NORTHERN WY NEWS 10-12-17 EcoFlight Students Study Wilderness

Oct 12, 2017

By Marcus Huff
Staff Writer


WORLAND – Eight college students from Wyoming and Colorado met with members of Washakie County’s Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) working group on Wednesday, thanks to a program from EcoFlight of Aspen, Colorado. The WPLI is currently studying best use for Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) in the county, and took input and questions from the students during an informal lunch at the Worland Municipal Airport.

Attended by WPLI working group members county commissioner Aaron Anderson, Karen Fenton with the Washakie County Conservation District and Dwight Maryland representing the general public, the students, primarily conservation resources majors, along with biology and wildlife management, had a chance to become better acquainted with the way the WPLI is working toward recommendations, and the inner workings of the group.

Bruce Gordon, president of EcoFlight, noted that the organization takes two flights a year with student applicants, to “let the land speak for itself with aerial views of the wilderness areas.” Gordon recognized that “it’s really productive in today’s political climate” to get a discussion going between WPLI leaders and future conservationists.

The group previously visited Teton, Sublette and Fremont counties before landing in Worland to speak with the Washakie County group.

“A lot of the public doesn’t know what WPLI or WSA are, so it’s good to get them involved as much as possible,” said Jane Pargiter, with EcoFlight.

As explained by Anderson, “the concept of looking at WSA is really something that goes back to locally-led management. No action has been taken since 1980, when these areas were established, so we are trying to take the initiative, locally, before outside voices try to dictate what to do with these areas.”

The goal of the WPLI group is to reach a consensus as to the use of the WSAs in the county, through public input. The primary areas of concentration in Washakie County include the Honeycombs (located between Ten Sleep and Worland), Cedar Mountain (south of Winchester and shared with Hot Springs County) and Bobcat Draw (in the northwest corner of the county, shared with Big Horn County).

Once committee recommendations have been formalized and approved by the county commission, the final recommendations of the WPLI will be sent to a federal delegation for introduction in the U.S. House and Senate in 2018.

The Washakie County Advisory Committee is comprised of representatives of non-motorized recreation, motorized recreation, agriculture and ranching, sportsmen, energy interests, conservation and environmental concerns, the local conservation district and the general public.

In February, the county commission appointed applicants Dan Rice, Shawn Christenson, Justin Smith, Bradley Lee, Richard Kroger, Dru Bower, Dwight Maryland, and Karen Fenton to the committee, with Ron Harvey, Aaron Anderson, Stan Wostenberg, Kaylea Matlock, and Chris Grimes as committee alternates.

“Right now, we are not even close to a recommendation,” said Anderson. “The next couple of months will be a hard push to get it done and call it what it is, with a recommendation.”

When asked if he thought the WPLI would be a waste of time if Washington pushes back without using the recommendations, Anderson replied that “our biggest concern is we go through this process, and then say ‘well, that was a waste of time’.”

Fenton, from the perspective of local conservation, added that “part of our duty is to reach out for public comment, so we have a real chance to make a change in the process, even if we have to hand the baton off to the next generation, it’s worth the effort.”

Anderson added that local voices are always better when deciding local matters, and that “when you start to make too many restrictions, you lose potential. We don’t want to do that.”