Wyoming County Commissioners Association Proposes Review and Action on Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) recently proposed the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. WCCA states that the core goal of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) is to develop a locally-led, Wyoming-specific, legislative lands package to address designation, release, or other management for Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in Wyoming.

Wilderness Study Map

(Wyoming County Commissioners Association – click for larger map)
The new county-level Wyoming Public Lands Initiative seeks to review 45 wilderness study areas in Wyoming in hopes of creating a statewide legislative lands package.

As proposed, the WPLI is a voluntary project initiated and led at the county level that will culminate in legislation forwarded to Wyoming’s Congressional delegation. If a county chooses to participate in the WPLI, that county’s Board of County Commissioners agrees to be bound by the WPLI Principles & Guidelines document. While the WPLI is intended to allow for flexibility at the county or multi-county level in the development of final recommendations for legislative text, process integrity and stakeholder inclusion is critical to a successful conclusion, the WCCA believes.

Wyoming Pathways is supportive of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association effort, and plans to be involved in these discussions. Please help us with your views on what should be done with Wilderness Study Areas in our state.

Peter-Pilafian-Phillips-RidgerThe Federal Lands Policy and Management Act of 1976 required that federal lands be inventoried for areas with “wilderness characteristics.” After identifying these “study areas”, the law dictated that the Department of Interior issue a report recommending the study areas either for designation as wilderness, or for release to a multiple use mandate. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming issued its Wyoming report in 1991, recommending that of the state’s 577,504 acres of WSAs, 337,140 acres should be released to multiple uses.

Congress, with sole authority to declare wilderness or release these areas, has not acted on these recommendations, and they may no longer reflect the state of wilderness character nor accurately identify other resources or values within or adjacent to the 42 BLM WSAs. The last major lands package passed by Congress for Wyoming – the Wyoming Wilderness Act– was the product of locally driven efforts. Thirty-one years have elapsed since passage of that Act, and 24 years since the BLM first began managing Wyoming’s WSAs as de facto wilderness.

For background, you can read the recent article in the Jackson Hole News & Guide about how different groups are potentially coming together to work out appropriate uses for wilderness areas.

The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is not the only wilderness topic to make the news lately. A new organization, the Sustainable Trails Coalition, is advocating to allow bicycling on some appropriately selected wilderness trails. You can read an interesting article in Bike Magazine on the subject. Wyoming Pathways is studying this initiative, please send us your thoughts. The article does raise some interesting points.