Conservation groups name Wyoming wilderness areas they want protected

2011-08-12T16:45:00Z 2011-08-13T00:03:06Z Conservation groups name Wyoming wilderness areas they want protected

By MARTIN KIDSTON

Gazette Wyoming Bureau

The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. — Ten conservation groups have identified 51 recommended wilderness areas across Wyoming worthy of protection and are asking the Bureau of Land Management to consider passing them on to Washington for consideration.

The landscapes, which were established as Citizen Proposed Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Study Areas as recently as 1994, stretch from the Red Desert in the south to the Honeycombs area in the Bighorn Basin.

“We have more than 1,500 individual letters recommending the Rock Creek Wilderness in the Bighorn National Forest, and 430 businesses supporting it,” said Liz Howell, director of the Wyoming Wilderness Association in Sheridan. “People work hard and they want to play hard. They want places to get away to hunt, fish, and enjoy Wyoming.”

The BLM last week asked state and local officials across Wyoming to recommend areas managed by the agency that deserve wilderness protection.

The hope is that by building bipartisan support from the ground up, recommendations will pass the 112th Congress, creating the first new wilderness designations in nearly three decades.

The advocacy groups, which include the Northern Arapahoe Preservation Society, the Western Watersheds Group, The Wilderness Society, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Wyoming Outdoor Council, among others, submitted their list of recommendations to the BLM last week.

“We’ve been offered an opportunity to give the BLM a developed wilderness proposal of our ‘Crown Jewels,’” Howell said. “It’s a great opportunity to see where it goes. We’d be remiss if we didn’t do this.”

The list of proposals is similar to what advocacy groups submitted to the BLM in 1994 and again in 2004. They include the Oregon Buttes and the Big Empty in the Red Desert, the Dubois Badlands in the Wind River Basin, and the Sweetwater Canyon in Fremont County.

In all, the list includes 51 landscapes, each ranging in size and special qualities. If approved, the areas, referred to as “Crown Jewels” by the BLM, would be manageable as additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

“Wyoming’s national forests have made a good start in protecting wild places with congressionally designated wilderness,” said Erik Molvar of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Wyoming still has spectacular pockets of wilderness in its deserts and grasslands, but (it) has yet to provide permanent protection to any of it.”

Park County commissioners have already voted to not recommend any new wilderness to the BLM during the current process. Johnson County commissioners have also said they don’t support recommending the Rock Creek area as new wilderness.

One Park County commissioner suggested recently that the governor’s office, the state’s three congressional delegates and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association are also against naming any of the 51 areas on the list as new wilderness.

But Howell said the delegation has at least listened to their proposal, and she welcomes continued talks with elected officials to see what can be agreed upon.

“We would be very impressed in having a balanced dialogue with our delegation and our commissioners,” Howell said. “Our congressional delegation has been very open-minded in talking to us. We’ll keep trying to get some dialogue going with our elected officials.”

Contact Martin Kidston at mkidston@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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