Popular with outdoor enthusiasts — including hiking, biking, hunting and fishing in the warm months and snowmobilers in the winter — the remote High Lakes area is in the Beartooth Mountain range near the Montana border.
Committee chairman Bucky Hall suggested changing the High Lakes WSA into a Special Management Area, but leaving the management of the 15,224 acres essentially the same.
“I would submit, leave it like it is; basically a wilderness that allows snow machines,” Hall said.
Concerned with what is or was once considered a crucial winter range for bighorn sheep and occasional mountain goats, conservation primary committee member Jenny DeSarro asked the committee to consider designating the northeast corner as wilderness — which would mean no mechanized travel is allowed.
“I’m looking for connectivity and the wilderness designation is the best assurance of protecting the area in the future,” DeSarro said.
The area is between the Absaroka and Beartooth wilderness areas and DeSarro hoped to have the approximately 1,900 acre section serve as a natural connector. Dustin Rosencranse, motorized recreation representative, immediately spoke up for the snowmobile community.
“The motorized community isn’t willing to part with any of the eastern section,” Rosencranse said. “We have no interest in giving up any territory we have historically used.”
The committee has taken two field trips to the area, one of which was done by snowmobile last winter. They’ve also heard from experts about the habitat. DeSarro cited data from the USGS, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service calling the area “crucial” wintering area for bighorn sheep and possibly mountain goats. But Rosencranse, who actively uses the area for winter recreation, said the area is devoid of wildlife when it’s passable by snowmobiles.
“When the snow is deep enough to ride a $14,000 snowmobile, there’s no wildlife in the area,” he said.
Powell resident Christine Bekes, another committee member, agreed.
“We haven’t heard any testimony from experts that this area is crucial,” Bekes said.
The public section of the meeting was filled, many representing snowmobile interests. Of the public comments made, about half spoke up for the snowmobiling community.
Committee member Karinthia Harrison wanted a compromise.
“If you want all of High Lakes, give us more of the McCullough Peaks,” said Harrison, adding, “I’m just being a devil’s advocate.”
Harrison previously helped to secure about 10,000 acres of the 25,210-acre McCullough Peaks WSA as a proposed wilderness area.
In the first part of their meeting, members of Park County’s public lands committee discussed ways to get the word out that they’re seeking public comments on that draft proposal, for the future management of part of the peaks.
The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is a voluntary, county-led process intended to result in a new federal law that governs the designation and management of all of the state’s Wilderness Study Areas. The McCullough Peaks and High Lakes are the only two WSAs in Park County.