SWEETWATER COUNTY — Some people are willing to travel great lengths to protect and preserve something they love while encouraging others to come alongside them in the effort.
With the fate of a popular southwest Wyoming area hanging in the balance, three Wyoming officials, two from the local area, decided to travel to the nation’s capitol to fight for the future of the Greater Little Mountain area.
Comprising more than half a million acres in Sweetwater County, the Great Little Mountain Area is considered one of the West’s hidden gems and is home to some of the most sensitive fish and wildlife habitat in the state, according to Joshua Coursey, president and CEO of the Muley Fanatic Foundation.
The GMLA touches the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah borders to the south, Sage Creek in the north, the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area to the west and Wyoming Highway 430 to the east.
The Department of the Interior is expected to release a new draft management plan for the area in early 2020 that will determine which resources in the area will remain protected and which will be designated for development. Due to draft plans recently released by the Bureau of Land Management in nearby states, Coursey and others are concerned. They have been working proactively in an attempt to safeguard the Little Mountain area.
That’s why Coursey, Sweetwater County Commissioner Wally Johnson and Joy Bannon from the Wyoming Wildlife Federation traveled to Washington, D.C., in November to meet with members of Congress and officials at the Department of the Interior. They discussed the importance of the area, encouraged officials to listen to the public and to review and consider proposals by the Greater Little Mountain Coalition.
The trip was funded by the Muley Fanatic Foundation and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.
The Greater Little Mountain Coalition is a group of more than 2,500 sportsmen and sportswomen, miners, ranchers, business owners and others who work together to find balanced solutions that ensure the region’s hunting, fishing, and open space is conserved for future generations while supporting responsible energy development. The coalition has developed specific recommendations for the future of the area.
“In recent months, the BLM has released six draft plans covering more than 20 million acres of public lands in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Oregon that significantly reduced wildlife protections that were in place for decades and proposed minimal new safeguards for only a fraction of one percent of the areas,” Coursey said.
Just this year, the BLM attempted to lease more than 1.6 million acres of public lands in Wyoming for oil and gas development despite concerns from several engaged stakeholders, he added. This includes more than 173,000 acres as recently as Dec. 10 that overlap with sage grouse habitat, mule deer migration corridors and other landscapes that support wildlife.
SPEAKING OUT AND LISTENING
While thousands of people have already spoken out in favor of protections for the resources found in and around the Greater Little Mountain Area, Coursey said it is essential that Wyomingites continue to speak up for the area and make sure their voices are heard.
Hometown voices have been and continue to be key in garnering the attention of decision makers, he said. Unified support has come from organizations as well as individuals including the Sweetwater County Commission, city of Rock Springs, city of Green River, Southwest Labor Council, Steelworkers Union 13214 and other nonprofit groups.
During the current administration, the Department of the Interior has often mentioned the importance of hearing directly from communities about how public lands near them should be used and managed.
The planning process for the GLMA has been collaborative thus far, and if the administration is true to its word about respecting local input, then it should incorporate the coalition’s proposal for the area, Coursey said.
Moving closer to the release of the new resource management plan, Coursey encourages concerned residents to get involved in order to protect The Little Mountain area and other public lands.
LITTLE MOUNTAIN AREA
An avid sportsman, Coursey said the Greater Little Mountain Area has served as the backdrop to countless hunting, fishing and camping trips he’s taken over the years. It’s also a key destination for many others who support the economy of this corner of the state by coming to recreate within the pristine landscape.
Ranging from desert badlands to high mountain aspen and conifer groves, the area is home to productive trout streams and some of the most sought-after big game hunting opportunities in the state. Eastman’s Hunting Journal regularly ranks the area’s deer and elk units among its top-five Wyoming hunts. Since 1990, conservation organizations and state and federal agencies have spent more than $6 million in on-the-ground projects to enhance and maintain these resources, according to a press release about a film on the GLMA.
The majority of the Greater Little Mountain Area is public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Rock Springs field office. The area is currently operating out of an resource management plan that was completed in 1997, reiterating the significance of the impact this land management playbook can levy, Coursey said. The new resource management plan will guide management decisions for energy development, recreation, livestock grazing, wildlife and other resources, likely for many years into the future.