Cheney’s land bill advances

CODY – A bill that could significantly

alter federally-mandated land management

protections nearly 800,000 acres of Wyoming

public land is making its way through

the U.S. House of Representatives.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney drafted “Restoring

Local Input and Access to Public

Lands Act,” which would remove Wilderness

Study Areas in three counties and permanently

eliminate Lands with Wilderness

Characteristics in all of Wyoming.

“I’m proud of the legislation,” Cheney

said. “I’m proud of the local contribution and

really the way this reflects the desire of the

people I represent in each individual county.”

For now the Park County portion of the

WSA removal is not included, leaving only

WSAs in Lincoln, Big Horn and Sweetwater

counties. Park County commissioner Loren

Grosskopf said when the commissioners finalize

the Park County language regarding its

WSA land, the bill could be amended to include

the local portion of McCullough Peaks

and High Lakes wilderness study areas. The

McCullough Peaks and High Lakes areas

make up 40,434 acres in Park County, the

only wilderness BLM land in the county.

“We may have enough (wilderness) according

to some people,” Cody resident Hap

Ridgeway said. “But we certainly need more

areas preserved in their natural state throughout

the world.”

The legislation passed through the House

Committee on Natural Resources Nov. 15 on

a 19-11 party-line vote with 19 Republicans

in favor and 11 Democrats opposed. It will

now move to Congress.

“This bill will have a huge impact on public

land in Wyoming and will set a dangerous

precedent throughout the country,” Rep. Raúl

Grijalva, (D-Arizona) said. “Unfortunately

this bill … targets entire WSA’s for repeal

without any consideration for conditions on

the ground or the actual quality and character

of the land.”

Ridgeway is also a proponent of the giveand-

take approach he said Cheney’s bill


“It’s probably fair in some cases (WSA removal),”

Ridgeway said. “But there’s probably

a lot that do deserve to stay wilderness.”

A coalition of Wyoming counties and

local conservation groups had been working

to find an agreement and make recommendations

for the future of the wilderness study

areas, which led to the Wyoming Public

Lands Initiative in 2015.

Ridgeway served on the Park County

WPLI board and said the bi-partisan group

was within 2,000-3,000 acres of reaching an

agreement when the commissioners set up a

sharp deadline, rushing the WPLI into a single

vote which didn’t reach consensus.

In Sublette County, the WPLI failed to

reach a consensus, but Sublette County Commissioners

voted to return the three WSAs to

multiple use.

County commissioners in Big Horn, Lincoln

and Sweetwater counties – the very

same three counties which address WSAs in

Cheney’s bill – declined to participate in the

WPLI and instead worked with Rep. Cheney

on the “Restoring Local Input and Access to

Public Lands Act.” Even though it worked

with Cheney, the Sweetwater County Commission

only voted by a narrow 3-2 tally to

Cheney’s land

bill advances

support release of its WSAs.

“For over 40 years, federal land in Wyoming

has languished in WSA status,” said

Cheney in a written statement after the vote.

“Recreation, ranching and other economic

activities have been negatively impacted by

the decades-old WSA designation, which

prevents access, locks up land and resources,

restricts grazing rights, and hinders good

range land and resource management. I am

pleased the Natural Resources Committee

passed my bill out of committee today.”

WSA areas are undeveloped land masses

with significant wilderness characteristics, to

be studied for potential national forest designation

by BLM and the Forest Service.

Though not officially considered national

wilderness land, WSAs receive the same

protections until designated otherwise. They

make up more than 777,000 acres in Wyoming.

“(They do) tremendous damage to conservation,”

Cheney said of WSAs. “Tremendous

damage to … our local commissioners, what

our local officials are able to do with respect

to economic activity on the land.”

The Wilderness Act of 1964 created the

national wilderness preservation system

under law for the “use and enjoyment of

the American people in such manner as will

leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment

as wilderness.” The act is meant to

delineate “where the earth and its community

of life are untrammeled by man, where man

himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Though open for recreation, the WSA

designation prevents motorized vehicle use,

ranching and other commercial uses.

“The interest of our members, as ranchers,

out on these lands, has been negatively

impacted by the WSA designation because

these lands have been managed as de facto

wilderness,” Jim Magagna of the Wyoming

Stock Growers Association.

Lands with Wilderness Characteristics are

also considered for national park designation,

inventoried lands which possess enough size,

less human development and outstanding

opportunities for visitor use and recreation.

These lands are prevalent in Park County and

many neighboring counties. BLM considers

these designations before managing and

transferring land back to local counties for

certain uses. Grosskopf said nearly 20 percent

of BLM land mass in the Big Horn Basin

is considered an LWC.

Only the U.S. Congress can designate

wilderness, so after WSAs were identified,

they were classified and have been managed

by BLM and the Forest Service ever since.

Across Wyoming, there are 42 WSAs on

BLM lands and three WSAs on Forest Service


The BLM and Forest Service manages

these lands until Congress permanently protects

them as designated wilderness or until

they are repealed, which Cheney’s bill also

aims to do. If WSA status were removed

for the lands in question, they would likely

become “special management areas” a designation

which allows for multiple uses and

sustained yield practices like ranching and

timber sourcing. These nonwilderness uses

will be determined by Congress in the bill’s


It is not yet known when the House will

start discussing the legislation. On Jan. 3 at

least 39 new Democrats will be joining what

will become a Democratically controlled

House for the 116th U.S. Congress. n


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