BLM RMP gets mixed responses

A Resource Management Plan that has been in the works for over a decade was released last week, meeting with a mixed response from local and statewide conservation groups and political leaders. 

The RMP 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been working on a Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Rock Springs Field Office since 2011. An RMP is a land use plan for a management area. The area of the Rock Springs Field Office brackets the cities of Green River and Rock Springs and overlaps with portions of Fremont, Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater, and Uinta counties. 

"RMPs identify where development activities, like oil and gas drilling, are allowed, along with the rules that all users of public lands must abide by to protect sensitive fish and wildlife, water, recreational, and other resources," Joshua Coursey, the president and CEO of Muley Fanatics Foundation, explained in a press release. 

The BLM released the Draft Resource Management Plan Revision and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Rock Springs Field Office (RSFO) planning area on August 17. The announcement also initiated a 90-day comment period for the public to provide input on the draft document. 

The RMP for the Rock Springs Field Office addresses roughly 3.6 million acres of public land in southwestern Wyoming.

One of the main effects of the RMP is determining what could be considered an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). 

"The draft plan significantly increases the amount of land protected as ACECs-from 286,470 acres today to over 1.6 million acres," a press release from The Wilderness Society explained. "ACECs are the principle designation BLM can use to protect important natural, cultural, and scenic resources, intact landscapes, habitat connectivity, and ecosystem resilience."

"This plan has implications for wildlife and sportsmen for the next 20+ years, plus the potential to make lasting changes to the landscape, both positive and not," the Wyoming Wildlife Federation said in a press release about the RMP.

The praise 

Several organizations quickly expressed their praise for the RMP and its proposed changes after it was released.

Muley Fanatics Foundation (MFF) applauded the RMP, particularly for its efforts toward safeguarding big game and hunting and angling opportunities in the Greater Little Mountain Area, protecting the area from "irresponsible energy development."

"The draft honors years of hard work by the citizens and elected officials of southwestern Wyoming and would protect the most sensitive fish and wildlife habitat within the Greater Little Mountain Area, which contributes to southwestern Wyoming's robust outdoor recreation economy," a press release from MFF stated.

"The plan aligns with local stakeholders' proposal to protect Greater Little Mountain that received letters of support from the City of Green River, the City of Rock Springs, and Sweetwater County Commission," the MFF press release continued.

"This proposal couldn't have come at a more crucial time, as our big game herds are suffering due to an unusually harsh winter and development that continues to encroach on their most sensitive habitats," Joshua Coursey said in a statement reacting to the RMP. "The BLM must include these protections for Greater Little Mountain in its final plan. When it comes to Greater Little Mountain and the rest of Wyoming's critical wildlife habitat, everyone agrees that conservation is important. Ensuring that future hunters and anglers can enjoy the same opportunities that we do today must be the priority." 

One of the areas the RMP plan addresses is protecting wildlife habitats for big game and Greater Sage Grouse.

"I applaud the foresight these land managers have shown in this draft plan for protecting migration corridors and limiting energy development in important landscapes for a variety of wildlife," Tom Christiansen, a retired Wyoming Game and Fish Department Sage Grouse Coordinator, said in the Wilderness Society press release.

"This is a positive draft plan with the right intentions at a critical time for wildlife and the future of outdoor experiences in southwest Wyoming," Mark Kot, a retired public lands planner for Sweetwater County, added.

The RMP also addresses large sections of the Northern Red Desert and proposes expanding the existing oil and gas closures in some areas, which the Wilderness Society said is "a decision strongly supported by local communities and that Tribal Nations have historically advocated for."

The BLM is also working with Tribal governments, recognizing the importance of traditional Indigenous homelands and migratory territories, and "the agency proposes protections for Tribally-defined 'respected places' and acknowledges and upholds Tribal Sovereignty," according to the Wilderness Society. 

"This plan keeps our traditional homelands safe from the exploitation we see taking place in other areas, and my hope is these lands can remain the same as they have for thousands of years," Jason Baldes, the Vice President of the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council and an Eastern Shoshone tribal member, said in the press release. 

The criticism 

While many supported the RMP, several Wyoming politicians criticized it.

"Upon first glance, I am extremely disappointed, yet not surprised, by the redirection this Administration is taking with this draft," Governor Mark Gordon stated. "Over a decade's worth of work from Wyoming's cooperating agencies, local stakeholders, and impacted industries seems to have fallen on the deaf ears of the federal BLM and its imperious agenda. I know I am not alone in my desire to review this draft with a fine-tooth comb. I will protect the interests of the State of Wyoming and make sure they pay attention to the good work being done at the state and local level as we move ahead."

"The Biden administration continues to attack our Wyoming way of life," Senator John Barrasso said. "The latest hit job from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) aims to take control of 1.8 million acres of land in Wyoming. This blatant land grab completely dismisses practical solutions proposed by local land managers, local agencies and the people who live and work on this land. I encourage everyone to make your voice heard through the public comment period. There is still time for us to force the BLM to turn this outrageous proposal around and strike a balanced approach that puts Wyoming, not Washington, in the driver's seat."

"The Biden administration's proposal to lock up even more federal lands willfully ignores more than a decade of thoughtful systems designed by local experts and Wyoming-based stakeholders at our state's expense," Senator Cynthia Lummis said. "While I am not surprised by this misguided decision, I am disappointed this administration is prioritizing unnecessary red tape over well-designed policies established by our experts on the ground."

The feedback

After releasing the RMP, the BLM opened a 90-day public comment period, which will close on November 16. 

The public can read the full draft and find more information at eplanning.blm.gov. The BLM also plans to host public meetings during the public comment period in Rock Springs, Lyman and Big Piney. 

"It is imperative that sportsmen and sportswomen from all areas engage in this process," Coursey said. "These lands are public lands owned by all Americans. Truly, this land is your land."

 

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