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Natural Resources & Energy

Barrasso Introduces Legislation From The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative

A prairie in the foreground gives way to red rock cliffs and a clear, dark blue sky.
Bureau of Land Management
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Wilderness study areas have the same protections as wilderness but that designation is only meant to be temporary.

Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso has introduced legislation that aims to clarify the management status of thousands of acres of federal public lands. The lands in question were designated as Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) more than 30 years ago. It was a temporary designation until research was conducted on the land for best use.

"But not much studying has happened since 1984, and county commissioners said, 'Well, let's, in each individual county, see if we can get an agreement, get a buy-in from people representing all different sectors in our county, about how this land should be, and should this land remain wilderness,'" said Barrasso.

That spurred the creation of the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI), which is a voluntary collaborative process looking to create a management plan for WSAs.

According to Barrasso, the bill is a direct result of the WPLI process and contains recommendations from county commissioners in seven counties.

"They said, 'Yep, this is an area that needs to stay protected as wilderness' or 'No, this is an area that no longer needs to be wilderness, it can have multiple uses, including grazing, mountain biking, off-roading, harvesting of timber, energy exploration.' Because up until now, all of these study areas have been strictly off limits for any of these activities," said Barrasso.

But not everyone is on board with the new plan. The Wyoming Wilderness Association (WWA) is strongly opposed to it, it said in an email to Wyoming Public Radio.

"WWA strongly opposes the WPLI Bill. The outcome of 90 percent loss of Wilderness level protection is not the result of a functional collaborative process and certainly does not represent a balanced compromise. Furthermore our widely-shared concerns with the flawed WPLI process - one in which stakeholders failed to reach consensus within all committees but Carbon, while excluding tribal input across the board - remain at the forefront of our opposition," the email stated.

Barrasso said they have been in contact with commissioners throughout the process and that there have been ample opportunities for tribal involvement.

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