SWEETWATER COUNTY — Policy Specialist Shaleas Harrison with the Wyoming Wilderness Association was asking the question but the answer was not forthcoming at the Sweetwater County Commission meeting Tuesday.
Harrison was on hand at the meeting to offer a quick update about what’s happening in the Red Desert. She additionally inquired about the Rock Springs resource management plan, noting not much information has been offered from the Bureau of Land Management since the scoping. Harrison said she wished to update the commissioner about what’s happening with the 11 areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) in the BLM High Desert District and asked for their continued support and concern in this matter.
Harrison said the ACECs are only eliminated or added during the planning period. She voiced concern about Washington eliminating all protections for ACECs in surrounding states, such as Montana and Idaho; she said she was worried that the same thing could happen here.
Commission Chairman Wally Johnson accepted Harrison’s acknowledgement of the commissioners’ support in protecting local lands and management of multiple uses in the landscapes. He also suggested the Wyoming Wilderness Association speak out about the war on coal and the push toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, saying once windmills and solar panels are put in they will never be removed, ultimately ruining the viewshed held so dear in this part of the country.
“You’ve got sway, too,” he said.
Johnson also noted it would premature for him to comment on the RMP process, but agreed with Harrison that it continues to drag on.
ACECs are areas within existing public lands that require special management to protect important and relevant values. They can protect important resources, unique scenic landscapes, and people and property from hazards on public lands. ACECs are evaluated through land use planning using the best available information and extensive public involvement, and you have a say in how they are managed, according to the Bureau of Land Management website.
ACEC areas in the district include the Killpecker Sand Dunes and Adobe Town.
GREEN RIVER presentation
Harrison also attended Tuesday night’s meeting of the Green River City Council to talk about the importance of residents and leaders vocalizing their support of protecting areas. She stressed she isn’t saying there shouldn’t be energy development; it just shouldn’t happen everywhere.
Citing the example of protected designations being stripped away in other states, she asked “What is it going to look like if all the protections are removed?”
She said it’s important to sound the alarm now, because the effects will impact future generations. Harrison said our children will pay the price for what we are doing to our landscapes, our wildlife, our culture and our heritage, so it’s important to protect places that provide a way of life.
“They make us who we are,” she said. “They’re part of our tradition. They’re part of our culture. And they belong to everybody, and it’s really our responsibility to make sure that these lands are managed fairly and with balance.”
She said Wyoming residents want the system of multiple use to remain the same — not to add or take away any more protections.
“People like it the way it is,” she said. “It’s working.”
She encouraged the Green River City Council to work with the BLM in a cooperating role so it is consulted when changes are considered and has a chance to challenge proposals that aren’t supported by the public.
Director of Community Development Laura Leigh noted that they had just started working in the capacity and attended the first cooperating agency meeting, to Harrison’s delight.
“We jumped on board right away,” Mayor Pete Rust said. “We’re in the position to have a greater effect on what goes on.”
Harrison said this news made her day, and she exhorted Green River to use its voice. She noted U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has said he will listen to the governors of western states, and that Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon will listen to councils and county commissions.
“Stand up for Wyoming values and stand up to the BLM and what’s happening in D.C.,” she said.