Wyoming Public Lands Initiative Undemocratic

 Wyoming counties are currently involved the Public Lands Initiative. Ostensibly the purpose is to determine which Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) should be designated as wilderness and which areas will be released to other land exploitation. Across Wyoming, there are 42 WSAs on BLM lands and three WSAs on Forest Service lands, totaling over 700,000 acres.

These are federal lands that belong to all Americans, but the voice of these Americans is not being represented by this process.

These county efforts are a Trojan Horse flying under the flag of democracy when it is anything but a democratic process.

The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative, just like forest collaboratives, is heavily stacked with local resource exploitation interests like timber mill owners, ranchers, oil and gas companies, and ORV enthusiasts. To the degree there is representation by conservation-minded interests, they are greatly outnumbered by representatives favorable to development. Plus some of these organizations like the Wilderness Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, are too quick to sell out wilderness to achieve consensus.

Let’s be clear about the goal. The purpose of these county efforts is to disenfranchise the real owners of these lands-all Americans. Where is the input of someone living in another part of Wyoming, much less the values of someone living in Indiana or New Jersey? They are the ones paying the bills to manage these lands and have just as much right to voice their opinion as anyone living in Park, Natrona or Teton County. Apparently, the local county officials, and apparently those participating in this process believe they have no rights.

This imbalance is made even worse by Rep. Liz Cheney who has chosen to summarily propose legislation that would forever compromise the integrity of the Palisades Wilderness Study Area by Jackson, as well as the Shoal Creek addition to the Gros Ventre Wilderness and likely many of the BLM WSAs.

Of course, the reason county commissioners, loggers, ranchers, ORV enthusiasts, and so forth want “local” control is so they can exploit these national lands. However, even within Wyoming, most of its citizens are unlikely to have a financial benefit from resource development but they will suffer the loss of wildlands, degraded wildlife habitat, as well as less clean air and clear water.

Wyoming is blessed to have a significant amount of wild country and it is a privilege to live near these lands. Protected landscapes have been shown to be an economic asset as well as contributing to the overall well-being of people by protecting clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, and so forth.

One must bear in mind how rare wildlands are in this country. Only 2.7% of the lower 48 states are designated wilderness and even if every single acre of remaining roadless lands were to be designated as federal wilderness, at most this would only affect  5-6% of America’s landscapes.

These wildlands are part of the heritage of all Americans—leaving them as WSAs preserves the option for future protection. Participating in the WPLI only guarantees we lose some of these wild places.

Wilderness is the “Gold Standard” for conservation. When wilderness is gone, we lose it forever.

Bio; George Wuerthner is an ecologist and longtime wildlands advocate. He has published 38 books including Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness as the Foundation for Conservation.






  1. Forrester Avatar

    I really don’t understand some folks in Wyoming much. This is where some ranchers allowed their horses to be chased by mountain bikers a few years ago, for a “bike-porn” film made by Anthill Films from BC, Canada. One bike got trampled by a horse, and that horse was most likely injured by the broken spokes on the crushed mtb wheel. Sickening! Can we expect some Wyoming citizens like that, to care?

    1. Kathleen Avatar

      Good grief. Below is a one minute clip. A longer version (4:41) shows the wheel where the hoof punched through. To find it, google Mind the Gap: The Making of unReal Episode 1.

      1. Nancy Avatar

        Classic example of “sh*t for brains”
        I wonder how much they paid the rancher for the use/abuse of his horses?

  2. Bob Brister Avatar
    Bob Brister

    Giving up WSAs is as bad as giving up designated Wilderness. Hands off our WSAs!

  3. Chris zinda Avatar
    Chris zinda

    Glad you know words matter, say wilderness is conservation, not “Gold Standard” preservation.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner