Barrasso, Lummis Seek Resolution to Decades-Old Stalemate in Wyoming Federal Land Management

April 27, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, was joined by U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) in reintroducing legislation today that would resolve the management status of thousands of acres of federal public lands in seven counties in Wyoming.

The bill is the direct result of a collaborative process started under the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI). The WPLI was created by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association in 2015 to seek locally driven solutions on the future of federal public lands that have been in management limbo for more than 30 years.   

“Wilderness Study Areas across Wyoming have been essentially locked up for more than three decades. Locally driven processes like the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) give people in Wyoming the best chance to decide how to treat these lands,” Barrasso said. “This bill is the result of years of work by Wyoming’s county commissioners, conservation leaders and outdoor enthusiasts who participated in the WPLI process. It balances protecting the places people in Wyoming love while expanding multiple-use areas that our state relies on.”

“I am a firm believer that local control is always better and that is especially true when it comes to Wyoming land management,” Lummis said. “Wilderness Study Areas have been managed as de facto wilderness for far too long, and to the detriment of Wyoming communities. This bill would allow local leaders to implement proper land management that maximizes multiple use and preserves the land for future generations.”

“The establishment of wilderness study areas was intended to be temporary. Thirty-two years have elapsed since the BLM began managing Wyoming’s 42 WSAs as de facto wilderness. The WCCA launched the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative as an open and transparent process following well-defined principles and guidelines. Our objective was a locally-produced, Wyoming-specific legislative lands package to provide management direction for WSAs in Wyoming. S. 1348 exemplifies leadership and attention to local collaboration and represents many adjustments and compromises. It represents a good faith effort to provide Congress with sound recommendations. Wyoming counties participated not because success was guaranteed, but, where agreement exists among neighbors, Congress might act,” WCCA Executive Director Jerimiah Rieman said.

“S. 1348 was written in Wyoming – NOT Washington, D.C. It is the work of communities, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation groups, mineral industries, ranching and agriculture, and wildlife associations. These organizations found common ground on wilderness designation in multiple areas, while directing alternative management of other WSAs. Johnson County’s advisory committee formed practical recommendations for the Gardner Mountain and North Fork WSAs and, in collaboration with Campbell County, they produced a sensible recommendation for the Fortification Creek WSA. It is long past time to pass the WPLI,” WCCA President Bill Novotny said

“The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is local influence at its finest. Local citizen committee members, some who are normally adversarial in their efforts, came together under an agreed upon process to develop recommendations for management of Wilderness Study Areas in Fremont and Natrona counties. They sought and considered public input, toured each site, and received scientific and experiential information from users and landowners. The members shared their thoughts and desires in a respectful forum and made every effort to reach consensus. No one got everything, everyone got something in the resulting recommendations. No area was left without adequate agency oversight nor agreed upon protection. I urge Congress to honor the many hours of effort of this grassroots effort by approving the WPLI recommendations,” Fremont Public Lands Chair Doug Thompson said


Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) are a special designation for lands that are managed to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress specifically designated them as Wilderness or directs the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage the area for multiple uses. 

WSAs were intended to be temporary designations. These particular temporary designations have persisted for more than 30 years.

In 2015, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) initiated the WPLI to provide a framework for counties to discuss and resolve various public lands issues around the state. The process was intended to focus on resolving the status of the 45 Wilderness Study Areas around Wyoming. It allowed all 23 counties to “opt in/out” of the process based on suitability for their county and to determine the composition and rules of their committees.

As a result of the WPLI process, the following seven counties in Wyoming have submitted their recommendations that are included in the legislation: Campbell, Carbon, Fremont, Hot Springs, Johnson, Natrona and Washakie counties. 

The legislation includes:

  • 5 wilderness designations totaling 20,381 acres
  • 3 designations of a “Special Management Area” totaling 27,711 acres
  • 10 release and manage as multiple-use totaling 99,750 acres
  • 2 policy directives

Maps courtesy of Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center

Click HERE for a more detailed list of the designations included in each county and HERE for a map of the areas included. 

The Bureau of Land Management recently proposed a sweeping new Public Lands Rule. If the rule is finalized, no provisions of that rule shall apply to lands released within WPLI.