U.S. Representative Liz Cheney has proposed an amendment to the Wyoming Wilderness Act to allow recreation in three Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in northwest Wyoming. But critics say it will hurt a local effort to decide whether the areas should be wilderness or not. In 2015, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association started a project empowering local committees to make that decision.
At the time, Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and Representative Cynthia Lummis indicated that they would introduce legislation supporting the counties’ recommendations, which are expected later this year. Ultimately, it takes an act of Congress to change the status of the Wilderness Study Areas.
Cheney’s bill would expand the recreational uses permitted in the three areas: Palisades, Shoal Creek, and High Lakes. It would allow mountain biking, snowmobiling, dirt bike riding, and increase the amount of helicopter skiing allowed in Palisades, near Jackson.
In 2006, a court ruled to cut the number of days that heli-skiers should be able to access that area. Cheney’s bill would increase that number. Steff Kessler of the Wyoming Outdoor Council said the legislation is confusing for the local committees charged with deciding whether the areas should be wilderness or not.
“We have local folks debating and looking at maps saying, ‘well I think snowmobiling would make sense over here, and I think mountain biking should be over here, and maybe we can just do this in a limited place here,” Kessler said. She worries Cheney's bill will hinder the process.
Cheney’s Press Secretary Maddy Weast said in an email that Cheney is committed to working with local stakeholders to move WSAs out of limbo, and “is currently drafting legislation to do that.” According to WyoFile, that next bill may require the U.S. Forest Service to recommend what should happen to Palisades and Shoal Creek.