The very wild Greater Little Mountain (GLM) region, south of Rock Springs, has long been a locally favored hunting area. It is now, however, facing the release of a new Resource Management Plan (RMP) by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This may include many new roads and oil and gas development. Local hunters and outdoor-recreationalists, understandably, do not want this to happen.
Throughout the region there are some menacing cliffs, but no jagged peaks that have attracted the attention of people who live far away. By default, it’s a locals’ paradise, sometimes called “The Crown Jewel of Sweetwater County.” The range of ecosystems is wide, featuring high-desert sagebrush, mixed grass and shrublands, to coniferous and aspen forests.
This blending of vegetation and complex topography provides exceptional wildlife habitat. Reportedly, four decades ago the herds of mule deer were very large, but now they are in sharp decline. Elk, versatile eaters, are increasing in number. One expert feels that bison ought to be reintroduced to the area. Naturally, the GLM region is highly prized.
Yet, there is a selfish romanticism here. Many GLM enthusiasts rely on extractive industries for their livelihoods, and they demand unregulated motorized access to wild places. They want to keep enjoying the area as they always have, and don’t want outsiders telling them what they can and cannot do. BLM lands, however, are federal “public lands,” owned equally by all citizens of the nation, whether they are from Maine or Puerto Rico, or from Guam or Alaska.
The kind of thorough and permanent protection that full Wilderness designation would provide is not popular with this crowd. It is in fact completely unmentionable. Locally, I’ve received hostile gazes just for saying “Wilderness.” There is no rational thought or discussion about how Wilderness designation, essentially the Rule of Law that would control even extractive industries, could bring lasting protection here, and to other unique parts of the county.
Oil and gas development are today’s monsters, but tomorrow it will be wind farms or mineral extraction, or perhaps ORV rallies with hundreds of vehicles, such as in Moab, Utah, and overuses that we cannot yet imagine. Also, great blame on overgrazing is placed on wild horses, but never is there mention of destructive cattle and sheep. If you don’t do Wilderness designation, you have to let in everything.
To discuss GLM conundrums, a crowd of about 150 attendees met at the Broadway Theatre on Jan. 21. The introduction was a little confused, and a little less than inspiring, but the 20-minute video of the GLM region was OK. It featured aero footage, and some sentimental observations by a rancher.
Opening remarks for the panel discussion were heard from Sweetwater County Commissioner Wally Johnson, Muley Fanatics founder and CEO Joshua Coursey, Dr. Kevin Monteith of the University of Wyoming, and retired Dr. Craig Thompson, professor emeritus of Western Wyoming Community College.
The august panel provided some good observations, and some very interesting updates on science. It was a bit long, however, on sometimes incoherent reflections. Panel discussions are often described as “brainstorming” or “mind opening,” or good debates, but this one was a self-affirmation of specific people doing specific activities. An exception was the good idea of Dr. Monteith to reintroduce bison. Wally Johnson shared several unhelpful things, like his dislike of “out-of-state environmentalists.”
Placing disparagement where it belongs, during the time to question the panelists, I spoke worse than anyone all evening. My question about the possible pros and cons of Wilderness designation came out as an incoherent jumble of stuff about the Wilderness Act, and accusations about the county commissioners who mostly ignore me. Without any response, they went on to the next question. Later, I directed a question to Dr. Thompson about cattle and sheep on GLM. He told me they eat food.
Later, I reflected that what is called “the collaborative approach” to public-land issues, involving individuals and groups that call themselves “stakeholders,” is now, since the Trump administration, just hyperbole. As we have seen, such as with the prominent sage grouse issue, “collaboration” is now dead; drilling dominates. Whatever directives the BLM receives on how to write their RMP will have everything to do with “energy independence” and “energy dominance,” and little or nothing to do with the desires of some soon-to-be very disappointed, very disillusioned, and self-important Republicans who can’t stand “out-of-state environmentalists,” who, with the Wilderness Act, could have helped.