CODY, Wyo. — Park County joined the Wyoming County Commissioners Association on Tuesday in voting to publicly oppose a federal order directing the Bureau of Land Management to inventory public land with wilderness characteristics.
In a 3-1 vote at their meeting Tuesday, commissioners objected to a Dec. 22 order by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar directing the BLM to maintain a “wilderness resource inventory” for public lands under its jurisdiction.
Commissioners voted to sign the petition opposing the order. Those who supported the move accused Salazar of usurping his authority in trying to declare new wilderness without action by Congress.
“Salazar is trying to circumvent the Wilderness Act,” Commissioner Joe Tilden said. “He's taking it upon himself to declare a lot of these areas as wildlands.”
Tilden said Park County is home to roughly 532,000 acres of potential wildlands. Designating them as wilderness, he said, would effectively halt future oil and gas exploration.
Commissioners Loren Grosskopf and Tim French agreed. French called Salazar's order a “raw abuse of power.”
“These lands are managed for their multiple uses and always have been,” French said. “They've been used for more than 100 years by different groups of people and industry, and we never get any credit for the good work we've done.”
Salazar's order notes that public lands with wilderness characteristics provide rich social, cultural, scientific and ecological benefits for current and future generations.
Managing an area to protect its wilderness characteristics must remain a high priority for the BLM, the order says.
Commissioner Dave Burke, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said Salazar's order was not an attempt to create new wilderness.
Burke said the order merely directs the BLM to identify any lands with wilderness characteristics that fall outside the boundaries of current Wilderness Study Areas.
“I did review the Federal Land Policy Management Act last week, extensively, and I cannot sign on to this resolution,” Burke said. “Public involvement will ultimately determine whether any of these lands will be recommended for designation as wildlands.”
Not a recommendation
The wilderness debate remains a contentious issue across the West, with strong opinions on both sides.
But Burke said his fellow commissioners had jumped the gun on their vote. Salazar has made no wilderness recommendations, he said.
If that time comes, Burke said, it will include a lengthy public process.
“Public opinion will be used in the BLM's determination,” Burke said. “I believe this is an important and lawful public process that should be carried out.”
Hilary Eisen, a representative of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, thanked Burke for reading the federal documents and having an understanding of the order's true intent.
“There's no decision being made now other than to consider wilderness as a resource that you manage, just like any resource that's managed on public land,” Eisen said.
Commissioners also voted to contribute $100 to the Wyoming County Commissioners Association. The money will help cover the $2,300 cost of preparing the official documents opposing Salazar's order.
While no public hearing was held before Tuesday's vote opposing the order, French said commissioners had a grasp of what most citizens wanted.
“We're the elected representatives for the people of this county, and we feel we have a read on the citizens,” French said. “Some may not agree with us, but the majority that we represent feel like we do.”
Contact Martin Kidston at email@example.com or 307-527-7250.