Wyomingites spoke, and the Bureau of Land Management listened, announcing Thursday morning that the agency has extended the public comment period for its controversial Rock Springs Resource Management Plan to Jan. 17, 2024.
Many people in Wyoming had pushed for at least a 120-day extension on the comment period, which had been set to close Nov. 16, Sweetwater County Commissioner Taylor Jones told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
However, he was still pleased that the BLM has agreed to wait until January.
“I’m very happy that the BLM has agreed to extend the comment period by 60 days,” he said shortly after the agency sent out an announcement about the extension.
“Of course, 120 days would have been better, and that’s what was asked for,” Jones said. “But the extension the BLM has agreed to will still give people time to better understand the draft plan and make substantive comments regarding it.
“This will give people a chance to explain why the draft plan isn’t good for Sweetwater County and the rest of Wyoming.”
The Sweetwater County Commission and others have expressed concern that the BLM’s preferred Alternative B of the plan is too restrictive on energy development, rights of way for pipelines and powerlines and other activities.
Commissioners have said that the plan, if implemented in its current form, could deal a severe blow to Sweetwater County’s economy.
Gordon Still Not Pleased With Plan
Gordon was happy to hear about the extended comment period, but still not pleased with the BLM’s draft plan, his office announced Thursday.
“This extension will allow Wyoming citizens additional opportunities for engagement in this important process,” Gordon stated. “When the preferred alternative was announced, it came as a surprise to many of those who had worked for years on the draft document. That’s because there was a gap of two years during which the cooperating agencies' meetings on the draft Rock Springs Management Plan did not take place.”
Gordon stated that Alternative B is still “unacceptable,” and he urged state agencies to submit comments to the BLM explaining why it won’t work for Wyoming.
Gordon also is pushing for public workshops around Wyoming to help coach stakeholders about how to submit substantive comments to the BLM.
“Additional information on these workshops will be forthcoming,” according to Gordon’s office.
BLM Listens To Wyoming
The BLM announced the comment period extension mid-morning Thursday, saying a request to push it back had come directly from Gordon. It also cited “other stakeholders” weighing in.
“Gov. Mark Gordon requested the extension for Wyomingites to have more time to provide input into the formulation of a final plan,” according to the BLM
“A lot of work happens between a draft plan and a final plan, and that work is best informed by people who roll up their sleeves to work together,” BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning stated. “We are committed to doing that work to finalize the final plan.”
Wyoming legislators had also requested an extension.
The Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee sent a letter to Stone-Manning in September, asking for the comment period to be extended until March 2024. The letter was signed by the committee’s co-chairs, Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, and Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo.
Millions of Acres At Stake
The BLM manages about 3.6 million acres of land from the Rock Springs office, the bulk of it in Sweetwater Couty. Alternative B designates 1.8 million acres, or about half, as “areas of critical environmental concern” (ACES).
An update of the Rock Springs RMP has been in the works for years, and the BLM has outlined four alternatives.
Alternative A proposes leaving things as they are. Alternative B — the controversial plan favored by the BLM and Biden administration — leans heavily toward conservation and preservation. Alternative C skews the other way, toward as much energy development and other heavy uses as possible.
Alternative D would strike a balance between the extremes. It involved the most input from Sweetwater County and other cooperators. Jones and other county commissioners previously told Cowboy State Daily that Alternative D is the one they favor.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.