Green River Star -

By Stephanie Thompson
People Editor 

Crowd attends county hearing

Commissioners make decision


It was standing room only at the Sweetwater County Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning when residents and organizational leaders from across the state let the Commissioners know how they felt about U.S. Representative Liz Cheney’s proposed Wilderness Study Area bill.

Before public comment started chairman Reid West explained the county is not the driving force behind this discussion, but Cheney’s proposed WSA bill was. West said the Commissioners were misinformed and were under the assumption that Cheney wanted to know if the county wanted to release all of the WSAs, however, they were later informed that she wanted to know what each county wanted to do with its WSAs.

Sweetwater County currently has 13 WSAs, including Adobe Town, the sand dunes, Red Creek and Devil’s Playground. 

“We’re not driving this boat, we’re dealing with it,” West said.

The WSAs were designated during the 1980s and in 1991, the Bureau of Land Management made a recommendation to Congress about what to do with the 13 WSAs in the county, but Congress never acted. Nothing can be done with these lands nor can the designation change unless Congress takes action.

After listening to about 1 1/2 hours of public comments, the Commissioners had their own lengthy discussion on what they should do. They too seemed as though they were split on the idea.

Commissioner West started off the conversation by telling the Commissioners they didn’t have to make a decision today, but the majority of them were ready to.

With a 3-2 vote, the Commissioners approved a motion for a full release of all 13 WSAs, including the three areas that run into other counties. Commissioners Wally Johnson, Don Van Matre and John Kolb voted in favor, while Commissioners Randy Wendling and West voted against it.

A letter will be drafted informing Cheney of their decision.

Prior to the vote, each commissioner had the opportunity to voice his opinion.

Kolb was in favor of multiple use and he understands their are strong opinions on both sides of the matter, but the county has waited long enough.

Johnson said he doesn’t trust the state of Wyoming to take care of the lands, nor does he trust the federal government. 

He wants the county to be able to control its own lands.

“I firmly believe in multiple use,” he said. 

“Waiting 38 years is long enough, he said. “It’s time for us to take action.”

West said he didn’t think all of the 13 areas should be removed as WSAs and that they should let the BLM complete its Resource Management Plan before moving forward.

Wendling agreed with West, while Van Matre said he wants multiple use and hopes the commission is making the right decision.

Public comments

During the public comment portion of the meeting, the room was divided. Some spoke in support of Cheney’s proposed bill, while others wanted the WSAs left alone.

“I’m not a fan of blanket wilderness areas,” Taylor Jones, Rock Springs resident and Wyoming snowmobiling president, said. “It takes the public land out of public hands.”

Jones said all it does is restrict the access for residents and tourists alike.

Mary Thoman, Sweetwater County Conservation District chairman said it’s time for all 13 WSAs be released to the county. She said this way the county can determine what use it would like those lands to have.

“They need to get these out of the lockup limbo,” she said.

Thoman said most of these don’t even qualify under the WSA definition of what a WSA is. She said the definition states the wilderness area shouldn’t have any roads in it. As for a public process for the WSAs, there is already one in place and the district has already done similar ones.

Mark Anderson of the Wyoming Grazing Association said Devil’s Playground is a mess because the ponds in the area, which include 12 reservoirs can’t be worked on.

As for the Twin Buttes WSA, he said keep that designation.

Anderson said if the all of the WSAs need to be cleared to take care of the problem, then that’s what should be done.

R.J. Pieper, public lands advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said he doesn’t support Cheney’s proposed bill and they should wait and get input on it before making a decision. He encouraged the county to look beyond the minerals and see what else these places have to offer, such as a tourist destination.

Sadie St. Clair of the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge said they have planted Aspen trees in the Red Creek area and have worked to increase the habitat for the cutthroat trout and they want to continue that work, which is why they wanted this area to remain a WSA.

Green River resident Mike Masterson said the commission needs to consider the other 300 million people who are not county residents that have a right to this land too. He said there is no shelf life on land and they should keep it the way it is.

Others encouraged the commissioners to make a decision, but take time to do it, however a majority of the commissioners had a different idea.


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