CODY, Wyo. — U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials have said that they only recently became aware of the desire by many local and state cooperating agencies to open land-use planning meetings to the public.
But it cannot be a surprise to the BLM that there has been a wide and diverse range of critics who have long sought greater access to meetings and documents, as many have written to the agency and complained loudly to their elected officials.
“We have been beating our heads against the wall with the BLM in the Pinedale area about public access to meetings and materials and documents that should be public,” said Steff Kessler, Wyoming program manager in Lander for The Wilderness Society.
Kessler criticized what she said was a long-running “culture of secrecy” at the BLM, and said she had written to state agency leaders asking for more public involvement.
Some local BLM officials have begun to offer more favorable responses to her requests, Kessler said, “but we’re waiting to see real evidence of this understanding about the need for public transparency.”
Kathleen Jachowski, executive director of the Worland-based Guardians of the Range rancher advocacy group, said BLM staffers had expressed concerns to her about unruly attendees causing cooperator meetings to “deteriorate into bedlam.”
“I told them I expected my BLM folks to know how to handle those situations, have the courage to do so, and to not hide behind such an unprofessional barrier,” Jachowski wrote in an e-mail.
Jachowski said she is working on a policy statement about how the agency could improve public involvement in its plan revision.
Steve Jones, resource management coordinator for the Meeteetse Conservation District, said that supervisors support opening planning meetings, but worry about losing their seat at the bargaining table.
“There is some concern that some of the abilities of a cooperating agency to deal and negotiate with a federal agency might be weakened or watered down in the case of a completely open process,” he said.
“But so long as that doesn’t happen, the conservation district is comfortable that information can be presented through open meetings,” he said.
Jim Beauchamp, a retired auto worker who used to own a home in Clark, said he was frustrated during his time in Wyoming with what he called a “total lack of transparency” at the BLM.
Beauchamp’s property bordered a large parcel of BLM land. He and others expressed opposition to closed-door land-use meetings, but Beauchamp said his concerns fell on deaf ears.
Uncertainty over how potential policy changes might affect land next to his home was part of what convinced him to sell, said Beauchamp, who now lives in Wisconsin.
“It’s very frustrating not knowing, and once those alternatives are put out in the plan, it’s almost law, and there’s no changing it. By then it’s too late,” he said.