Cheney's bill mocks public input
November 7, 2018
Four percent - the unemployment rate in Sweetwater County. Ninety-six percent of us are working. Four percent - the percentage of public land in Sweetwater County being considered for wilderness. Ninety-six percent of our public lands are working and available for development. But ninety-six percent is not enough. Rep. Liz Cheney’s bill wants it all for development.
With the stroke of a federal pen, Cheney’s bill, HR 6939, would release Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in Sweetwater, Lincoln, and Bighorn Counties. The bill opens them up to mining, oil and gas development, and gravel pits. It would also release roadless areas statewide. Further, it prevents the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from ever inventorying for wilderness on public land in the future.
Entitled the “Restoring Public Input and Access to Public Lands Act of 2018,” Cheney’s bill instead mocks public input by bypassing the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative sponsored by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association. Cheney did not hold one public hearing or meeting in the state to get feedback from Wyoming residents. Instead, she asked development-friendly county commissioners.
True, the Sweetwater County Commission declined to participate in the initiative, preferring to wait for the BLM planning process to play out. Why then did the Sweetwater County Commission narrowly approve a measure to release the WSAs, instead of waiting for the BLM plan?
While the bill may have support from industry and other consumptive users, it sure didn’t consider sportsmen and sportswomen, anglers, hikers, and hunters. The written comments submitted to the Sweetwater County Commissioners indicate an overwhelming majority of Wyoming residents, including Sweetwater County residents, disapproved of Cheney’s bill.
Why wilderness at all? In three words, demand, rarity and science. As population increases, the number of people seeking wilderness experiences increases. Wilderness is important because it is rare. Wilderness is important for science. I once hosted two young European glacier researchers in the Fitzpatrick Wilderness. After supper, one student climbed a nearby peak and started cheering. Upon returning, he elatedly expressed his astonishment that as far as he could see in any direction, he could not see a single light. Such rare wilderness experiences should also be preserved in Sweetwater County. Wilderness is important because it belongs to more than just us – the WSAs are held in trust for all Americans. WSAs are important because they contain ecologically unique and undiscovered scientific information.
There is only one Adobe Town on the planet. Our fast-shifting Sand Dunes are unique in North America. Devils’ Playground is the only place like it in the world. But these places are fragile. Our WSAs are not resilient for many reasons – aridity being one. A mine, a road, a pipeline or a gravel pit would destroy these lands, and the WSA would be gone forever. Gone like the bison from the Red Desert.
I ask the public and our commissioners, why not protect our remaining wild country - the four percent? I oppose Cheney’s bill and ask Wyoming to advocate for the wilderness we have left.