Wyo4News staff, [email protected]
November 18, 2023 — As part of the extended public comment period for the BLM Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Rock Springs Field Office, interactive public workshops on the BLM’s Rock Springs RMP were held Nov. 17th and 18th.
These interactive workshops were organized by the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute along with the UW College of Agriculture, Life Sciences, and Natural Resources, the UW School of Energy Resources, and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.
Speakers at the workshop included Temple Stoellinger, Associate Professor of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming College of Law. Micah Christiensen is the University of Wyoming Energy and Natural Resources Student Clinic Director. Steve Smutko, Associate Dean Spicer Chair of Collaborative Practice Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources Dept. of Agriculture and Applied Economics, Nolan Wrap, the Natural Resource Policy Advisor with Governor Gordon’s office, and others.
There were also several task force members selected by Governor Mark Gordon to attend each of the workshops and to listen to the workshop attendees’ concerns, which included members of Wyoming’s House of Representatives, county commissioners, the oil and gas industry, the muley fanatics, and others. The topics covered in the interactive workshops were livestock, industry, recreation, tourism, and wildlife conservation.
Organizers showed an initial PowerPoint presentation, providing an overview of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the RMP process, and how to submit comments to the BLM properly. This was then followed by the audience being separated into several smaller breakout groups to conduct interactive public workshops for the attendees to share their perspectives with task force members selected by Governor Mark Gordon.
In each breakout group, the group members were asked three questions. The groups then broke up into smaller groups and discussed what their answers would be to each of the three questions. Then, they shared their thoughts with the rest of the group. Notes were taken by the facilitators to be shared with and discussed by the Governor’s task force members. The Governor will then review the task force’s findings on January 6th, 2024.
The three questions asked and the answers of the workshop’s attendees were:
Question #1: People are connected to these lands in many different ways. What about these lands is important to you?
Some of the answers to this question were as follows: People raised concerns about the economy, land use limits for the oil, gas, and coal industries, the right of ways in the area to the locations of those industries, and how it would affect those industrial businesses and jobs in the area. They spoke about access to lands for hunting and recreation and the effects on tourism in the area. Members of the Rock Springs Grazing Association were there. They discussed the effects the plan would have on livestock, winter grazing of livestock, livestock leases, gazing permits, how livestock producers take care of the land better than anyone, and how the retirement of allotments would result in poor ecosystem balance.
Question #2: The Resources Management Plan is a blueprint the BLM uses to keep lands healthy and productive. It establishes goals and objectives to guide future land and resource management actions. If you were writing the Resources Management Plan, what would you prioritize to support the things that are important to you?
Some of the answers to this question were as follows: There were discussions on how the research and data in the plan are outdated and how current rangeland assessment data needs to be used. How there are decades worth of research and planning from the Conservation District, Sweetwater County Commissioners, and other local resources, and that the federal plan should model the local plans already in place. There was discussion about how the plan goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act because residents with disabilities would have difficulties accessing the land. They discussed the importance of addressing the right-of-way issues and the land checkerboard and how it makes it difficult for landowners to use their own land. Workshop members discussed several issues concerning access to land and how shutting down access would shut down the economy. It was brought up that the definition of “roads’ needs to be clearly defined. Then, there was discussion about how the wild mustang issue needs to be a part of the plan because they believe that that problem has more of a negative effect on the land than anything else, because of overgrazing.
Question #3: The public holds a range of priorities for these lands. The BLM has also identified 14 primary issues they want to address through this planning process. Given all that, what advice would you give the task force for how to balance these priorities?
Some of the answers to this question were as follows: It was stated that the BLM needs to evaluate laws regarding rights-of-ways. They thought that the BLM needed to talk more to local resources who have already researched the issues they are trying to address and that they need to recognize the things that have already been working. Then, some also felt that the BLM needs to develop a management plan to hold individuals accountable for cleanup – old gas wells that are uncapped, old gold mines, etc.
These are just some of the topics discussed in this weekend’s interactive workshops, and the comments above do not cover all topics discussed or comments made in the workshop.