Wyoming GOP Blasts Wilderness Bill Supported By Hageman, Barrasso, Lummis

At the state convention over the weekend, the Republican Party overwhelmingly opposed legislation - supported by Wyoming’s entire delegation -- that would open up thousands of acres of federal land to more uses.

Leo Wolfson

April 23, 20245 min read

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, from left, U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman and U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, all R-Wyoming.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, from left, U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman and U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, all R-Wyoming. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily; Getty Images)

The Wyoming Republican Party is an equal opportunity critic.

At its state convention over the weekend, the Wyoming GOP passed a straw poll resolution by an overwhelming margin opposing a bill moving through Congress that’s supported by all three members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is sponsoring the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act of 2023 with fellow Wyoming U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis. U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman is the lead sponsor of her own mirror legislation in the House.

In 2015, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) initiated a Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) to provide a framework for the state’s counties to address a variety of public lands issues, and specifically resolve the pending status of 45 Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in Wyoming. Although they are not technically considered full wilderness areas, these lands have been managed as wilderness for more than 30 years while under the WSA status.

An act of Congress would be the only way these lands could return to multiple use management.

“Currently, Wyoming has hundreds of thousands of acres of Wilderness Study Areas that are strictly off limits to any multiple use,” Barrasso said in a statement to Cowboy State Daily. “The federal government effectively manages them as wilderness with no range improvements for grazing, no off-road use and no energy or mineral development allowed. These draconian land-use lockdowns have been in place in some cases for over 30 years.”

The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act of 2023 would implement the recommendations made by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association as a result of the WPLI process by:

  • Releasing about 130,000 acres of WSAs back into multiple use management.

  • Designating about 100,000 acres as recreation and other less restrictive management areas.

  • Designating about 15,000 acres as wilderness.

Former state legislator Marti Halverson initiated the straw poll resolution Saturday.

Halverson describes the federal legislation as an “additional theft of Wyoming land” because of the 15,000 acres permanently designated for wilderness and the fact that no land under the bill is completely removed from wilderness status.

“It’s just another attempt to make the sovereign state of Wyoming smaller,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “It changes the state’s boundaries.”

WCCA Executive Director Jerimiah Rieman said there has never been an act from Congress completely removing wilderness status from a tract of land.


Lummis told Cowboy State Daily the legislation “was carefully drafted with input from Wyoming’s ranchers, energy industry, outdoor recreation groups and other key stakeholders throughout the state to realize that vision” and “allows our local leaders to implement proper land management that maximizes multiple use and preserves the land for generations.”

The WPLI group was never able to find a single consensus about the WSA.

Because of this, Halverson described the WPLI process as a “failed initiative.”

Saturday’s resolution passed with no debate, which Rieman said he found telling.

"Unlike the party’s resolution, the WPLI was debated and crafted in public and represents the wishes of Wyoming residents,” Rieman said. “The WPLI Act is a locally produced, Wyoming-specific legislative package that addresses BLM’s de facto wilderness management scheme and was written in Wyoming by our communities, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation groups, mineral industries, ranching and agriculture, and wildlife associations.”

Certain environmental groups like The Wilderness Society have also opposed the legislation for not carving out more wilderness land.

“Unfortunately, the party’s resolution only aligns with a few, mostly national, environmental groups in opposition to the WPLI Act,” Rieman said. “Unless you support wilderness management, you should stand against the party’s misguided resolution and stand for the WPLI Act."

Special Interests?

Halverson told the party Saturday that “the association does not speak for all county commissioners in Wyoming,” and claimed that “many” commissioners oppose the legislation, including the Lincoln County Commission.

The legislation was a result of the input from only seven of the state’s 23 county commissions, but Rieman said many of the other counties elected not to participate at all.

He said that was the action taken in Lincoln County, where commissioners there opted to pursue an approach to remove the wilderness status with former congresswoman Liz Cheney.

Halverson equated the WCCA as a special interest group that Barrasso and Lummis are beholden to. When asked about this statement, Rieman responded that, “I’m not going to respond to that kind of nonsense.”

Why No Mention Of Hageman?

The straw poll passed by the Wyoming GOP on Saturday only criticized Barrasso and Lummis’ support for the bill and made no mention of Hageman’s support.

“This bill will free up thousands of acres in Wilderness Study Areas across the state for multiple-use projects while also protecting five wilderness sites composed of over 20,00 acres,” Hageman said. “Wyoming has long been a leader in responsible, effective land use, and it’s my hope that this bill will serve as an example of how other states can provide clarity on public wilderness study areas lacking a permanent designation.”

The party has been extremely supportive of Hageman and her father right views since she took office and beat Cheney in the 2022 election.

Halverson said leaving Hageman out of the call-out was simply a result of her not knowing about the congresswoman’s mirror legislation.

“I absolutely would have included her in,” she said.

Hageman said she’ll continue working with her colleagues to address other ways federal land can be opened up for development, easier permitting, and more security for lease holders.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter