There are over 700,000 acres in Wyoming designated as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is circulating a new bill that recommends action for 176,454 acres - about 23 percent - of that land.
WSAs are areas that are under consideration for wilderness designation and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management as wilderness until it receives an official status.
The Wyoming Public Land Initiative Act of 2020 would designate less than 10 percent of the acreage considered by the bill - 17,892 acres in three counties - as wilderness. It would continue receiving the protections it previously had. Another 61 percent would be divided into 12 special management areas that would allow continued grazing and development of existing energy leases.
The 487 acres of the Whiskey Mountain Wilderness Study Area will be given less-than wilderness status, which will allow Game and Fish motorized access to manage the bighorn sheep herd in the area. Sixteen percent of the acreage would be released for multiple use and potential development. About 13 percent would remain study areas.
The bill is based on recommendations from the Wyoming County Commissioners Associations's (WCCA) 2015 Wyoming Public Lands Initiative, which created recommendations for WSAs on a county by county basis. The WCCA argues that the bill encourages action on WSAs across the state - including those that aren't under consideration for this bill.
"It really is to once and for all settle the limbo issue here, for those particular areas and these groups came up with a lot of different approaches. There is no one size fits all; it really is that voluntary collaborative effort that we were trying to encourage at the local level around these WSAs," said Jeremiah Reiman, Executive Director of the WCCA.
But many are saying that process was botched, leading to recommendations that aren't representative of all stakeholder's views.
"Negotiations were rushed. Important perspectives like the tribes', for example, were totally left out. And the outcome was this. These recommendations for landscapes that actually belong to all Americans coming from maybe a few of the loudest voices and a few of the counties across the state," said Peggy DePasquale, Associate Director at Wyoming Wilderness Association (WWA).
The WWA is planning to fight the bill if it's introduced.
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