Photos in this post by Scott Copeland

By Nathan Maxon

WYOMING IS ONE OF THE BEST PLACES IN AMERICA FOR HUNTING, fishing, hiking, camping, and exploring.

Anyone who participates in these pursuits understands they are best experienced on lands that retain their natural and wild character.

Recently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reinstated a worthy policy that requires the federal Bureau of Land Management to inventory and consider protection for some of our last remaining wild lands.

Secretary Salazar’s decision has come under attack by some elected officials, including Wyoming’s governor and congressional delegation. But we believe this opposition is misguided.

Updating the wild lands inventory makes a lot of sense and is in the best interest of Wyoming hunters. It will also help sustain the state’s $2.5-billion-per-year tourism and recreation industry.

A little background on ‘Wild Lands’

In 2003, the Bush administration entered into a settlement agreement with the state of Utah and agreed that the BLM would cease its wild land inventories and eliminate consideration of protection of wild lands in the BLM’s land use plans.

Subsequent to this questionable and controversial settlement, the federal government has approved industrial development activities on public lands that have or will permanently change some of America’s last wild places.

Secretary Salazar’s recent decision has brought the BLM back in line with one if its most basic responsibilities to the American public: to protect some of the remaining wild places on public lands.

“Simple principles guide this commonsense policy,” Salazar said when he announced the policy in December. “First, the protection of wild lands is important to the American people and should therefore be a high priority in BLM’s management policies. Second, the public should have a say in designating certain public lands as ‘Wild Lands’ and expanding those areas or modifying their management over time. And third, we should know more about which American lands remain wild, so we can make wise choices, informed by science, for our children, grandchildren and future generations.”

Wild lands are essential for hunting

With increasing energy development and the proliferation of off-road vehicle trails, finding a place to experience an enjoyable and successful hunt is becoming more difficult every year. Elk are known to avoid areas near roads that are open to motorized vehicles.

Hunter check station information indicates that hunters who use ATVs are less successful than hunters who choose to walk.

Research in the Pinedale area has shown that industrial development causes local mule deer populations to decline.

None of this is news to many hunters who have watched industrial development and careless off-road vehicle use compromise some of the best hunting areas and wildlife populations.

The rising value of wild lands

Very few places in Wyoming retain their wild character—but those that do are increasingly valuable because of their rarity.

We estimate that roughly 1 million of the 18.4 million acres—only about 5 percent—of BLM lands in Wyoming will qualify for wild lands protection under BLM’s wild lands policy.

Most of these BLM wild lands are small enough to walk across in a few hours, but are large enough to insulate against the sights and sounds that have come to dominate our modern society.

There is no shortage of places and routes on Wyoming’s BLM lands for those who cannot or choose not to walk. Nor is there a shortage of areas in Wyoming that are open to energy development or mineral extraction (approximately 63 percent of BLM lands in Wyoming are currently leased for development).

Click here or on the image to the right to see a map that depicts, in red, existing oil and gas leases in Wyoming as of three years ago.

Protecting our last remaining wild lands is important for Wyoming communities because of the sustainable recreation, tourism, hunting, and fishing revenues that will continue long after the oil and gas fields are depleted.

More importantly, protecting wild lands will leave some of Wyoming unchanged and will provide a measure of certainty that our children will also have wild open places to roam and explore.

Nathan Maxon, the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s energy and public lands fellow, is a Wyoming native and lifelong hunter. He can be reached at 307-332-7031 x11; nathan@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org.

West Edge