In 2014, the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative assembled committees in eight counties with wilderness study areas, in hopes of getting consensus on how to manage those lands going forward, but three counties have now opted out. Lincoln, Bighorn and Sweetwater Counties are joining a bill recently introduced in Congress by U.S. Representative Liz Cheney that would lift protections on wilderness study areas without getting buy-in from local stakeholders.
For 40 years, these lands have enjoyed wilderness protections but many are located in deserts or sagebrush that most people aren't used to thinking of as wilderness and that many energy companies would like to develop.
Andy Blair is the assistant director of NOLS, the national outdoor leadership school in Lander. He said NOLS takes kids on expeditions trips into Oregon Buttes and the Pinnacles in Sweetwater County and would hate to see those areas impacted by large amounts of energy development.
"They pack up their rations on the back of horses and camp out in the desert," Blair said, "going from spring to spring, eating the grass out there, seeing the big open skies and wild landscapes. It's pretty beautiful."
Blair said it's disappointing that those counties didn't stick with the collaborative process.
"I think that coming to cooperative arrangements surrounding land management is a real difficult process. To really gain success on these land management issues you've got to be willing to stick with it for a decade or more at times."
Blair served on Fremont County's WPLI committee and says it was hard work, but they now have recommendations that will allow some development while also designating some wilderness as well. Other counties are making progress as well.