Dec 18, 2015

Commissioners not interested in discussing local Wilderness Study Areas

Count Park County commissioners as uninterested in a new effort to figure out whether any more Wyoming lands should be turned into wilderness.

Getting involved with the commissioner-led Wyoming Public Lands Initiative “would be a lot of work with almost a zero percent chance of a positive outcome,” said Park County Commission Chairman Joe Tilden on Tuesday.

Commissioners doubt they'd be able to get parts of the McCullough Peaks Wilderness Study Area returned to general management under the current political climate. Photo courtesy Wyoming BLM
“I think it’d just be an effort in futility, unless you guys just like to go to a lot of meetings,” Tilden later told his fellow commissioners.

The main goal of the Wyoming County Commissioner Association’s initiative is to have commissioners get together with different people interested in public lands (such as environmental groups, the energy industry and grazing interests) to try reaching a consensus about their county’s Wilderness Study Areas.

Study areas are patches of federal land that have been identified as being “wilderness-like.” The Wilderness Study Areas are managed with nearly all of the same restrictions as wilderness. The intent is to preserve the lands until Congress decides whether they should become official wilderness or be released back to general management.

“It’s going to be a lot of work for nothing,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston.

Wyoming has 45 study areas — two are in Park County. One is the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area, some 14,700 acres, located in the Beartooth Mountains inside the Shoshone National Forest. The other is the McCullough Peaks Wilderness Study Area, made up of 23,290 acres of Bureau of Land Management property in the peaks south of Powell; commissioners have long complained about the restrictions there.

With no action by Congress, the state’s study areas have stayed in the protective limbo for decades, drawing repeated complaints from commissioners across the Big Horn Basin.

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association launched the new public lands initiative as an effort to build a county-by-county consensus and make recommendations to Congress for each study area.

“The last time Congress passed a major lands bill specifically for Wyoming was more than 30 years ago,” Fremont County Commissioner Doug Thompson said in a statement from the association. “We believe it’s time for a new effort that tackles the temporary Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming and faces head-on some of Wyoming’s most difficult land designation challenges.”

“This will be a long and sometimes difficult process, but if we don’t work together to make decisions about these lands, eventually someone else will do it for us,” added the association’s executive director, Pete Obermueller.

Park County commissioners said Tuesday that they aren’t interested in the process.

“It’s going to be a lot of work for nothing,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston.

The commission’s view was that environmental and other advocacy groups like the McCullough Peaks being a de facto wilderness area and won’t want to give up any of those protections.

Even if commissioners were able to reach a local consensus that some or all of the McCullough Peaks should be released to general management, Commissioner Loren Grosskopf questioned whether Wyoming’s Congressional delegation could get such a bill passed.

“I don’t see that happening — not with the present Congress,” Grosskopf said.

Commissioners said they may consider getting involved if a President and Congress with a different attitude is elected in November 2016.

1 comment:

  1. If they are not willing to roll up their sleeves and work on this alongside their peers from other counties , and instead just gripe and grouse about it, you have to ask what exactly the citzens of Park County are paying each of these guys $ 50,000 per year to accomplish...


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