The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative risks collapse

Launched in 2015, the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative seeks local consensus on the future of 42 BLM wilderness study areas and three Forest Service study areas located in 13 Wyoming counties. There are eight committees in nine participating counties, a participant said. The initiative sought to address more than 750,000 acres of federal wilderness-study lands in the state, recommending whether they should be released for multiple use, classified as non-motorized wilderness areas, or have some in-between designation.

Once lauded as an innovative, nonpartisan, locally driven solution to federal land management gridlock, the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is in danger of eleventh-hour collapse as new developments reveal deep divisions.

Conservation-oriented participants in the Wyoming County Commissioners Association’s program complain of changed rules, incomplete participation, reduced bargaining options and unanticipated deadlines as they seek to preserve wilderness qualities on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land.

Counties have unfairly altered the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative charter, they say. Public critics claim that a boycott by two key counties also disadvantages conservationists. Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney has disrupted the initiative’s timeline and the goal of fashioning a single federal bill to resolve the fate of wilderness study areas by injecting herself into the mix mid-process, participants on both side of the debate say.

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