Response to Obermueller on Wyoming Wilderness

I wrote this in response to an editorial by Mr. Oberueller in Wyoming File.  You can see the original editorial at

The WPLI is an attempt to garner local agreement on the fate of federal BLM and Forest Service Wilderness Study Areas. These federal lands are managed to retain their potential suitability for future designation as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The WPLI is driven by local county commissioners who, after consulting with other citizens, were to come up with agreement or at least recommendations about the fate of these federal WSA lands.

The fatal flaw in Mr. Obermueller’s and the WPLI proposal is that these are public lands that belong to all 330 million Americans, not just the local residents of any particular Wyoming county. The entire WPLI process has left out the opinions, values and interests of the people who own and pay taxes to administer and support the management of these lands.

Beyond the question of fairness and equity about lands that belong to all Americans, there are other justifications for supporting wilderness protection for these lands.

First, at this point in time, only 2.7% of the lower 48 states are protected by the federal wilderness legislation. Even if all WSAs and other suitable qualified lands were given wilderness designation, this would still amount to around 5% of the lower 48 states.

Protecting wildlands is a gesture of humility, generosity and restraint. It means we are providing a small amount of America in an undeveloped condition for present and most importantly future generations of Americans. These are all good conservative attributes that we Americans value.

These lands are also exceptional habitat for many other living things that we share the planet with from grizzlies to Colorado cutthroat trout to bighorn sheep. Setting aside a little bit of Wyoming for these critters is part of what makes Wyoming such a special place to live.

As someone who formerly lived in Wyoming, and regularly returns to visit the state, it is the state’s wildlands that makes Wyoming so special. The WPLI process is an attempt to usurp the democratic process and subverts the interest of the majority of American’s birthright to our public lands.

George Wuerthner is the author of 38 books including Yellowstone: A visitor’s companion, Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy and Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness The Foundation for Conservation.


  1. Patrick Avatar

    Yes, well said. We need to preempt those who would say that the states should administer the land for the same reason: that all voices of the citizenry, not just those who reside in the state, should be heard. With wild areas becoming less available in the lower 48, folks in Wyoming should embrace their remaining wild and celebrate it as being distinctive and strive to protect it for its recreational value, and not just its development and resource extraction potential.


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George Wuerthner