public lands in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon that significantly reduced wildlife protections that were in place for decades and proposed minimal new safeguards for only a fraction of one percent of the areas.
That’s why myself, Sweetwater County Commissioner Chair Wally Johnson and Joy Bannon from the Wyoming Wildlife Federation recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress and officials at the Department of the Interior to encourage them to review and listen to the public. The planning process for Greater Little Mountain Area has been collaborative thus far and if the administration is true to its word about respecting local input, then it should incorporate the coalition’s proposal for the area.
This effort is more critical now than ever— just this year, the Bureau of Land Management attempted to lease over 1.6 million acres of public lands in Wyoming for oil and gas development, despite concerns from several engaged stakeholders, including over 173,000 acres as recently as December 10th that overlap with sage-grouse habitat, mule deer migration corridors, and other important landscapes that support wildlife.
It is my hope that the Administration takes the opportunity to produce a resource management plan (RMP) that includes the input from local groups and decision-makers, and conserves these irreplaceable resources for multiple-use, particularly hunting, fishing, and recreation. While thousands of people have already spoken out in favor of protections for the resources found in and around Greater Little Mountain Area, robust public input is the foundation of successful RMPs; Wyomingites must continue to speak up for this landscape and make sure their voices are heard.
Joshua W.D. Coursey, MFF President/CEO