Wyoming Wilderness Bill on the Table

The Sweetwater River near the Great Basin Desert would receive some wilderness designation under Senator Barraso’s legislation. Photo George Wuerthner.

Wyoming Senator Barrasso introduced BLM wilderness legislation– the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Act of 2021. The legislation releases far more land from Wilderness Study Area status than it protects.

Senator Barrasso’s bill would establish five new BLM wilderness areas. They are Bobcat Draw Wilderness, a 4,543-acre Encampment River Canyon Wilderness, 1,110-acre Prospect Mountain Wilderness,  6,216-acre Bobcat Draw Wilderness,  and another 8,512 acres by creating an Upper and Lower Sweetwater Canyon Wilderness.  Altogether the five areas total a paltry 20,381 acres.

The bill designates 27,211 acres as special management areas. These include the Bennett Mountains Special Management Area, Black Cat Special Management Area, Sweetwater Rocks Special Management Area, and Cedar Mountain Special Management Area. In addition, the legislation designates the Fortification Creek Management Area, North Fork Management Area, and Fraker Mountain Management Area.  And creates a Dubois Badlands National Conservation Area and Dubois Badlands Motorized Recreation Area.

Among other things, Special Management Area status prohibits new roads but does not prohibit new oil and gas leases assessable only by directional drilling outside of the management areas.

The bill would release 127,461 acres of wilderness study lands for multiple uses.

The Dubois Badlands WSA would be divided by a fence into the Dubois Motorized Recreation Area and Dubois National Conservation Area.

Location of BLM Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming.

There are 758,044 acres of Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming, so Senator Barrasso’s bill would only address a fraction of the lands that the 1964 Wilderness Act could protect. As long as  they remain WSAs they are in effect protected as wilderness.

The one thing I object to about Senator Barrasso’s legislation, besides the fact that it doesn’t designate nearly enough wilderness, is his assertion that “It is my firm belief that it is not Washington, but the people of Wyoming who should make the decision about how to treat these lands.”

I understand that Senator Barrasso is playing to his audience, but these lands are owned by all Americans, not under Wyoming residents’ exclusive jurisdiction.

Rather than expressing a parochial perspective, I wish Senator Barrasso were saying that the people in Wyoming are fortunate to have millions of acres of federal lands that they get to enjoy that are paid for and supported by all taxpayers across the country.

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy