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Task force makes recommendations to the BLM for the Rock Springs plan, focusing on ‘multi-use’

A cloudy blue sky stretches across the empty Red Desert. There's a storm in the distance.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media

When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its draft plan for managing millions of acres in southwest Wyoming in August, it got heated – amongst Wyomingites and even nationally. So, Wyoming’s Governor Mark Gordon appointed a task force to sort through all the opinions, and the group has released their recommendations.

The eleven member task force came to agreement on more than 100 recommendations for the BLM. Speaker of the House Albert Sommers was a member, and he said reaching consensus was impressive, given the wide array of folks.

“It included environmentalists, sportsmen, recreationalists,” Sommers said. “It included oil and gas, and mining. It included economic development and tourism, livestock grazing, the [Wyoming] House and the [Wyoming] Senate.”

After listening to several tense public comment meetings, the task force met in person for four days and then in five Zoom meetings. The subject at hand was the BLM’s draft resource management plan (RMP) for about 3.6 million acres around Rock Springs. The BLM provided four management options – ranging from conservation to development of the land. ‘Alternative B’ is the preferred alternative by the agency, and it’s the most conservation focused – limiting quite a bit of energy development, as well as closing about .02 percent of livestock grazing.

Alternative B is what has angered many Wyomingites and even spurred misinformation – like claims that recreation or off-road vehicle access will be banned on the federal land.

“I think one thing that got clarified was that the BLM is not going to do travel management through this RMP,” Sommers said. “There is not going to be that blanket closure of all those miles of road.”

Sommers was referencing a mistake the BLM originally made that included closures of many roads.

Sommers said the task force had limited time, given the public comment period ends Jan. 17, and because there were so many different stakeholders, the group focused on what they could agree on.

“The Governor made it clear that he felt that we should focus on what we could agree upon, because that was most likely to have the most impact and most effect with the BLM,” Sommers said. “Because if you get every interest group to agree on certain things, then there's a good chance that they'll listen more to that.”

Some of this included broad statements that recommended managing the land for multiple-use, so that includes energy development, livestock grazing, conservation, etc.

“The devil was in the details,” Sommers said. “I think it was easy for people to recognize the importance of the area, and the importance of preserving multiple use on the landscape. The devil is in the details with how would you do that and when you get to specific management prescriptions.”

But, the group did outline recommendations for some specific areas – like prioritizing conservation for the prized hunting area Greater Little Mountain or protecting energy development in the Known Sodium Leasing Area.

Alec Underwood, program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, was another voting member. He agreed that the task force did their best with the time they had, but he felt conservation got the short end of the stick.

“A lot of the landscape to the north is some of the best sage grouse habitat left in the world, as well as home to some iconic migrations,” Underwood said. “Unfortunately, we weren't able to find consensus around increasing protections in those areas.”

Right now, the BLM’s draft plan does conserve that area, but it’s possible it’ll change in the agency’s final plan, set to be released this spring.

“That's why our organization and other conservation organizations are still going to advocate for some of those protections being retained in the final plan,” Underwood added.

The BLM has expressed that the task force’s recommendations will likely be reflected in the final plan. And if it doesn’t, Sommers said, “I think there's a lot of room for a lot of lawsuits out there.”

The public comment period ends Wednesday, January 17.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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