Not the collaborative we signed up for: GYC can’t support Wyoming county’s lands proposal

We’re disappointed to report that we can’t support a Wyoming county’s proposal for critical wild lands east of Yellowstone, because last night’s rushed, forced vote on the proposal doesn’t respect the collaborative, grassroots approach we committed to when we signed on to work with this county in 2016.

McCullough Peaks, east of Yellowstone in Park County, Wyoming. (Photo BLM.)

McCullough Peaks, east of Yellowstone in Park County, Wyoming. (Photo BLM.)

It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t support Park County, Wyoming’s proposal for High Lakes and McCullough Peaks. I was tasked with representing conservation interests on Park County’s Advisory Committee in 2016. Our committee is made up of different local people who use the public lands here, and we’ve spent the past 22 months working through our differences, to come up with plans and proposals for these lands, with an eye to putting our proposals in a bill that would be sponsored by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso.

My desire to participate in this group was to work with my neighbors to see if we couldn’t do better for these lands than the status quo, which right now is Wilderness Study Area (WSA) status for two critical Park County landscapes: the snowy high country of High Lakes and the desert hills of McCullough Peaks. I did my best. I spent about half my time this past year trying to find success for my neighbors’ interests, as well as mine, which was to gain protections for these lands in Greater Yellowstone.

And just as our Advisory Committee was about to agree to some good grassroots compromises that would also protect these lands, two things happened. First, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney announced that she’d be sponsoring two of her own bills that would impact WSAs in Wyoming. The first of which she introduced in December, to allow motorized vehicles and bicycles in three Wyoming WSAs, including High Lakes. The second bill – which she has yet to introduce – would unilaterally strip protections from nearly 60 percent of the 577,000 acres of public Bureau of Land Management WSAs in Wyoming – including McCullough Peaks. After Rep. Cheney announced this second bill, Park County’s commissioners imposed a deadline on our committee, to finish our proposal by March 30. You can imagine the wrench such a timeline might throw into our committee’s careful and thoughtful work, especially because we all committed to this with the understanding that we’d wrap it up only when all our voices were heard, and we came to a consensus.

And I’m not alone, according to the Cody Enterprise:

Both Park County Commissioners and the county’s WPLI members have said they were blindsided by Cheney’s bill, titled HR4697.

“A couple things chap my hide on this,” commissioner Tim French said. “I think the process should be allowed to play out before Rep. Cheney does her thing.”

I’m disappointed, and GYC and our conservation partners are also disappointed that recent events have blocked our momentum and made it impossible for us to support this rushed proposal. And what’s next isn’t clear. The committee could disband, leaving these lands in the status quo. Or the Park County Commission could create its own proposal to send to Sen. Barrasso or Rep. Cheney using the partial work of our collaborative, which goes against the initial intent of building support among all stakeholders.

Whatever happens, we’ll keep you informed and let you know how you can make your voice heard. If you care about wild Wyoming lands in Greater Yellowstone, please join our mailing list, follow us on Facebook, or drop me a line. No matter what, we’ll continue to work with people and stand up for Greater Yellowstone’s lands, wildlife, and waters. Thank you for supporting our challenging work.

-- Jenny DeSarro, Wyoming Conservation Associate