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The following was written and submitted by Tom Gagnon.
“Mr. Gagnon you’re out of order!” shouted the chairperson. It was August 2, at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Sweetwater County Conservation District (SWCCD).
It’s hard to make a point in a public meeting when you’re told to make it very brief, and the subject you’re trying to address has a long and wide history, a complex present, and its outcome will be consequential in many ways.
At issue was, and is, the SWCCD’s plan to kill off the thirteen Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in Sweetwater County. This effort is being made across rural counties all over the country, wherever ultra-right individuals hold offices.
One of the tools of attack is something called RS 2477, which was repealed in 1976, but it’s still, oddly, very potent. It was in fact one of the weapons used to gut two national monuments in Utah.
Virtually all public-lands wildlife and environmental protections, and continued public access and ownership, including on BLM lands, in established wilderness areas, in wildlife refuges, and even national forests and parks are at risk.
Misrepresenting the 1964 Wilderness Act
They are doing this, in part, by misrepresenting the 1964 Wilderness Act.
In the interpretation of many laws there is room for our varied opinions and points of view, for our individual “interpretations”, but there is a point at which an “interpretation” is a falsehood, and this is the frustrating thing with the SWCCD.
Just taking two documents, their Mission Statement, and their March 6, 2018 document called “Public Hearing on Wilderness Study Areas”, offer an illustration of their abhorrent attitudes towards sound economics and jobs, wildlife conservation, and clean water among other topics.
The Mission Statement alludes to, for example, protecting the tax base. This would suggest maximizing revenue from the land, and diversifying revenue streams, and greatly increased hunting, tourism, and recreational spending which could bring in a lot more money than the small figures livestock (cattle and sheep) brings in.
In fact, studies have shown that public-lands grazing is a liability, and no asset at all.
Hikers Poop and Interfere With Livestock
One member of the SWCCD told me, when she still spoke to me, that bringing hikers into livestock country is a bad thing, citing the Bridger Wilderness Area in the Wind River Mountains.
Her arguments included hikers pooping everywhere, and interfering with livestock operations. I asked if livestock pooped, and if a cow had ever trampled a tent.
I wondered if, as well, she felt threatened by people taking pictures of livestock-befouled springs and streams, and maybe influential people (I once met five Boston Red Sox teammates in the Wind River Mountains) complaining about getting sick from water contaminated by livestock.
Still, the bottom line must be to prioritize what brings in the most money, thus improving the tax base. Are their goals and priorities publicly advantageous, or are they self-interested?
The anti-hiker attitude described above demonstrates an anti-tourism “industry” stance, and that means big money for the county and state.
Serengeti of North America
Where the thirteen WSAs in question are located, within Sweetwater County, and in adjacent counties and a few more WSAs, is an area called the Red Desert.
This high desert is shaped exactly like an “Amorphous Monster”, but besides that, it has often been called the Serengeti of North America.
Large parts of it are still unfenced, it’s rugged, potentially dangerous, and very scenic.
This is very much what today’s globetrotting and deep-pocketed hunters, and ecotourists alike, are looking for, and Wyomingites like it too.
The ecotourists will probably not be excited about photographing a cow’s behind, but they would be, as anyone would be, very excited to photograph a herd of hundreds of elk or deer, antelope or even free-ranging bison, and condors above and rattle snakes at your ankles, and hearing ghostly lobos at night.
This is a better vision for “conservation”, and it makes money.
The livestock outfits hereabouts are so marginal that they import extremely low-wage workers.
They come from places like Bolivia and Nepal, and these individuals are blameless. I hope to write more about this at another time.
Their employers are almost without a doubt ultra-right in attitude, and they are who the SWCCD represents, and what they themselves are involved in, too.
Are they creating good jobs for Americans? Are they even able to do so? Surely their patriotism is visible for all to see, but where are the jobs, and what of the tax base?
Changing priorities on public lands, in our beautiful high desert, will be good for wildlife, the environment, and for the bottom line, because, maintaining the status quo, on the range, is out of order.