County signs MOU for Boulder plan

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Sublette County commissioners are now officially on board to assist the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with developing Pinedale Field Office (PFO) travel management plans.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, the Sublette County Board of County Commissioners approved and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create “a mutually respectful and effective cooperating agency” with the PFO and regional High Desert District office.

The MOU means that while the BLM retains first and final responsibility for following the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, commissioner Joel Bousman (or “backup” commissioner Mack Rawhouser) can provide input to PFO manager Caleb Hiner (or “backup representative” Lauren McKeever).

In past months, commissioners have discussed becoming more involved with the BLM’s travel management plan for the Boulder area.

“The plan intends to designate travel routes for BLM-managed lands southeast of the Boulder, Wyoming area,” said BLM spokesman Tony Brown in February. “The travel management plan will implement transportation management decisions from the Pinedale Resource Management Plan (RMP).”

Last August, the PFO held an open house with maps of road, trail and two-track inventories, and a dozen people attending asked about potential road closures and the planning process.

However, those maps didn’t indicate what outcomes the PFO might be anticipating in that regard – which roads might be lost, upgraded or abandoned.

Bousman had commented at the Sept. 6, 2016, county commissioners’ meeting that the BLM had tried previously to update the Boulder travel plan, tying it in with grazing permit renewals.

“It didn’t work and they issued a record of decision to issue the permits,” he recalled. “The message to the BLM at that time was, ‘we use all the roads here; don’t mess with them.’”

Bousman also reported that maps at the PFO open house last August did not show some roads and trails used by ranchers, hunters and other visitors.

“We need to keep our eye on what’s going on (with the current process) because what we don’t want to happen is (for the BLM) to go out there and close all the roads so nobody can get around, including the public,” Bousman told fellow commissioners.

Commission chair Andy Nelson had asked Bousman to “keep an eye on” the Boulder travel management plan; the county has stayed involved but sought the MOU to formalize its involvement.

After the August 2016 open house came the public comment period, followed by the public scoping period from March 1 to April 1. The PFO sought input with two open houses in Pinedale and Boulder based on questions about preferred routes for improvements, additions, closures or redundancy, along with input about snowmobiling, riparian areas, off-road vehicle impacts on wildlife and managing water developments and livestock.

The next step would be to gather all of the input, existing road inventory and other data to be analyzed for drafting alternative actions for the upcoming Boulder Travel Management Plan Environmental Assessment.

This is also a point where cooperating agencies such as the Sublette Board of County Commissioners will have more input, according to the BLM.

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