Governor's Task Force Says BLM May Listen To Wyoming About Rock Springs Plan

A Governor’s Task Force charged with representing Wyoming interests on the controversial BLM Rock Springs Resource Management Plan finished its work last week and says it’s optimistic the BLM may be willing to change direction.

MH
LW
Mark Heinz & Leo Wolfson

January 17, 20247 min read

The Red Desert is a high-altitude sagebrush steppe and dry landscape in southwest Wyoming. Among the natural features in the Red Desert region is is Adobe Town. The colorful eroded badlands is a moonscape of rock formations in what is said to be the largest unfenced area in the Lower 48 states. The barren landscape is rarely visited and can receive only 12 inches of rain a year.
The Red Desert is a high-altitude sagebrush steppe and dry landscape in southwest Wyoming. Among the natural features in the Red Desert region is is Adobe Town. The colorful eroded badlands is a moonscape of rock formations in what is said to be the largest unfenced area in the Lower 48 states. The barren landscape is rarely visited and can receive only 12 inches of rain a year. (Photo by Kyle Spradley via Adobe Stock)

The Bureau of Land Management might be ready to listen to Wyoming’s concerns about the controversial Rock Springs Management Plan, and change the plan accordingly, some Wyomingites said.

BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning heard directly from an 11-member Wyoming task force when she came to Wyoming and attended the group’s final in-person meeting recently.

The task force represented a wide range of interests and was appointed by Gov. Mark Gordon in November. The group was charged with digging into the BLM’s Rock Springs area Resource Management Plan (RMP) and coming up with recommendations for making the plan more Wyoming-friendly.

The task force released its final report last week.

Alternative B ‘Not Workable’

Sweetwater County Commissioner Taylor Jones represented off-road vehicle recreation on the task force, and said he hoped that Stone-Manning got Wyoming’s message regarding the RMP.

“She, and the local BLM field office personnel and the BLM state director, all said they would listen to what we had to say and analyze it,” Jones told Cowboy State Daily.

“I certainly hope that what they come out with in the final form is drastically different from Alternative B (the BLM’s stated preferred alternative). That was the strong message from the task force,” he said. “Alternative B is really just not workable, and it just isn’t good for Sweetwater County, the Rock Springs BLM field office or the state of Wyoming.”

The draft RMP has drawn criticism since it was released last year. Alternative B is the preferred version of the plan of the Biden administration and BLM and values conservation over recreational and economic development.

The Rock Springs BLM field office oversees roughly 3.6 million acres in Wyoming, much of it in Sweetwater County. The BLM’s preferred alternative of the draft RMP designates 1.8 million acres of that as “areas of critical environmental concern” (ACES).

That’s sparked worry that, if the plan is implemented in its current form, it could hamper public access to vast swaths of the area and also stifle the Sweetwater County economy by restricting energy development, cattle grazing and other uses.

Cautious Optimism

State Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, was a nonvoting member of the task force. He was cautiously optimistic about their work when speaking to Cowboy State Daily about it.

"Overall, there were more wins than I thought there would be," Kolb said. "I expect it to have some impact on the final record of decision."

He said the task force — which was made up of state lawmakers, oil and gas representatives, environmentalists and hunting advocates — was able to strike middle ground through a "herculean effort" on a number of fronts. He believes its input will at least help in sending a message to the BLM about what he considers "a poorly written at best" RMP document.

"We actually had a bunch of people come together," Kolb said.

But Kolb also expressed some frustration about some of the processes used by the Task Force, where a single vote of opposition could veto a proposal.

Kolb also believes BLM staff will study how the RMP proposal was finalized. This document has been criticized by many in Wyoming as not representative of local input, extending to even members of the BLM’s own agency.

Kolb said he was pleased that Stone-Manning took the time to attend and believes she will at least seriously consider the Task Force's comments.

"Whatever happens, it's more ammunition for potential litigation in the future," he said.

Considering Conservation

Alec Underwood, the program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, represented conservation interests on the task force.

He told Cowboy State Daily that conservation didn’t get as much consideration as he would have liked, but he was still hopeful.

“Misinformation about what effects the RMP would have on the ground was a significant hold-up for the task force at times,” Underwood said. “From our perspective, there were also missing voices from the table and an unwillingness to support conservation values in certain areas where protections matter most.

“Despite these challenges, the task force has produced some quality recommendations for the governor to consider using in his own comments, and for the BLM to consider implementing into a final RMP. We’re proud of the consensus recommendations that we helped craft to address a variety of concerns represented by other interest groups.”

The Rock Springs area includes premier wildlife habitat, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted, Underwood said.

“Certain areas within the Rock Springs field office are considered to be some of the best habitat left in the Lower 48 for iconic wildlife species and we know all Wyomingites value that,” he said. “That’s why we hope stronger conservation protections are reflected in certain areas, and we look forward to a balanced RMP that supports local economic engines while setting aside highly valued wildlife habitats that are essential to our quality of life.”

A Fair Shake For Grazing?

Livestock grazing is a vital part of the plan and wasn’t overlooked, Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, told Cowboy State Daily. He represented ranchers on the task force.

Like Jones, he said he’s hopeful the BLM will listen to the task force’s recommendations, as well as Gordon’s comments.

“I think it will make difference, not only in terms of input from the task force, but the extensive amount of comments from Wyoming in general,” he said. “Will it go far enough to satisfy us in Wyoming? Only time will tell.

“I don’t think we’re home free, but I think the BLM realizes they can’t just go forward with that straight Alternative B as it is, but that they’ll have to go with something a little more nuanced.”

He added that he appreciated the amount of good will and cooperation during the task force meetings, despite the wide range of views from different interest groups.

“When Wyoming comes together, we have more common ground than we have differences,” he said.

‘Optimistically Concerned’

Josh Courey, president and co-founder of Muley Fanatics, represented hunters.

Given the short amount time the task force had to plough through the draft RMP, the pace of work was frantic, but it was still time well spent, he said.

“Quite frankly, I think the effort was very valuable. I think the task force as a whole worked well and those comments will resonate with the BLM,” he said.

He agreed with some of the other task force members that the BLM’s preferred Alternative B isn’t the best option. Instead, the BLM should consider a wider approach.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and picking only one alternative just wasn’t really realistic,” he said. “I guess I’m optimistically concerned” over whether the BLM will take Wyoming’s recommendations to heart.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com and Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Authors

MH

Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter

LW

Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter