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Initiative Announced to Reclassify Federal Lands in Wyoming

The Oregon Buttes Wildnerness Study Area is one of 45 pieces of federal land under consideration for reclassification. Credit: Joy Bannon/Wyoming Wildlife Federation
The Oregon Buttes Wildnerness Study Area is one of 45 pieces of federal land under consideration for reclassification. Credit: Joy Bannon/Wyoming Wildlife Federation
December 3, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wy. - County officials from across Wyoming are launching a push to get Congress to re-evaluate the state's federal wilderness study areas and possibly swap some of them for state lands, which could lead to more development.

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association announced the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative on Wednesday. Fremont County commission chairman Doug Thompson says they are asking each county to put together a list of federal lands they'd like to see reclassified.

"For example, if there's an area that has a valuable mineral asset that doesn't have a lot of restrictions around it and there's an area that everyone agrees needs protection, we can propose a trade," says Thompson.

There are 45 wilderness study areas in Wyoming, encompassing about 700,000 acres. Thompson says a working group with representatives from conservation groups and other stakeholders will help shepherd the process, which should take a year to 18 months. Once they have a package deal, it will be sent to Wyoming's representatives in Congress, so they can introduce a bill.

Joy Bannon, field director with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, says she wants to see many groups at the negotiating table, including organizations representing sportsmen, agriculture, hunting, fishing, conservation and business. And she'd like to see a range of options discussed.

"Rather than just simply designating wilderness or releasing it for multiple use, having other options on the table; maybe there needs to be further wilderness," says Bannon. "Maybe there needs to be wild and scenic river designation. Maybe there needs to be an area of critical environmental concern."

Bannon also says her group opposes any large-scale transfer of lands to state control, because the state doesn't have the resources to properly manage it and maintain full public access.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - WY