County votes to send its 3 WSAs to Cheney

BIG PINEY – Sublette County commissioners

took turns voicing their thoughts and

opinions about the status of the county’s three

wilderness study areas in a public hearing

Tuesday and then made two unanimous votes.

The first vote was to notify the Wyoming

County Commissioners Association that it

was withdrawing from the state group’s voluntary

Wyoming Public Lands Initiative.

The second was to draft a letter of support

for U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney’s legislation to release

WSAs in Sublette County to multiple

use. Those are Lake Mountain, Shoal Creek

and Scab Creek WSAs.

The public hearing at Big Piney Town

Hall drew Sublette WPLI advisory committee

members who were able to attend at the

time set, 2 p.m. They were Dave Bell, Mike

Henn, Bill Lanning, Monte Skinner and Dan


The group met for about two years but

was unable in the end to reach total consensus

on its recommendations for how the three

WSAs could be best managed. The group offered

three “options” that were in basic agreement

for the Lake Mountain and Shoal Creek

WSAs but hung up on whether to recommend

the Scab Creek WSA as all wilderness or a

national management area with special restrictions.

A half-dozen citizens also arrived to hear

commissioners’ discussion and vote, which

is final for the county’s involvement in the

WPLI process.

Chair Andy Nelson opened the public hearing

by saying, “This discussion is for the commission

and we will likely make a decision.”

Nelson then asked commissioners to take

turns; Commissioner Mack Rawhouser spoke

first, thanking Sublette WPLI committee

members for their time spent, as did the others.

“Looking over all the materials you put together,

I couldn’t understand that ‘no surface

occupancy’ meant you couldn’t build a road,”

he said. “With all the fires we’ve had, you cannot

have a forest without building a road. That

being said, in the 1990s commissioners made

a commitment there would be no more wilderness

in Sublette County. … They evidently

knew something.”

Rawhouser continued, “So I struggled like

everybody else has but what I come up with is

we need to open this land up to multiple use.

We need to let people get in there and use it.”

Further, it is the Forest Service and Bureau

of Land Management’s “job” to monitor the

WSAs “so I believe we need to turn this back

over to them.”

Next, Commissioner Tom Noble said, “It’s

hard to follow that one. I have different feeling

for each area – I do believe we need to release

them and let the Forest Service manage them.”

Commissioner David Burnett spoke at

length about policies of multiple-use areas.

“I know there was a lot of frustration expressed

on the part of the public that you

couldn’t reach a consensus … that no recommendation

was reached,” he said. “There is a

difference between conservation and preservation.

The lands have necessary and productive

values (… and) have been in preservation

for 30 years. I am of the opinion we need to

release (the WSAs) and pursue for multiple

use and sustained yield.”

Commissioner Joel Bousman said that as

a supporter of the county’s voluntary participation

in the WPLI, “I have to accept some

responsibility for this process in Sublette


He said he thought that the county’s advisory

group would be made of people who each

had something to gain and something to lose

and come up with a recommendation for the


“I did not realize until once this committee

formed that every member … had something

to lose except one – The Wilderness Society.

Because (WSAs) would remain as wilderness

(if the Sublette WPLI committee could

not reach consensus). I was disappointed that

turned out to be the case.”

Smitherman represented The Wilderness

Society and other national conservation

groups on both the Sublette and Teton WPLI

advisory committees. He and Coke Landers

served as the Sublette committee’s co-chairs.

Last but not least, Nelson addressed the

public. “For me it came down to the definition

of two words – recommendations versus

options. We were given an option that threw

it back into our court. I am ready to make a


Nelson asked if the public had “anything

new” to say. “If not, let’s move on.”

Carmel Kail, Bill Lanning and Courtney

Skinner addressed the board.

Lanning warned that he worries if the

Forest Service's WSAs remain as such, environmental

groups might sue to shutdown

snowmobiling. “Rest assured there will be a

lawsuit against the Forest Service.”

Skinner extolled the benefits of wilderness

experiences, naming Steve Jobs as one of the

Skinner Brothers’ teen campers. The camps

were merely “the mechanism” to provide wilderness

experiences in the Wind River Range.

He told commissioners that their WSA

decisions “reaches way beyond the borders

of Sublette County, the state – it is reaching

across the world.”

Smitherman told the board, “The options

are now yours.”

He offered an alternative option – to leave

Scab Creek as a WSA so it remains de facto

wilderness. He also asked Bousman why he

pointed to The Wilderness Society as having

“nothing to lose” if there was no consensus.

“It did become clear to me that by blocking

any consensus, nothing changes,” Bousman

replied. “You lose nothing … ”

Bousman then moved “to inform the

WCCA that our WPLI committee in Sublette

County was unable to reach consensus and we

are no longer involved in the WPLI process.”

It was seconded and they gave a unanimous

“aye” vote.

“I move to draft a letter of support to Rep.

Cheney’s legislation to release the WSAs

of Sublette County to multiple use,” moved

Rawhouser, with Burnett making a second,

and again the votes were unanimous “ayes.”

On Sept. 27, Rep. Cheney introduced H.R.

6939, “Restoring Local Input and Access to

Public Lands Act,” and the Committee on

Natural Resources’ Nov. 15 vote was 19 yeas,

11 nays.

She posted letters of support from Lincoln,

Sweetwater and Bighorn counties, who chose

to not participate in the statewide WPLI process.

Her bill seeks release of those counties’

20 wilderness study areas to federal resource

management plans.


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