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By Joshua Coursey
As a life-long Wyomingite and longtime Sweetwater County resident, I have fostered a deep connection to Greater Little Mountain area and the abundance of wildlife it supports. I understand the value of public lands, and the need to protect the places where we hunt, fish, and camp from encroaching development. Yet, despite the world-class outdoor recreation opportunities this area affords us, it continues to be threatened by encroaching development, including in an upcoming oil and gas lease sale. It’s disappointing to see the Department of the Interior (DOI) move forward with leasing in Greater Little Mountain area at this juncture, given that prior administrations agreed not to do so, per repeated requests from Sweetwater County and Governors of our great state going back to Freudenthal. I hope that DOI will reverse course and hold off on leasing in the Greater Little Mountain area until a new management plan can be finalized for the Rock Springs area.
The Greater Little Mountain area is located in the Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs Field Office, which covers 3.6 million acres of public land — a landmass larger than Death Valley National Park. Greater Little Mountain supports a wide variety of fish and wildlife habitats–from desert floors to high conifer sub-Alpine peaks. And it is beloved by many sportsmen, sportswomen, and recreationists–not just in Wyoming, but from across the country and around the world. We even refer to it as the Yellowstone of southwest Wyoming. The Greater Little Mountain area is our crown jewel.
BLM’s revision of the Rock Springs plan started back in 2011. So, this effort, and the amount of time that our community has engaged on this issue, has lasted a decade and a half and spanned three Presidential administrations. And the delays have been frustrating. I’m not implying that the process should be rushed. Something this important must be done right, as this plan will be in place for the next 20 years. Yet, at the same time, those of us who live near and care for Greater Little Mountain have done our part to move this plan forward. We have engaged local stakeholders, worked to educate our elected officials in Rock Springs, Green River, and Sweetwater County, and traveled to Washington D.C. on multiple occasions to meet with the Wyoming Congressional delegation and officials at the Department of the Interior. So to see this effort remain at a stalemate is very frustrating.
We know this special place is not suitable for the sort of intensive oil and gas development that we have seen in other parts of our state. But DOIs announcement that it will resume oil and gas leasing on public lands in Wyoming and across the West makes this threat very real and imminent. In fact, the Interior Department has already proposed a lease sale for as much as 531,000 acres of public land in Wyoming, including at least one parcel in Greater Little Mountain along with other sensitive fish and wildlife habitats. This sale underscores why we must finalize a strong resource management plan for Rock Springs as soon as possible — so that Greater Little Mountain’s world-class fish and wildlife habitat is not threatened by unplanned development.
I appreciate the time and effort so many Wyomingites have put into protecting the Greater Little Mountain area. Now, it’s time to finish the job. We have learned so much over the years through collaboration, and encourage Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Department of the Interior staff to work with us and speak with residents who are leading these efforts. It is time to hit the brakes on any leasing in Greater Little Mountain area so that a strong resource management plan can be finalized that includes the right protections for the Greater Little Mountain area and incorporates input from local stakeholders. We all recognize the value of energy to our state and our residents within those industries. None of are immune to this. This isn’t about being anti-oil and gas. This is about responsible energy development and the recognition that certain areas need not be exploited for future generations to enjoy.