In numerous counties around Wyoming, collaborative committees are meeting to try to decide what to recommend the U.S. Congress do with dozens of wilderness study areas that have been stuck in limbo for over 40 years. These areas lack the permanent protections of wilderness but are also closed to most kinds of recreation or development.
The Wyoming Wilderness Association, a conservation group, recently hired a new director, Khale Century Reno. She spoke with Wyoming Public Radio's Melodie Edwards about bringing a new energy to the conversation.
The issue of Wilderness Study Areas has been particularly fraught with divisions. Some conservation groups, including the Wyoming Wilderness Association, want to turn these 45 areas into proper wilderness, with no motorized vehicles or even mountain bikes. But others want to free these areas up to allow snowmobiles, ATVs or even energy development.
For decades, no one budged.
Until Wyoming's County Commissioners stepped in and proposed a solution: get everybody to sit down at the table and come up with a plan they could all agree on for each and every study area. Then give those recommendations to the state's lawmakers to take to Congress to approve. They called the plan the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative.
But since speaking with WPR, Carbon County's fragile consensus has slipped. Some aren't so sure they support the wild and scenic river designation of the Encampment River or turning the Ferris Mountains into wilderness.
And Reno said that fragility is even more pronounced in other counties. Recently, Representative Liz Cheney proposed two bills that Reno said undermine the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative's consensus-building approach. One would grant recreation like heli-skiing in three of Teton County's Wilderness Study areas. Another would lift special protections on over half of the areas around Wyoming, all without the guidance of the committees.