A flurry of controversy swirling around the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed plan for millions of acres in the Rock Springs area isn’t doing anybody any good, says a group of five retired Wyoming Game and Fish Department experts.
Instead, Gov. Mark Gordon and the other parties involved should focus on the land’s legacy, say the five retirees, who between them have about a combined 150 years of experience managing wildlife and habitat in southwestern Wyoming.
“We have been disappointed in the degree of vitriol and the absence of a substantive discussion about the things and the places that are really important” in connection with the BLM’s proposed Rock Springs area Resource Management Plan (RMP), Walt Gasson told Cowboy State Daily.
The outcome of the RMP will set the tone for the future of roughly 3.6 million acres managed by the BLM out of its Rock Springs office.
Tell Them To Tone It Down, Governor
Gasson was a Game and Fish habitat manager, wildlife biologist and special assistant to the agency’s director. He’s also been the director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and worked with Trout Unlimited.
Along with four other Game and Fish retirees, Gasson sent a letter to Gordon’s office expressing disappointment and calling for the governor to take the reins and tone down the heated rhetoric over the process. The governor has been an outspoken critic of the BLM’s preferred alternative and has threatened potential legal action over it.
“In our collective judgement, much of the controversy generated so far in this RMP process has missed the point by miles. A great deal of heat has been generated, but very little light has come to bear on the subject,” the letter says. “Perhaps it would be better if we paid more attention to what’s truly important — the legacy we will leave for future generations.
“Moreover, we respectfully suggest that you (Gordon) exert some leadership on this issue to tone down the vitriolic rhetoric and bring civility back to the discussion.”
The letter is signed by Gasson, along with Tom Christiansen, Duane Kerr, Dan Stroud and Mark Zornes.
A request for comment from Gordon’s office wasn’t answered by publication time Monday.
‘We’ll Never Be There Again’
Gasson’s family goes back generations in southwest Wyoming. He said he can remember seeing thousands of mule deer wintering on what is now the Pinedale Anticline energy development area.
He can also recall family sage grouse hunts during which “if you didn’t see at least 200 birds, you were having a bad day,” he said.
The numbers of both those species have plunged since then, and Gasson said he’s concerned about the legacy that’s being left for his grandchildren.
“We’re not there (where wildlife numbers used to be), and if we don’t take care of the land, we’ll never be there again,” he said.
“We’re speaking as five men who have devoted decades and decades on the ground in this area. This is of paramount importance,” Gasson said. “We have seen places that meant a great deal to us and to wildlife. One by one, those places have been lost.”
Gasson added that he appreciates the tough position that Gordon is in, trying to strike a balance between various interest groups with a stake in the outcome of the RMP.
Six Areas For Conservation
In the letter, the group pinpoints six areas covered by the RMP where they think that conservation should take priority. Those include: Big Sandy, the Red Desert to Hoback Basin mule deer migration corridor, Jack Morrow Hills, Adobe Town, the Greater Little Mountain Area and Devil’s Playground/Twin Butte.
Gasson said those areas have already been cited as having high value for wildlife and conservation by Wyoming sportsman’s groups, such as the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and Muley Fanatics.
“These groups are not the ‘green left.’ These are responsible groups with a broad base of support in Wyoming and across the region,” Gasson said.
Some of the areas in question include the best sage grouse habitat anywhere in the country, Stroud told Cowboy State Daily. He grew up in Green River and spent most of his 32-year career with Game and Fish as a habitat biologist.
“What we’re trying to do is give special consideration to those six areas and how we can best manage them,” he said. “These areas in southwest Wyoming, I don’t think there’s anything like them anywhere. It’s important that we step back and save those lands for our kids and our grandkids,” he said.
‘Shouldn’t Conservation Be On Equal Footing?
Kerr told Cowboy State Daily that he thinks there’s been “a ridiculous amount of misinformation” regarding the RMP.
He doesn’t think the public will be locked out of BLM lands, as some have claimed.
“There’s the idea that we won’t be able to hunt, fish, hike, ride ATVs or regular vehicles anywhere in the Rock Springs district,” but that’s not the case, he said.
He expressed some of his misgivings in a letter to the editor published last month in Cowboy State Daily.
One of his concerns is conservation isn’t getting due consideration as part of a “multiple use” management approach.
“Shouldn’t conservation be on equal footing as one of the uses of our public lands? Wildlife and wild things should be considered one of the uses of our lands,” he said.
Leave Winter Range Alone
Kerr had a long career as a game warden for Game and Fish. He said that during his tenure, he saw some egregious abuses of wildlife winter range.
For instance, there was a case in which an energy company worker was barreling through antelope winter range in a company truck and deliberately ramming into antelope, killing as many as he could.
The man was eventually caught and faced harsh penalties from Game and Fish. And he was also immediately fired, because he’d been using a company vehicle for his misdeeds and trying to hide the evidence by “washing the hair and blood off” at a company shop, Kerr said.
Although due punishment was handed down in that case, Kerr said he questions management policy that would allow any access to fragile winter range to begin with.
“The BLM has repeatedly granted exceptions to time periods” when vehicle traffic isn’t supposed to be allowed on winter range, he said.
Kerr said he’d like to see less hype and more cooperation between various interest groups, because when it comes down to it, Wyomingites have a common interest in their wild lands and wildlife.
“The employees of the gas and oil companies, most of them fish and hunt and otherwise recreate in the outdoors around here,” Kerr said. “They understand that needs to be protected.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.