by Benjamin Storrow

Conservationists and ranchers are raising concerns over a U.S. Bureau of Land Management plan that will govern 3.2 million federal acres in the Big Horn Basin.  

The strategy outlined by the BLM calls on managing 1.1 million acres as priority sage grouse habitat, establishes three master leasing areas that seek to minimize the impacts of energy development on wildlife, and identifies three new areas for greater environmental protections. It replaces three management plans in place since about 1990 and will guide federal land management practices in the region for the next 15 to 20 years.

Concerns over its implementation come amid a flurry of BLM land management decisions governing large swaths of public land in Wyoming. BLM officials released two land management plans, including the one for the Big Horn Basin, and amendments addressing sage grouse for nine others in late May. Conservationists, ranchers, industry representatives and state officials said they were rushing to review the final drafts before a protest period closes at the end of June and the plans are finalized. 

Emerging concerns over the Big Horn Basin Resource Management Plan, as the strategy for north-central Wyoming is officially known, represent the last effort by interest groups to shape the bureau's practices before they are finalized. Conservationists contend the bureau has left ecologically rich areas in the region open to oil and gas development, while ranching interests say seasonal stipulations aimed at protecting sage grouse remove much needed flexibility for grazing. 

“We found the RMP isn’t thinking about future generations as it should. It is not nearly as visionary as it should be,” said Julia Stuble, public lands advocate at the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “The scale is tilted toward energy development at the cost of protecting special places.”

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Source Casper-Star Tribune 

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