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A Grand Opportunity

Little Mountain is on the precipice of doing it right.

The half-million acre Greater Little Mountain Area in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, holds a cross-section of the state’s culture. Within a two-hour drive from Rock Springs on backcountry roads, one will see ranchers moving cattle, hunters seeking trophy elk, mule deer, antelope and moose, anglers casting in narrow cutthroat trout streams, sport fishermen hauling their boats to Flaming Gorge reservoir, and oil and gas trucks driving to check wells.

The unique resources of the Greater Little Mountain Area, or GLMA, call for a balanced approach to land management planning. In addition to its oil and gas resources (less than 20 percent of the area is under oil and gas leases), the GLMA contains strongholds for Colorado River cutthroat trout in one of the driest and southernmost regions of its historic range. One of the most sought after hunting areas in Wyoming, the GLMA also represents the southern end of the longest documented ungulate migration in the lower 48 states. According to Sweetwater County resident, angler and University of Wyoming student, Haley Powell, “Little Mountain is a one-of-a-kind place. The experiences I’ve had there have made me realize that this place has to be preserved for future generations, so that others may be affected by its wildness and beauty as I have.”

In Wyoming, and particularly in Sweetwater County, energy resources, including oil and gas, have long been the primary economic driver. However, area residents understand the importance of planning for responsible energy development to avoid unnecessary impacts to the GLMA, which adds economic, social and recreational value to their way of life. According to Sweetwater County Commissioner Wally Johnson,
“oil and gas revenues drive much of our local economy, and we can balance that with protecting Little Mountain, which is the crown jewel of Sweetwater County.”

In 2008, a group of citizens, businesses and organizations that include the Southwest Labor Council, Steelworkers Union 13214, Muley Fanatic Foundation, Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation formed the Greater Little Mountain Coalition (GLMC) to protect the area and its resources. Members and partners, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Bureau of Land Management, have contributed more than $4.5 million to complete habitat projects designed to conserve and enhance native cutthroat trout and big game habitat, improve grazing management and provide opportunities for hunting, angling and other outdoor recreation activities. These habitat improvements have increased angling and hunting activities, translating into an impressive $12.7 million in total hunter expenditures in the GLMA in the last five years and $48.4 million in angler expenditures in the GLMA and Sweetwater County.

The Rock Springs Field Office of the BLM is revising its Resource Management Plan and has proposed a Master Leasing Plan for the GLMA. A Master Leasing Plan, or MLP, would provide a balanced and well planned approach to development. The approach has gained broad support from residents and local elected officials, including the Sweetwater County Commission and the Mayors of Rock Springs and Green River. More specifically, the proposal allows for oil and gas leasing in the majority of the GLMA, but also promotes safeguards for important fish, wildlife and recreational values. (See www.greaterlittlemountain.org.)

Rock Springs resident Monte Morlock says, “Sportsmen and women support responsible, balanced use of public lands, including energy development. However, not every area is suitable for drilling because of its importance as a native trout fishery, big-game winter range or wildlife migration corridor. If development occurs, safeguards must be in place to maintain fish and wildlife populations and habitat.” The Sweetwater County Commission, in particular, supports the GLMC proposal because of the collaborative process used to create the proposal, generating input from more than 2,500 local residents and a broad array of interested stakeholder groups.

In a state where lawmakers have voiced concerns about what they see as a lack of consideration for local input on public land management being considered by federal agencies, the GLMA presents a real opportunity
to showcase how Master Leasing Plans and other oil and gas leasing reforms can fulfill the goal of multiple use-sustained yield – striking a responsible balance of activities so the uses of the land can be sustained for
generations to come. Here, the public has organized to identify resource conflicts at the front end of the leasing decision process and created a proposal to provide certainty to the oil and gas industry as well as hunters and anglers over the life of the new plan – a model for truly balancing multiple uses on public lands.

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