Public Workshops Highlight Distrust in BLM

Public Workshops Highlight Distrust in BLM

Sweetwater County Commissioner Taylor Jones, who is a member of the Governor's task force for the BLM's RMP, speaks with a constituent during the University of Wyoming's public workshops. SweetwaterNOW photo by Olivia Kennah

ROCK SPRINGS — The University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute is hosting public workshops this weekend to help inform Governor Mark Gordon’s task force on residents’ opinions on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Rock Springs Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP).

A group of around 150 Wyoming residents gathered at Western Wyoming Community College Friday night to make their voices heard. They were broken out into smaller groups to ensure discussions would include everyone’s opinions. In one of the smaller groups, fears of losing access quickly became the focus of the conversations.

When asked what about these lands was important to them, many of the individuals in the group stressed that just having access to the lands is vital for them. While one man said that his ability to hunt, fish and camp on the land is important, another person said that having access for both recreation and industry is crucial.

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“Shutting off access to those things is not helpful to Wyoming’s economy,” Justin Bartlett said.

Much of the conversation revolved around roads, highlighting Wyoming residents’ distrust in the BLM. In the initial release of the draft RMP, the BLM had a section in its preferred alternative management plan, Alternative B, that stated over 4,505 miles of roads and trails would be removed from the BLM’s transportation network. Since then, the BLM said that including this in the RMP was a mistake, as the RMP is not dealing with transportation.

However, the mistake has increased distrust in the agency, individuals in the workshop believing that the BLM will still revoke access to roads at some point down the line. Steff Kessler said that the BLM should issue official statements, as well as add a correction on the website where the RMP is found, stating the mistake. She pointed out that the BLM’s only move to correct the mistake has been to go through the media with articles.

The workshop showed just how much residents fear current access being restricted, both for recreation and for industry such as oil, gas, and trona leases. They said that development for oil, gas, trona, and even windmills should not be restricted, and that the BLM must stand by the current leases, including for cell tower sites and power lines.

The residents also noted that what may be good management for one particular area might not be what’s best for another area. They want the BLM to ensure management is being designed for the diverse needs of the land. Kessler said that some land areas need prioritization of certain plant or wildlife habitats, while others may prioritize oil and gas.

Many of the residents believe that BLM shouldn’t fix something that isn’t broken, stating that there already seems to be a good balance for management. However, Era Aranow questioned whether in another 25 or 50 years, would they all still think the management of these lands were balanced. She said that the residents, task force, and BLM should keep a perspective that looks into the future to ensure the plan will properly manage the lands for decades to come. Kessler said that as the task force gathers information to give Governor Gordon for his conversations with the BLM, she hopes that they recognize the balance that’s working now and document that, but not dismiss legitimate risks out there that do need to be changed in the current management plan.

Whether residents want to preserve land in the Red Desert that’s relatively undeveloped, or to protect natural phenomena in the sand dunes, or to ensure oil and gas leases remain intact and development that drives Wyoming’s economy continues, all the residents had one priority in common: Wyoming residents want to have access to the lands that make up their state.

Two more workshops are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 18. The first will be in Green River from 9-11 a.m. at the Western Wyoming Community College Green River Center in the JWP (John Wesley Powell) Room 206. The second workshop will be in Farson from 2-4 p.m. at the Eden Valley Community Center.