“They (attendees) can really bend our ears,” said regional BLM spokeswoman Sarah Beckwith. The more than 1,800- page draft document is open for public comment through July 20.
On Monday, BLM officials will host an event in Lovell; on Tuesday they’ll be in Cody, and on Wednesday, June 15, they will come to Powell for an open house at the Park County Fairgrounds’ Small Exhibit Hall. The Lovell meeting will take place at the town’s community center, Cody’s at the Holiday Inn. All three open houses run from 4-7 p.m.
Three identical events — in Thermopolis, Worland and Greybull — were slated for this week.
After attending the first two of those, the BLM’s project manager for the new Resource Management Plan, Caleb Hiner, said people at the open houses have focused on the restrictions proposed under the new plan.
“They pretty much keep saying over and over again, ‘Why can’t we keep things the way they are?’” Hiner said Wednesday.
That sentiment has been the crux of county commissions’ and conservation districts’ arguments from across the Basin as they’ve held public meetings of their own in recent weeks.
The alternative preferred by the BLM generally would be somewhat more restrictive than the current plans.
“If it’s not broke, why fix it?” asked Big Horn County Commissioner Keith Grant in a meeting in Cody last week. “We have been taking care of our resources.”
The plans generally are designed to last up to 20 years — about how old the current Big Horn Basin plans are. Hiner said the need for change comes from the fact that things have changed in the two decades since the last Resource Management plans for the Basin were written.
For example, sage grouse populations in the West are declining, and Hiner said the BLM needs to respond to that trend and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to keep the species off the Endangered Species List.
The BLM is proposing to widen the protective buffer zones for sage grouse leks and add seasonal restrictions on surface-disturbing activities.
“We also have some more, different types of energy development,” Hiner said, adding, “I’m not sure that people would say having wind farms is keeping things the way they are.”
The BLM has estimated that around 3 percent of the Big Horn Basin land managed by the plan has high potential for wind development, while 7 percent has medium potential. The remaning 91 percent has low potential. Oil and gas development has drawn the most discussion at the commissions’ meetings.
Hiner said he wants to help folks understand what the Big Horn Basin will look like in the future without changes to the current plan. He said action is needed to keep the open spaces and scenic views that people enjoy, while at the same staying flexible to continue the “tremendous role” oil and gas development and mining play in local economies.
“Our plan is not to become more restrictive unnecessarily. It’s just to become restrictive to the point where we can maintain where things are (today),” said Hiner.
The BLM will not make a formal presentation on the draft plan at the open house.
“We’re trying to let the document speak for itself and let people interpret that for themselves,” said Hiner. One reason for that, he said, is to find out if the document is clear to readers or if they interpret paragraphs differently.
“If I were to go out and tell them what that paragraph means, I’m afraid I would lose that opportunity,” Hiner said.
The open house format chosen by the BLM allows folks to walk around to displays and ask specific questions of BLM specialists.
“You can call them one-on-one presentations,” said spokeswoman Beckwith.
Beckwith and Hiner said the format — already put to use in meetings this week in Thermopolis and Worland — has been helpful for people who have questions but may not want to stand up in front of an audience to ask them.
“This (format) would make them feel, we hope, a little more comfortable in engaging with the BLM,” said Hiner.
Most of those who spoke during the public comment periods of commissioners’ Powell and Cody meetings were either oil and gas industry or environmental group representatives. Industry officials praised commissioners’ push against new regulations, while environmental advocates said restrictions on some special places were appropriate.
Hiner attended one of the commissions’ presentations in Worland and said he was “very happy” that the cooperating agencies are reaching out to the Basin’s communities about the plan. However, he said some parts of the presentation comparing plan alternatives did not compare apples to apples. Hiner specifically mentioned maps comparing the BLM’s current management of recreational areas (called Alternative A) to the BLM’s preferred new management plan (called Alternative D). He said some of the current management areas weren’t shown on a map of the current plan, but were shown on the new map — making them appear to be new restrictions.
“That kind of skewed the picture a little bit, I think,” Hiner said.
The presentations were put together by the counties’ and conservation districts’ hired consultant, Ecosystem Research Group of Montana.
Folks who want to read the BLM’s massive draft resource management plan are encouraged to start with the 16-page executive summary and pick the topics that interest them the most.
The documents, along with a form to submit comments, are available at www.tinyurl.com/BLMRMP.
“I do not recommend sitting down with that document and trying to read it cover to cover,” said Hiner. He added, “Start, I guess, with your highest priority and work your way out of the document that way.”
BLM officials are hoping for a strong turnout at the local open houses.