Zinke clips state BLM conservation power, draws Wyoming ire

Zinke clips state BLM conservation power, draws Wyoming ire

Wyoming residents, including Republican county commissioners, are contesting a proposal to lease thousands of acres of key wildlife habitat for oil and gas development under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s new leasing rules.

Zinke in January stripped state Bureau of Land Management officials of the power to postpone leases, a practice widely used by the agency while developing long term management plans for an area. BLM Wyoming officials had previously postponed drilling activity in parts of Sweetwater County while the agency gathered local stakeholder input and rewrote the area’s comprehensive Resource Management Plan.

But with a memo issued in January, “that decision now lies with Secretary Zinke,” said Tasha Sorensen, Trout Unlimited’s Wyoming field representative, and he’s implementing a faster leasing schedule.

With the power shifted to Washington, the BLM is now considering leasing almost 700,000 acres in southwest Wyoming in December.

Sweetwater County Commissioners are concerned the new policy threatens the Greater Little Mountain Area — and a years-long collaborative effort to determine its management. Covering 522,236 acres of public land, the GLMA has been called “a hidden gem of the West,” “the crown jewel for wildlife and recreation,” and “some of the most sensitive fish and wildlife habitat in Wyoming.”

Sweetwater commissioners also contest proposed leasing in the 150-mile mule deer migration route known as “Hoback to Red Desert.” Recent studies show much of that route was used by at least one deer that traveled considerably farther — 242 miles one way.

Johnson: Potential oil, gas leasing poses threat to land and wildlife resources

Johnson: Potential oil, gas leasing poses threat to land and wildlife resources

On March 20, Sweetwater County sent a letter to Governor Mead requesting that he consider asking the BLM to delay these proposed GLMA and Migration Corridor oil and gas sales until the public has had an opportunity to provide comment on the Draft RMP. Also, that letter was sent to the Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, the Wyoming congressional delegation and the BLM.

OPINION: Future of Greater Little Mountain Area Hangs in the Balance

OPINION: Future of Greater Little Mountain Area Hangs in the Balance

The Coalition began working with the BLM in early 2000 to limit leasing and drilling that threatened the area’s prized big game herds and cold-water fisheries.

These efforts, aided by a series of reforms adopted by BLM in 2010 that further encouraged community-driven solutions to resolving oil and gas conflicts on nearby public lands, resulted in a broadly-supported proposal that would safeguard much of Little Mountain’s most important big game habitat and fisheries, while still allowing for responsible development in the right places.

The BLM had agreed to consider this proposal through the ongoing revision to its land use plan for the Rock Springs area.

However, at the end of January, the Interior Department cancelled those reforms, and threw into doubt whether the BLM would continue to honor the voices of local communities and the Coalition in developing a well-rounded, sustainable solution for Little Mountain.

LESSONS LEARNED: A blueprint for securing our energy future while safeguarding America's sporting heritage

LESSONS LEARNED: A blueprint for securing our energy future while safeguarding America's sporting heritage

Members and partners, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Bureau of Land Management, have contributed more than $4.5 million to complete habitat projects designed to conserve and enhance native cutthroat trout and big game habitat, improve grazing management and provide opportunities for hunting, angling and other outdoor recreation activities.

Johnson: Lands amendment a diversion from real issues

I am opposed to the constitutional amendment proposal (SJR3) put forward by the state legislature because it fails to first consider whether Wyoming residents would even support a transfer of federal public lands (USFS, BLM, USFWS, NPS, BOR, BLM and others) to the state.

I, like many others in the state of Wyoming, am strongly opposed to any transfer of federal land to the state. Wyoming would be unable to afford the cost of management. Additionally, sportsmen and recreational users would likely face reduced access to the places they hunt, fish, recreate and overnight camp.

The constitutional amendment proposes strategies for the management of land use, access and land exchanges. This amendment is based on a hypothetical transfer of federally managed public lands to the state for ownership or management. With this in mind, why should we waste our time with a constitutional amendment that addresses an imaginary land transfer that, as Gov. Matt Mead has stated, is, “…legally and financially impractical….” (Dec. 12, 2016, Casper Star-Tribune).

It seems to me that the Wyoming Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee has the cart before the horse. This is especially true when one considers the $90,000 cost associated with notifying the public in the newspapers what will be on the ballot, let alone the actual cost of taking a constitutional amendment to the voters. It would be wise for the legislature to first ask Wyoming residents whether or not they would endorse such transfer.

Sweetwater County residents love the wide open spaces of their federally managed public lands. Even though we do not always agree with federal land management policies or actions, we have established a long tradition of working closely with our federal agencies to resolve differences and to strive for balanced solutions.

These federally managed public lands form the very foundation of our heritage and economy. They are the places where we make our living and places where we teach our children and grandchildren to hunt and fish, ride and camp. They are lands where we can simply enjoy sunrises and sunsets.Top of Form

Bottom of FormThe constitutional amendment is a diversion from working on real solutions for public land management, such as Sweetwater County working with stakeholder groups and the BLM to develop a plan for responsibly managing oil and gas development, especially in the Greater Little Mountain Area

The idea of a constitutional amendment divides Wyoming residents, which is not good for our federal public lands or our state. These public lands are our places and we intend to keep them in federal hands. Merely passing an amendment, which doesn’t allow a net loss of public lands, does not protect the places that we rely on and cherish. In fact, it would only embolden those in congress and the state who wish to enact a scheme for transferring public lands out of federal control to the state.

The constitutional amendment does not clearly prohibit the sale of federal lands acquired by the state, and the provision to allow value for value land exchanges does not account for the impact of such exchanges on communities, hunting and fishing and other recreational opportunities. Without an agreed-upon definition of multiple use or sustained yield in the proposed amendment, it is difficult to tell whether transferred lands will have the same multiple use opportunities or sustain yield requirements as they have had under federal control.

I strongly believe that Wyoming should reject any efforts, plans or schemes for the transfer of federal lands to the state, whether for ownership or management, and I oppose the proposed constitutional amendment.

Wally Johnson serves on the Sweetwater County Commission. This is his personal opinion and is not meant to represent the Commission as a whole.