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January 12, 2012 9:19 am

EDITORIAL: Cooperation and compromise necessary in land use planning

Written by Don Amend

Public lands and their management are a perennial point of discussion in northwestern Wyoming.

For some time now, we have been reporting on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s development of a land use plan for federal lands in the Big Horn Basin, and recently the U.S. Forest Service began the task of drafting a similar plan for the Shoshone National Forest.

While the two agencies, which are in different departments of the federal government,  have different mandates and objectives in managing the lands under their supervision, they face many of the same dilemmas, because there are many competing interests involved in the way the land is managed.

Those interested in oil and gas development and environmental protection have different ideas about how public lands should be managed, as do those concerned with agriculture and recreation. Wilderness advocates have an agenda that differs from those who want more roads to provide access to remote areas.

In addition to private interests, many local communities are affected by the way public lands are managed. The Shoshone is bordered by three Wyoming counties and one in Montana, and the forest affects a variety of communities that may have different ideas about how they want the forest managed.

Contention over federal land management is to be expected, especially here in Wyoming, because the federally controlled lands play a huge role in our economy and our lifestyle. That importance is evident in the recent report of last summer’s visitation to Yellowstone National Park, and it is just as evident in the impact of mineral royalties Wyoming receives from the production of oil and gas on federal lands.

Still, it’s important to remember that, while the Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone are in our neighborhood, they do not just belong to Wyoming or Park County. As the nation’s first national park and the first national forest, they have belonged to all Americans for more than a century, and they have to be managed with that in mind as well.

The government agencies involved have to find a way to balance those competing interests, and often there is no way to make everyone happy.

In the case of the Shoshone, the Forest Service has issued a preliminary draft that apparently calls for little change in the way the forest has been managed over the past 20 years. Wapiti District Ranger Terry Root told the Park County Commission last week that “There’s much of that (current) plan that, it’s not broken, so we’re not going to try to fix it.”

But there likely will be changes. The commission voted this week to support an effort by a local group to add or redesignate 94 miles of trails as open for motorized vehicles, for example, and other groups are likely to propose changes as well. There will be many differences of opinion as the study of the plan progresses and compromise will be necessary.

If our local officials, the state and federal agencies involved and everyone who has an interest in the forest approach this study with a spirit of cooperation, a new plan can be developed that will provide the optimal benefits for all of us — those who have an interest in the forest and the economy of Park County, as well as the interests of the real owners of the forest, the American people.

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