March 21, 2016
Wyoming Wildlife Federation
Contact: Joy Bannon
(307) 287-0129 (cell)
Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance Launches Campaign for Public Lands in Wyoming
The Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance (WYSA) has launched a campaign designed to bring awareness to the importance of public lands in Wyoming. These lands are where aquatic species inhabit freshwater streams and big game animals raise their young, where vital wildlife habitats are conserved, and outdoor recreation is available to all Americans.
The campaign “keep public lands in public hands” will include a major stakeholder effort administered by Wyoming county commissions to consider Wilderness Study Areas and other public lands in Wyoming.
“Wyoming Wildlife Federation and our aligned sportsmen groups will nominate one sportsman/woman that will represent a single organization to be at the table to make recommendations for our wildlife and hunting and fishing interests,” says Joy Bannon, field director of WWF. “Wilderness Study Areas that have been in limbo status, as far as their official designation, for nearly 30 years will be the focus of the counties,” Bannon says. “Ultimately, decisions regarding public lands, including the Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming will be made by the U.S. Congress.”
The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI), administered by the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association (WCCA), will begin with 10 counties and commence this spring with Wilderness Study Areas as the “launching pad” for other public lands and land use recommendations. The goal is to advance one legislative package through the Wyoming delegation to be introduced in a bill to Congress in 2018.
“We want to see a variety of groups and interests at the negotiating table,” says Kim Floyd, executive director of Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen. There are 45 Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) in Wyoming, encompassing about 700,000 acres. A range of options will be discussed for the individual WSAs and other public lands, if appropriate, and decided on by each committee.
“Rather than just simply designating wilderness or releasing it for multiple use, having other options for these areas on the table will be important for this process,” Floyd says. “This could mean a formal designation of Wilderness or another designation.” The WCCA provided guidelines for designating the WSAs, each with varying levels of protection: hard release, soft release and direct management.
This process is expected to take two years. The public lands campaign for WYSA will include a major outreach component with regular information provided to the public on the WPLI and meetings in each participating county. A coordinator will be hired to work with the eight affiliated groups under WYSA and ensure regular communication and support is provided between the sportsmen/women in the county process. The 10 counties so far to join the initiative will soon be creating their advisory committees. One of the issues the stakeholders will consider is public lands and land uses.
“WYSA opposes any large-scale transfer of lands to state control, because the state doesn’t have the resources to properly manage those lands nor the incentive to maintain full public access,” says Mike Porter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
In the American West, the current political climate includes an increasingly serious movement to transfer public lands to state ownership or control. “The WPLI may include such transfers as part of its process,” Porter says.
Several land-transfer bills have been proposed at the state and national level. These include two bills presented this session to the Wyoming House of Representatives, as well as two other related bills in 2015, one concerning a feasibility study as to the resources the state would need to manage such federal lands.
2016 and 2015 Wyoming Legislature (related bills):
- HB125 Public Lands Access: A total of $100,000 of state funds used to develop an inventory of federal roads and trails that have been closed. If passed, a committee could have recommended a bill to address public access.
- HB 142 Transfer of Public Lands: Proposed seizing public lands in Wyoming and setting up a process regarding the sale of these lands.
- (2015) SF56 Study of land management: Passed. Allocated $75,000 for the study of a federal lands transfer in Wyoming. Results have yet to be reported.
- (2015) HB209 Transfer of lands: Passed House, failed in Senate committee. Would have required the transfer of public lands to state management and formed a committee to review the transfer.
WYSA’s public lands campaign will also include a study on the economic impacts of hunting and fishing per county. This research will be conducted by the University of Wyoming’s (UW) Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. A survey on the use of public lands will also be administered by WYSA to their membership, also in partnership with UW. These data will be provided for use in the WPLI county advisory committee meetings. All results of scientific, social and economic data will be provided to the public via the WWF website and the Public Lands page, www.wyomingwildlife.org/ht/d/sp/i/338277/pid/338277.