Flight Across America 2017 - Wyoming Public Lands Initiative

State: Wyoming

The Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI) is a voluntary, collaborative, county-led process intended to result in one, multi-county legislative lands package that is broadly supported by public lands stakeholders in Wyoming.  The ultimate goal is a new federal law that governs the designation and management of Wyoming’s 44 Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs).

The Board of County Commissioners in a county that is participating in the WPLI will receive and vote on recommendations by the county’s WPLI Advisory Committee. Advisory Committees formed in early 2016 through early 2017 with citizen members representing different interests including conservation, energy, motorized and non-motorized recreation, sportsmen and the general public. They are charged with gathering background information and current data on the WSAs within their county; and where possible, consider additional resource uses, inventories, and management of the landscape irrespective of existing management boundaries. Site visits to WSAs and other lands of interest occurred throughout 2016 and 2017, with advisory committee work focused on generating options and identifying draft recommendations.

Students flew 10 WSAs in seven counties in Wyoming, giving them a new perspective of public lands, and encouraging them to view WSAs and their value in context with local communities, wildlife habitat corridors, and surrounding landscapes. On-the-ground education included a hike in a WSA, and discussions on why these areas were originally protected, how local communities view this protection, and where compromise might promote permanent protection for some WSAs. The students met with guest speakers who included energy developers, Native Americans, conservationists, ranchers, sportsmen and scientists to hear diverse viewpoints, and get the “big picture” of wilderness protection and its political process. By giving students the opportunity to see public lands from a new perspective, the program encourages them to find out why wild lands are important to them, to discover why they might value these places, to explore them, and most importantly, to have a voice and speak up for the protection of these areas for future generations to enjoy.