Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Marcus Huff
Staff Writer 

Proposed legislation circumvents WPLI efforts in Wyoming

WASHINTON, DC – On Dec. 20, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced a piece of legislation that would amend the Wyoming Wilderness Act of 1984, expanding the definition of authorized recreational uses in Wilderness Study Areas in Teton County, effectively circumventing some recommendations made by the county’s Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) working group.

 

December 28, 2017



WASHINTON, DC – On Dec. 20, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced a piece of legislation that would amend the Wyoming Wilderness Act of 1984, expanding the definition of authorized recreational uses in Wilderness Study Areas in Teton County, effectively circumventing some recommendations made by the county’s Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) working group.

Cheney’s proposed amendment, House Resolution 4697, states in part, “all recreational uses occurring within such Wilderness Study Areas on the date before the day of the enactment of this Act, including horseback riding, snowmobiling, dirt bike riding, mountain biking, and helicopter skiing, shall be permitted in such Areas;” and “with respect to helicopter skiing in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area, the Secretary shall authorize the number of permitted days of helicopter skiing to be at least the number of days specified in the High Mountain Heli-Skiing Final Environmental Impact Statement for certain national forest districts in Wyoming and Idaho issued on June 30, 2005, by the Forest Service; and no recreational access points shall be constructed in such Wilderness Study Areas after the date of the enactment of this paragraph, except by express authorization of Congress.”

In response, the Teton County WPLI group, as reported by the Jackson Hole News and Guide, have reacted negatively to the proposed amendment, threatening to quit the recommendation process altogether.

According to the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA), Wyoming is currently home to 15 designated wilderness areas, covering more than 4 million acres. The Bureau of Land Management also manages 42 WSAs for a total of 577,000 acres of public land. The Forest Service manages three WSAs, adding another 130,000 acres.

Across the state, Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) working groups are currently studying best use for Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in the county, with recommendations to be submitted to the state next year. Once committee recommendations have been formalized and approved by each county commission, the final recommendations of the WPLI will be sent to a federal delegation for introduction in the U.S. House and Senate in 2018.

WCCA Executive Director Pete Obermueller, former Legislative Director for Representative Cynthia Lummis and Executive Director of the Congressional Western Caucus, believes the WPLI process is more important than possible legislative roadblocks.

“Her [Cheney’s] bill primarily addresses a long-standing issue regarding heli-skiing in that area,” said Obermeller. “It’s been around for so long that some of us were pretty familiar with it, but I continue to believe that the best success we can have would be to keep coming up with the best alternatives [for the WSAs].”

“At the end of the day, the use of public lands creates a lot of passions, and we can always retreat to our corners and slug it out, but I like to think the people of Wyoming can work it out,” said Obermueller.

The goal of the WPLI groups, is to reach a consensus as to the use of the WSAs in the county, through public input. The primary areas of concentration in Washakie County WPLI include the Honeycombs (located between Ten Sleep and Worland), Cedar Mountain (south of Winchester and shared with Hot Springs County) and Bobcat Draw (in the northwest corner of the county, shared with Big Horn County).

For Washakie County Commissioner Aaron Anderson, the choice, even when faced with legislation from Washington, is to keep the WPLI process on-track, especially at a local level.

“I think the process is the important thing. You can’t control the politics of Washington,” said Anderson. “A lot of people have spent a lot of time studying these areas so we need to just hold the line and do the things we started out to do.”

“We’ll let the chips fall where they may, and let people come to their best recommendations,” said Anderson. “If they get changed in DC, then it’s out of our ballpark, but we fulfilled our obligation.”

ADVISORY COMMITTEE

The Washakie County Advisory Committee is comprised of representatives of non-motorized recreation, motorized recreation, agriculture and ranching, sportsmen, energy interests, conservation and environmental concerns, the local conservation district and the general public.

Members include Dan Rice, Shawn Christenson, Justin Smith, Richard Kroger, Dru Bower, Dwight Maryland, Karen Fenton, Ron Harvey, Aaron Anderson, Stan Wostenberg, Kaylea Matlock, and C.J. Grimes.

The next public meeting of the WPLI group will be Jan. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Washakie County Fairgrounds.

 
 

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