A bill that would lift wilderness study status on lands in Bighorn, Lincoln and Sweetwater counties in Wyoming passed through a Congressional committee with a 19 to 11 vote along party lines. Dozens of these wilderness study areas around the state have been stuck in limbo for decades.
The bill was introduced by U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, even though most counties have been working to decide the status of such lands themselves by working collaboratively through the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. Wyoming Wilderness Association's Shaleas Harrison said Cheney's bill doesn't only concern wilderness study areas but other public lands, too.
"It also releases inventory roadless areas on the [U.S.] Forest Service amounting to 3.3 million acres as well as 700,000 acres of BLM lands with wilderness characteristics statewide," said Harrison. "So the bill is actually far worse than it implies."
Harrison said Cheney's bill only has two weeks to get passed before the end of the session, and lawmakers could try to tack it onto a similar bill.
"But that's really unlikely because both Democrats and Republicans are trying to pass bipartisan legislation," said Harrison. "So, adding such a controversial bill like this to any piece that does have a chance to pass is unlikely. No one wants that because people are working on bill they want to pass."
Harrison said if the bill doesn't pass this session, it would have to be re-introduced next session when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, making its passage even less certain.