BLM begins shaping future of the Basin's land

Posted 3/31/09

The BLM asked for public input over a 39-day comment period in October and November. During that time, 3,367 comments were received, outlining concerns and suggestions for the land.

“As you know, this is SUCH AN IMPORTANT AREA,” began …

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BLM begins shaping future of the Basin's land


Public comments highlight tensionMany folks agree that the Big Horn Basin's 3.2 million acres of federal land needs to be managed differently. But exactly what changes are needed is a far more contentious question.The Bureau of Land Management administers those millions of government-owned acres and began putting together a new management plan for the Basin last fall. The plan will lay out how the acreage can be used by the public and industry over the next 15 to 20 years.

The BLM asked for public input over a 39-day comment period in October and November. During that time, 3,367 comments were received, outlining concerns and suggestions for the land.

“As you know, this is SUCH AN IMPORTANT AREA,” began one comment from a Jackson resident.

The bulk of the submitted comments — 3,076 (or 91 percent) — were a form letter put together by a coalition of environmental groups, coming via e-mail from individuals all across the U.S.

The remaining 291 unique comments (38 of them from the Powell area) were far more contentious, spanning the ideological spectrum.

Most of the contention stemmed from a conflict between conservation and use.

“Foremost I desire development on public lands to be minimized to the maximum extent possible. In my view, the Big Horn Basin is a stunning example of open space, solitude, ecosystems, geology, archeology and paleontology,” was one take from Shell resident Everett Dunkle.

Others were on the opposite side of the fence.

“I do not want to see BLM lands turned into some pseudo wilderness, grazing allotments with no vehicle access, or scientific study areas that are deemed too sensitive for the lowly member of the public,” wrote South Fork resident Randy Blackburn.

Oil and gas development was the most commented-on topic, with some folks calling for new restrictions.

“The increasing number of new leases and wells every year is nothing short of alarming,” wrote Matt Steinmetz of Cody. “It seems the BLM has adopted a ‘a lease and drill anything and everything without delay' attitude.”

Others said current regulations are tough enough.

“Oil and gas development is currently being done responsibly all across the Big Horn Basin. Any additional restrictions would be unwarranted and unnecessary,” wrote Travis Leck of Cody.

Henry Yaple of Powell suggested a 20-year moratorium on oil and gas development — arguing that the residents of the Big Horn Basin will need that petroleum and methane further down the road.

A good number of commentors took a middle-ground approach.

“I sometimes hear that we do not wish to be another Jonah Field, or another Gillette, however I don't think people are talking about the development of the economy — they are talking about unfettered, sprawling production,” wrote Chris Davidson of Burlington. “Is there a reason that we cannot do both, participate in the benefit of the economic wealth and develop responsibly? I don't think it is an either/or question.”

Greater access for off-road vehicles was another popular topic.

“The vast majority of the general public (probably 98 percent) can and will enjoy the BLM recreation experience using motorized vehicles,” wrote Bernie Spanogle of Cody. “I encourage you (the BLM) to further develop and expand your ATV trails to promote that experience and tourism, and to use that effort to mitigate unauthorized use and environmental impacts on non-motorized areas.”

Some folks, however, expressed concern with off-roaders who don't follow posted trails.

“In short, I deem most (off-highway vehicle/all-terrain vehicle) use on BLM lands to be an abomination, an affront to the nature-loving sensibilities of most visitors,” wrote Sean Kelly Leach of Cody.

Many commentors, including county commissioners of the Big Horn Basin counties, expressed support for continued livestock grazing on public lands, but some folks weren't as enthused.

“I find it appalling that when hiking, exploring, I am forced to acknowledge the present-day practice of private cattle grazing on public lands,” wrote Pamela Sundstrom of Thermopolis. “Snaps me right out of appreciation for the natural beauty of this arid land. I am all for restricting grazing on public lands.”

The popular Pryor Mountain and McCullough Peaks wild horse herds also were a subject of much discussion.

Some called for an expansion of the herd's habitat and numbers, while others chided the BLM for allowing herds to grow larger than planned.

“If we, as livestock users, were to abuse our allotted livestock grazing numbers, the BLM would initiate serious trespass and other punitive action against us,” wrote David Flitner, of Flitner Ranch outside Greybull. “No such action has ever been initiated, to our knowledge, which would penalize the BLM or its officers for such reckless practices with regard to wild horse management.”

A number of environmental organizations offered hundreds of pages of extensive comments on how best to work around wildlife and sensitive environmental areas.

Protection of the area's historical and paleontological sites, opening up utility corridors and communication sites, and off-topic critiques of former President George W. Bush's administration were among the many remarks submitted.

The BLM is using the comments to identify the issues they'll need to deal with in crafting the new management plan. A draft isn't due until the summer of 2010, at which point it will face a 90-day public comment period.

The agency recently released a scoping report summarizing the concerns raised in the comments, as well as a 676-page Analysis of the Management Situation, which details the current status and usage of the Basin's federal lands.

Those documents are available at