Commissioners partner to protect the county

Sweetwater County is using existing partnerships and looking to create new partnerships to continue protecting and promoting the best interests of the county and its resources.

During the Sweetwater County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the commissioners spoke with Danielle Bettencourt from the Coalition of Local Governments (CLG) about making comments on the Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs Field Office Resource Management Plan draft and spoke to Consultant Jessica Western about the possibility of establishing a collaborative with the Ashley National Forest.

Commenting on the RMP

With discussions about the BLM’s Resource Management Plan (RMP) draft for the Rock Springs Field Office still going strong, and roughly one month left in the public comment period, the commissioners are continuing to work on providing substantive comments opposing the draft and the BLM’s preferred Alternative B, which focuses on conservation.

Land Use Director Eric Bingham explained that he has continued to work with the law firm Fairfield and Woods P.C. and the Coalition of Local Governments’ attorney Danielle Bettencourt on reviewing the draft and finding inconsistencies within it. Bingham said they have found processes that were violated, things that are supposed to be in the document but aren’t, and areas where the document goes against the county’s resource plan. Some examples of issues Bingham brought up include the fact that the RMP establishes things that are either against the county’s resource plan or against what the BLM had previously said they would do, including creating widespread Areas of Environmental Concern (ACECs), right of ways in “checkerboard” areas, and linear disturbance areas.

The commissioners discussed the best way to move forward with making comments on the plan, speaking with Bettencourt about how the county can both support the comments made by the CLG and work with the CLG to provide comments that come from the county directly.

The question of funding was also brought up, considering what money could be needed for research, hiring experts, and making comments. The commissioners discussed the possibility of funds that could come from the CLG through sources like Federal Natural Resource Policy Account (FNRPA) grants, and whether any money will have to be spent by the county, in which case there an account set up in the budget to cover these needs.

“I’m not afraid of spending money to fight this,” Commissioner Island Richards said, adding that it’s better to put money towards it now to try to prevent losses in the future if the preferred plan were to be adopted.

“Whatever it takes, let’s make it happen,” Chairman Keaton West said.

Discussions on the RMP draft are continuing throughout the county as well, with several meetings planned to address the issue. The Greater Little Mountain Coalition is hosting a barbecue to talk about the RMP and conservation in the Greater Little Mountain area. The barbecue will be from 5:30 - 8 p.m. Thursday, October 26, at the Muley Fanatic Foundation headquarters in Green River. Several citizens and politicians are also hosting a “Freedom Rally” to discuss and give information on the RMP, which will feature multiple speakers including Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray. The rally will be from 6 - 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, October 25 and 26, at the Sweetwater Events Complex.

Collaborating with the ANF

Looking to the future of protecting and developing the resources of Sweetwater County, the commissioners also had a discussion about the possibility of creating a collaborative with the Ashley National Forest, specifically for the further development of the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Wyoming.

Commissioner Robb Slaughter has been working on researching what it would take to develop this collaborative, which he has discussed with the other commissioners in previous meetings. He had heard from many organizations and people that it was a good idea, particularly as it could help the county attain funding to make improvements. As the next step in the process of working toward the collaborative, the commissioners heard from Consultant Jessica Western on how she could help them get things going.

Western explained that a collaborative helps leverage resources and brings together diverse people who represent diverse interests to find consensus. Specifically for something like the US Forest Service, which Western said she had years of experience working with, a collaborative helps with efficient planning on makes it easier for forest supervisors to act on recommendations.

The next steps in the process of establishing the collaborative, according to Western, would be to gather more information, conduct interviews, establish a steering committee, and start working on the specific issues. Commissioner Slaughter noted that he would like to get things started soon in order to try to have something in place by the spring. Western said she will continue to work with Slaughter to start putting together a cost estimate and proposal for the commissioners.

Commissioner Island Richards pointed out that about 15% of the Ashley National Forest is in Wyoming, and that some of the best parts of it are in Sweetwater County, but that it has been totally neglected.

“That’s what I hope to see out of this is some focus on the good part of Ashley National Forest,” he said.


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