Wyoming is exactly what I envision as the great American West; a region of the country I have yet to (but want very much want to) visit. The western half of the state is covered by the Rocky Mountains and rangelands, while the eastern part of the state is mostly high-elevation prairie. The state is also home to several historic trails, wildlife refuges and our country’s first national park — Yellowstone, the centerpiece of the 20-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. At more than 62.5 million acres, Wyoming is the 10th largest state. That’s a whole lot of land.
Who manages this land? Over 48 percent of it is owned by the U.S government, the majority of which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This small agency within the Department of the Interior manages more than 17.5 million acres of public land and 40.7 million acres of subsurface mineral estate in Wyoming. Each of the state’s 10 BLM field offices has their own resource management plan (RMP) to guide the decision-making process for land and natural resource use. The BLM is currently going through a process to revise the Lander Field Office’s 25-year-old RMP to set new objectives and goals for the area’s resource management. The proposed plan will manage more than 2.5 million acres of land in Wyoming, including the Wind River Basin and Sweetwater Watershed. This area also has some of the most pristine wilderness in the country and provides habitat for endangered species like the gray wolf and grizzly bear.
Throughout the RMP revision process, the BLM will collaborate with state, local and tribal governments. In addition to governments and federal agencies, the BLM also values public input in the planning process. A 90-day public comment period for the draft RMP and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) ended last week. The agency hopes to release a final plan this fall. Environmentalists applaud the proposal because it seeks to strike a balance between conservation and other demands, like energy development and off-highway vehicle use. The Wilderness Society even gave the Lander Field Office an award for its efforts on wildlife protection and historic trail preservation and management, showing us that innovative conservation work isn’t going unrecognized.