Land plans critiqued at BLM resource meeting

An action plan recommended by the Bureau of Land Management to manage varied resources in the Big Horn Basin for 20 years, including 1,160,604 acres in Big Horn County, drew an earnest and attentive crowd to a BLM public information meeting Monday, June 13, at the Lovell Community Center.

Overall, the BLM is looking at more than 5 million acres of land it manages in the state. Revisions to certain resource areas and allowable endeavors or recreational activities, and changes that might affect public access in some cases could be included. Final decisions are some ways off. In all cases, there is not a move by BLM to unilaterally modify the current status except where legislation or habitat requirements are necessary, it was implied by agency representatives.

BLM meeting

BLM public affairs specialist Sarah Beckwith (left) with a group of interested citizens reviewing Alternative D.

In some categories, no changes are planned. The executive summary “with alternatives in a nutshell” is available at blm.gov/wy/st/en/programs/Planning/rmps/bighorn.html, explained Caleb Hiner, Bighorn Basin RMP project manager. Public libraries also have copies of the recommended plan.

Implementation of a new Resource Management Plan (RMP), one that would replace the current Alternative A Management Plan that is in effect, likely could begin within the next several years following other public input and BLM reviews. That was indicated by Sarah Beckwith, public affairs specialist with the Wind River/Bighorn Basin District Office in Worland.

Approximately 50 area residents and others with questions and comments on the BLM-preferred Alternative D signed in at various times during the three-hour long session with an open house format. Making a tour of 13 stations, each with flip charts, maps and other information about specific areas of management and the alternatives, individuals and couples spent an average of 20 to 30 minutes to more than an hour to view data and listen to BLM employees. Fifteen agency staffers, plus Habitat Biologist Jerry Altermatt from Wyoming Game & Fish, were present.

Attendees could make the rounds of all 13 stations, or go directly to the area with which they were primarily concerned. BLM staffers greeted each person as he or she attended and explained the format.

Each station was staffed by an agency worker with expert knowledge in specific categories, readily available to answer questions and listen to concerns while explaining the BLM rationale. Additionally, the agency had a table with comment forms for attendees. The 90-day comment period will run through Monday, July 20, said Hiner. Comments can be sent to him at P.O. Box 119 in Worland. He also can be contacted at 347-5100 or via BBRMP_WYMail@ blm.gov.

The ebbing and flowing crowd demonstrated civility in dealings with agency personnel. Although some were quite vocal in their observations, there were no angry outbursts. Getting their questions answered seemed to be the primary goal; not to enter into arguments, which were politely eschewed by staffers.

Among those expressing concerns about the BLM position on Alternative D was Cowley area resident Owen Wantulok. He said he believes that the current management plan should be left in place, and that he believes BLM has too much control. He also objected to permits required for various activities.

“You act like kings, and we’re just supposed to do what you say,” observed Wantulok to Shirley Bye-Jech, BLM outreach recreation planning coordinator from the Cody office. “We can break the law without even knowing we are because there are so many rules,” Wantulok continued. Additionally, he is of the opinion that government in general has its fingers in too many pies, thereby eroding the rights of the people; and that restricting access and having so many rules does not do the economy any good.

Those attending the information program easily could review Alternative A (current management), Alternative B (least resource use), Alternative C (most resource use), and Alternative D (agency preferred alternative). Hiner said that D basically lies between B and C “to provide the most opportunities for what people want to do.”

“Alternative D,” Hiner explained, “applies a more balanced approach than B and C, and generally increases conservation of physical, biological, heritage and visual resources compared to current management.

“D’s management approach,” he continued, “supports economic development such as identifying priority areas for oil and gas development, and traditional land uses like mining and livestock grazing. Important resource values are protected by constraining resource uses in areas where conflicts exist such as by limiting disturbance in great sage-grouse key habitat areas. A variety of recreational opportunities, including OHV use, are provided across the planning area.”

He also noted that, “Twelve Areas of Critical Environmental Concern encompass 103,128 acres, or 3 percent of BLM surface estate.”

He and Beckwith said that they were pleased with the turnout and that, “We had some good conversations.” Noted Hiner, “We are here to hear. And we want to listen and reassure that we are working for a balanced plan with lots of multiple uses. We do know the importance of the economy.”

Hiner added that to make effective comments regarding the proposal, people “should state particular reasons for their concerns instead of making broad statements, and provide detail. If possible, refer to specific portions of the document and provide section or page numbers.” Also: “Provide suggestions for how BLM can improve the document.”

All comments will be reviewed by him, as well as others, Hiner said.

By BOB RODRIGUEZ

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