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November 13, 2008 2:46 am

The future is now for federal lands

Written by Tribune Staff

The future of roughly 3.2 million acres of federal Big Horn Basin land and 4.2 million acres of mineral estate will be shaped by comments collected over the next week.

The Bureau of Land Management is putting together a resource-management plan for the entire Big Horn Basin.

The plan will guide the use of federal land for the next 15 to 20 years. It will determine issues varying from which lands are open to gas drilling to which areas are available for all-terrain-vehicle use and how many animals are allowed to graze on BLM lands.

As part of a scoping process, the bureau is seeking public comments through Nov. 17. The comment period opened Oct. 17.

Caleb Hiner, the BLM project leader for resource planning, said public comments will help bureau officials determine what options they should consider.

For example, if someone suggests the BLM place greater restrictions on ATV use while another suggests that restrictions be eased, the BLM would examine those alternatives.

On Thursday, the BLM is hosting an open house event from 3-8 p.m. in the conference room of Americas Best Value Inn on Second Street in Powell.

There will be no formal presentation. The meeting is an opportunity for residents to drop in and ask questions or offer comments about the process and the Basin's resources.

Hiner said that, while comments help identify issues and alternatives for the BLM to consider, it's not a matter of counting votes for or against a land use.

“It's a public process, but it's not a democratic process,” he said.

The best comments refer to specific uses in specific areas, Hiner said, though the document lays out broad philosophical goals as well.

The Park County Commission is “strongly encouraging” citizens to get involved in the comment period.

Commission Chairman Tim French noted the plan will guide policy for land residents use for hunting, grazing, and four-wheeling.

“It's their public land,” French said. “It's important they let the BLM know what uses they would like to have out there.”

One of the areas that interests conservation groups is the fact that the plan will determine which federal lands are available for mineral leasing, which lands are available with restrictions, and which lands are off-limits.

However, Hiner said the process does not work retroactively.

“This process can not revoke leases,” he said.

Previously, the Basin was managed by three different plans — two for the areas around Worland and one for the Cody planning area that included Powell. The Cody area resource plan was finalized in 1990, and the BLM is directed to revise the plan every 15 to 20 years.

The BLM now will include the entire Big Horn Basin under one resource-management plan.

Development of the new plan is expected to cost roughly $2 million. It isn't scheduled to be finalized until September of 2011.

A preliminary proposed plan will be available for a 90-day public-comment period in the summer of 2010, but at that point, it will be too late to suggest new alternatives for the bureau to consider.

At that stage, the BLM can only reconsider options already proposed. Hiner said that's why the current scoping process and comment period is so important.

Comments may be submitted at the meeting, by mail to P.O. Box 119, Worland, Wyo., by phone at 307-347-5171 or by email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Prior to Powell's meeting, a meeting is scheduled in Cody from 3 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Big Horn Federal Bank.

More information on the resource-management plan is available on the BLM Web site.