CODY, Wyo. — The Bureau of Land Management has released the draft of its new Resource Management Plan for the Bighorn Basin, outlining four possible approaches to balancing the region’s mineral and environmental needs.
Released on Friday, the draft is nothing close to being final. The public has until late July to comment on the document that will set the basin’s management policies for the next 20 years.
The draft outlines four alternatives, including Alternative A, which would continue current management policies with few changes.
Alternative B is the most conservation-minded management approach. It preserves the most land for wildlife and scenic values, designates new areas of critical concern and goes the furthest to restrict motorized travel.
But it’s Alternative D that has emerged as the BLM’s preferred approach to future management. It seeks to strike a balance between environmental protection and resource development, and it does the most to meet a variety of needs and interests.
“We tried to find that balance — encouraging oil and gas and mining while preserving the Western lifestyle — the wildlife and open spaces that people here love so much,” said Caleb Hiner of the BLM.
As written in the draft plan, Alternative D slightly increases conservation of the basin’s physical, wildlife and historical resources.
Yet it also marks areas that would be managed primarily for oil and gas use. Six wilderness study areas in the basin would remain open to motorized vehicle use while four would be closed to motorized travel.
“We looked at a range of new alternatives and started looking at our current management,” Hiner said. “We identified some areas that needed to be changed.”
Unlike Alternative D, which seeks balance between oft-opposed energy and environmental advocates, Alternative C favors industry largely at the expense of conservation.
Among other things, Alternative C reduces protection of the basin’s wildlife, visual and historic resources, and it opens all 10 wilderness study areas to motorized travel. It also conserves the least amount of land and includes the fewest designations.
“It’s not a voting mechanism, or picking the alternative that gets the most votes,” Hiner said. “We’ll look at the rationale behind each proposal and try to make a rational decision based on the comments.”
The BLM will hold public meetings in Thermopolis, Cody, Worland, Greybull, Lovell and Powell in early June.