- JJ McGinnis
WYOMING PUBLIC LANDS INITIATIVE ACT
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
What’s the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act?
In spring of 2021 Senator Barrasso introduced S. 1750, the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act (WPLIA), often referred to as the WPLI bill. The bill addresses 176,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas across seven counties in Wyoming. The Act would create five new designated Wilderness areas, designates several special management areas, and would release or reduce protections for over 130,000 acres of currently protected wilderness-quality public lands.
You may have seen this recent study calling “Wyoming: Worst in the West'' in public lands protections in recent years. Wyoming hasn’t permanently protected any of our remaining wilderness-quality public lands since the Wyoming Wilderness Act of 1984. So why would the Wyoming Wilderness Association oppose a bill that would create our first Wilderness protections in forty years, and our state’s first ever designated BLM Wilderness area? Because the WPLI is the result of a flawed and exclusionary process, and because it’s a net loss for protection of our wilderness-quality public lands.
S. 1750 is a net loss for Wyoming’s wild lands
The proposed legislation would protect 22,000 acres of Wilderness, less than 10% of the WSAs considered, and release approximately 130,000 acres of Wyoming’s currently safeguarded public wildlands to various multiple-use management. The largest wilderness area created would be 6,200 acres, compared, for example, to releasing the 22,000 acre Honeycombs WSA from any protections.
Chart 1. Summary of recommendations made for the 176,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas included in S. 1750.
Only 5% of Wyoming is currently designated Wilderness. Wyoming’s Wilderness Study Areas make up only 1% of the state and less than 3% of our state's public lands. These WSAs are some of the last remaining wilderness quality lands in Wyoming, and reducing their current protections is moving in the wrong direction for Wyoming.
WPLI was a flawed collaborative process
In 2015 the Wyoming County Commissioners Association launched the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) to address the state's Wilderness Study Areas through county-led collaboratives. WWA engaged in this process to play an active role in protecting our remaining wildlands, and we supported a consensus-based process to create collaboratively developed, broadly supported proposals for management of Wyoming’s Wilderness Study Areas. Unfortunately, the initiative’s procedural flaws and exclusive process resulted in imbalanced and unsupportable proposals.
Several WPLI committees made their recommendations based on majority-vote, a model that inherently limited collaborative decision-making, ignored minority concerns, and resulted in one-sided proposals. Consensus-based decision-making requires all parties to compromise and work together towards common ground, resulting in broadly supported proposals. We support the recommendations from Carbon County in the WPLI bill as the only committee to reach consensus.
WPLI committees were exclusive and unbalanced, lacking conservationists, scientists, and any tribal representation. Committees regularly ignored public input, and many representatives failed to communicate with and represent their identified constituents.
No WPLI committees welcomed tribal representation into the process, and tribal governments were not consulted on final recommendations included in the legislature. A representative from the Northern Arapaho voiced that Fremont County backpedaled on their promise to consult with tribal government before finalizing recommendations. Congress should not approve reducing protections on 130,000 acres of currently protected ancestral native public lands without formal tribal engagement and approval.
The county-led proposals included in the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act don’t represent Wyoming’s wishes and some even lack support from committee members who served in the process. The Wyoming Wilderness Association is dedicated to collaborative compromises and grassroots, place-based organizing to find permanent protections for some of our last best wild places. We remain committed to our longstanding opposition to any net loss of Wyoming’s Wilderness protections through the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. Our widely-shared concerns with the flawed WPLI process - one in which stakeholders failed to reach consensus and excluded tribal input - remain at the forefront of our opposition.
"WWA strongly opposes the WPLI Bill. The outcome of 90 percent loss of Wilderness level protection is not the result of a functional collaborative process and certainly does not represent a balanced compromise. Furthermore our widely-shared concerns with the flawed WPLI process - one in which stakeholders failed to reach consensus within all committees but Carbon, while excluding tribal input across the board - remain at the forefront of our opposition."