Barrasso, Lummis want BLM’s Rock Springs plan pulled

Maya Shimizu Harris - Casper Star-Tribune
Posted 10/25/23

Via Wyoming News Exchange

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Barrasso, Lummis want BLM’s Rock Springs plan pulled


Delegates join Gordon’s outcry

CASPER — Wyoming’s congressional delegation joined Gov. Mark Gordon in demanding the Bureau of Land Management withdraw its proposed Rock Springs management plan, which could expand federally protected lands in Wyoming by millions of acres. 

Outcry from politicians and the public over the controversial management proposal prompted the Wyoming BLM to extend its public comment period for another 60 days. The new deadline to submit public comment is Jan. 17, 2024. 

The long-awaited guideline for the use of 3.6 million acres of public lands in the southwestern part of the state outlines four potential plans. 

One emphasizes resource development. One favors conservation. Another takes a middle road. There’s even one plan that proposes doing nothing and maintaining the guidelines that were put in place in 1997. 

The BLM’s preferred plan favors conservation and would designate a total 1.6 million acres of land in Rock Springs as “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern,” or ACECs — roughly 1.3 million acres more than current designated ACECs in that area. (Some people have said that there are 1.8 million acres total designated ACECs in the BLM’s preferred plan, but that number isn’t quite right, Wyoming BLM spokesperson Micky Fisher said.) 

There are an additional 227,960 acres of Wilderness Study Areas in the proposed plan. 

The BLM is responsible for managing these lands until Congress decides whether to officially designate them as “wilderness.”  The acreage for these areas is the same for all four alternatives. 

The proposed designation of additional ACECs has been a point of intense angst for some politicians and citizens across the state given that these designations would come with certain use restrictions; in addition to Wyoming’s congressional delegation and Gordon, many state lawmakers have called on the BLM to withdraw the plan completely. 

To be clear, the BLM can’t just throw the entire proposal in the trash and start over, because that would go against the process required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Fisher told the Star-Tribune. 

“We’ve got to carry forward with the NEPA process,” Fisher said. 

But the agency could choose to go with alternative A — the alternative that proposes doing nothing and maintaining the management plan that was put in place in 1997. 

Wyoming’s Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso urged the federal agency to withdraw its proposed Rock Springs plan “entirely” in a letter they signed two weeks ago along with Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney. 

Barrasso and Lummis express concern that the ACECs would have “a negative impact on those who live, work, and recreate here”; the designation, they said, would “inevitably end grazing, critical transmission line improvements, and gas production that powers the region.” 

The senators also expressed concern over the lack of information about how many ACECs are in effect, as the BLM doesn’t have a “standard format for reporting information about ACECs within the agency or to the public.” 

“The absence of a standardized format of ACEC data, while the BLM pushes for more land to be designated as ACECs, is already leading to a growing delta of distrust of what this draft RMP could mean for future BLM land decisions,” they wrote. 

Fisher shared a spreadsheet with the Star-Tribune containing some information about ACECs, including ACEC acreage across several states. Though the letter asks for a complete withdrawal of the Rock Springs proposal, a spokesperson for Lummis said in an email that the senator would support a plan that’s “crafted and supported by the local community.” 

“In many ways,” the spokesperson added, “Alternative D” — which takes a middle path between conservation and resource use — “fits that bill.” 

This option would decrease ACEC acreage from the current 286,470 acres to 246,634 acres. A spokesperson for Barrasso, on the other hand, said in an email that the senator believes all the alternatives “disregard more than a decade’s worth of collaboration with local stakeholders, ranchers, grazing permittees, etc.” 

Wyoming’s Rep. Harriet Hageman sent Stone-Manning her own letter last week, describing the proposed plan as “entirely unbalanced” and asserting that the BLM’s preferred plan would block “almost all opportunities for economic development, particularly as it relates to energy production and mineral extraction.” 

“Such an outcome will severely hamper the state’s ability to generate revenue for essential services, and even further restrict our ability to meet our national energy demands,” she wrote.

She said in an emailed statement to the Star-Tribune on Thursday that she considers alternative A — the option to maintain the guidelines from 1997 — to be “the best choice among those proposed.” 

The congressional delegates’ letters follow another from Gordon to Stone-Manning, the BLM director, from late September. Gordon similarly asked Stone-Manning to withdraw the draft plan entirely. 

Though he expressed disappointment in a Thursday statement that the draft hasn’t been withdrawn, he was also appreciative that the BLM had at least extended the public comment period. 

BLM officials have conceded that the proposed expansion of ACECs would close some of these areas off to resource extraction like potential oil and gas leasing and mineral development — lost opportunities that could be of concern to local economies. But some of the other claims that have come from the public and various groups — that all these areas would be closed to hunting, fishing and bike riding, for example — aren’t true, and proposed restrictions vary depending on the area. 

Part of the spread of misinformation is the BLM’s own fault; the agency has said that the proposed Rock Springs plan contained erroneous language from a different travel management draft plan, the Star-Tribune previously reported. 

The travel management language describes restriction on off-highway vehicles and off-road vehicles. 

BLM officials have emphasized repeatedly that the process is ongoing, and that the agency may very well choose one of the less conservation-oriented alternative options following public comment. 

The public can give feedback on the proposal through Jan. 17, 2024. 

Members of the public can submit comments online by clicking on the green “Participate Now” tab on the left of the page at this link: project/13853/510.

This story was published on October 24, 2023.