Congresswoman Cheney Introduces Bill to Implement County Commissioners’ Requests and Release Wilderness Study Areas in Big Horn, Lincoln, and Sweetwater Counties

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Liz Cheney introduced the Restoring Local Input and Access to Public Lands Act at the request of Big Horn, Lincoln, and Sweetwater County Commissioners. This legislation lifts the restrictive Wilderness Study Area designations, which Congress never intended to be permanent, in these counties. While the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative is underway in some counties across our state, these three counties opted not to participate in that process and have requested that Congress act to release their WSAs.

I have heard from County Commissioners, local officials and other impacted users requesting that the WSA designations be lifted in these counties to restore management for multiple use and sustained yield. Recreation, ranching, and other economic activities have been negatively impacted by the decades-old WSA designation, which prevents access, locks up land and resources, restricts grazing rights, and hinders good rangeland and resource management,” Congresswoman Liz Cheney said. “Congress is responsible for designating WSAs, listening to local input, and ultimately legislating on whether these lands should be returned to multiple-use management.  For over 40 years, federal land in Wyoming has languished in WSA status. The bill I introduced today will finally address this long-standing issue and provide citizens and local officials in Big Horn, Lincoln, and Sweetwater counties more authority to determine how best to manage the federal land within their counties.”

In addition, Congresswoman Cheney’s legislation would formally remove the Land with Wilderness Characteristics designation from public lands within Wyoming.

Over the last few years, federal land management agencies abused their authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to classify land as having wilderness characteristics then restrictively managing that land based on the agencies’ arbitrary standards without local input, support or any real justification. My bill ends this deeply flawed practice,” Congresswoman Liz Cheney said.

Examples of community members views on this legislation include:

We, the Lincoln County Commissioners fully support the release of the WSA’s in Lincoln County. We appreciate all the work that Congressman Cheney has done to help us with an important issue.” – Robert King, Chairman Lincoln County Commission

I was very pleased when Rep. Cheney was willing to step forward and step up to take on the challenges of these WSAs. I sincerely hope Congress can make the change in Sweetwater county, since roughly 80% of the people I represent depend on the quality jobs that stem from mineral development.” – Wally Johnson, Sweetwater County Commissioner

We want to commend Congresswoman Cheney for bringing this bill. We have lived far too long in Wyoming with these Wilderness Study Areas that were supposed to have been disposed of many years ago. We are supportive of all efforts to get the WSAs moved out of the interim status they have been in. The interest of our members, as ranchers, out on these lands, has been negatively impacted by the WSA designation because these lands have been managed as de facto wilderness. We are very pleased to see an effort to move out of the WSA status and into multiple use management which was the original recommendation of the BLM for many of these areas.” – Jim Magagna, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President

Advocates for Multiple Use of Public Lands (AMPL) is pleased to support Congressman Cheney’s Restoring Local Input and Access to Public Lands Act of 2018.  Protecting access for responsible mechanized and motorized recreation on our public lands in Wyoming is of key importance to the citizens of Wyoming and our visitors who enjoy and cherish these public lands.” – Advocates for Multiple Use of Public Lands

Our federal land resources should always be managed in a manner consistent with the policy of multiple-use to allow for a variety of activities such as mining, agriculture and recreation.  This bill is certainly a good step in that direction, and we support these efforts.” –Wyoming Mining Association

PAW supports any efforts to release existing Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) which have needlessly limited access and multiple-use of public lands in Wyoming.  Management of WSAs not only precluded development, but also limited opportunities for recreational activities to a few.  We applaud Rep. Cheney’s efforts to return these lands to the public to be managed for multiple-use and sustained yield as mandated by Federal law and hopefully they will become a much-needed revenue source for Wyoming and the Federal Government.” – Petroleum Association of Wyoming

The American Farm Bureau supports Representative Cheney’s efforts to return common-sense, multiple-use management to Wyoming lands that have been locked up for decades. The established wilderness criteria put multiple-use areas off limits for the use of motorized tools and mechanized vehicles for management practices, fire protection and recreation uses. These study areas should be released from those restrictions if they have not been formally adopted as a bona fide wilderness area. Federal lands that have not been formally designated by Congress as wilderness should be managed under the multiple-use mandate to provide for the public good.” – Zippy Duval, American Farm Bureau Federation President

I personally attended the County Commissioners meeting in Sweetwater County and spoke out in favor of releasing WSA’s.  It was very apparent that the majority of the people in the room were very much in favor of releasing WSA’s.” – Brian Parks, Sweetwater Snowpokes Snowmobile and ATV Club President

This Bill recognizes that continued access for pre-existing recreational uses in these Study Areas is appropriate and important to Wyoming’s citizens as well as our visitors. Thank you for your interest in ensuring these areas are managed appropriately for continued recreational benefits.” – Taylor Jones, Wyoming State Snowmobile Association President

I have been involved with WSSA for a few years and am in favor of releasing WSA’s.  There are a large majority of snowmobilers, mountain bikers, ranchers and ATV/UTV users that have come together to voice their opinions on the release of these WSA’s.” – Amy Jenkins, Wyoming State Snowmobile Association Vice President

I represent the Clubs of Teton and Lincoln counties, including the Snow Devils of Jackson, Top of the Rockies of Alpine, Ridge Riders of Afton, and the Snow Bears of Kemmerer. The members of these Clubs and these communities recreate in these areas and count on them being open to bring in tourist dollars. Closure is not an option for us and we thank you for your help.” – Justin Fritz, Wyoming State Snowmobile Association Director District III

We wish to thank Congresswoman Cheney for her support of multiple use on our public lands.  Not only does she have my vote, but also the votes of her many constituents whose chosen form of recreation has been gradually litigated and pushed to the point of being fazed out. Thank you for preserving those few places we have left to pursue motorized/mechanized recreation and believing that we also wish to conserve and protect these special places that we love and enjoy so much.” – Jonathan Shick, High Mountain Heli-Skiing Owner

This bill ensures people will be able to continue to access Wyoming’s public lands in ways that are meaningful and enjoyable to them and not denied that access by others who are prejudice against other forms of recreation that do not interest them.” – Kevin Kavanaugh, Teton Freedom Riders President

Dirt bikers Investing in Riding Trails supports the ‘Restoring Local Input and Access to Public Lands Act of 2018’ to ensure continued access to public lands for OHV recreation.” – D.I.R.T.

The Wilderness Study Areas in Wyoming have been managed as de facto wilderness for decades.  In Teton County alone there are over 2 million acres of Wilderness and National Parks that are permanently closed to off-highway vehicles.  It is time the WSA’s in Wyoming are released and managed by the Forest Service and BLM to allow multi-use activities that include motorized and mechanized uses.  I support the ‘Restoring Local Input and Access to Public Lands Act of 2018’ to protect multiple use and access to our public lands for all users.” – Greg Buchko, Teton County WPLI Summer Motorized Representative

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Background:

  • Over 40 years ago, the Secretary of the Interior unilaterally designated over half a million acres of public land in Wyoming as a Wilderness Study Area and after that initial designation any future WSAs must be designated by Congress.
  • Wyoming already has 3 million acres of designated Wilderness Areas.
  • Currently, only Congress can legislatively release or designate Wilderness Study Areas. Congress has not acted since these lands were originally designated as WSAs, which has led to these lands being managed as de facto wilderness areas.
  • Wilderness designations are the most restrictive land designations used by the federal government and should not be made lightly.
  • Big Horn, Lincoln, and Sweetwater counties chose not to participate in the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative and have made these requests independent of that process.
  • Copies of letters from Big Horn, Lincoln, and Sweetwater Counties requesting this legislation are available below.

Lincoln County – Legislation Request Letter

Sweetwater County – Legislation Request Letter

Big Horn County – Legislation Request Letter