PINEDALE – Thanks to groups like the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative, how federal land is managed is becoming less of an abstract concept developed in Washington, D.C., and more of a reflection of what local stakeholders value.
The county advisory committee brings together various interests including agriculture, energy, conservation, recreation and others, to collaborate and make recommendations to Sublette County's commissioners on how three local wilderness study areas should be managed.
"It is the most important element," WPLI county co-chair Dan Smitherman said. "I am a strong believer in interest-based collaboration. Without all the interests being represented, your likelihood of success is diminished significantly."
The ultimate goal is a new federal law that governs the designation and management of Wyoming's wilderness study areas. They've been designated study areas since 1976.
"For my part, I can remember how it was before 1976 and when they started in the study of the wilderness areas," county committee member Monte Skinner said. "No one had any choice of where the wilderness area should be. The forest rangers just drew a line and that was that. Enough said!"
But things are changing.
"What is happening in Sublette is an opportunity," Smitherman said. "The most important thing is to establish the values of the areas and work together to protect those values."
On Oct. 10, college students from the University of Wyoming, together with EcoFlight, took to the air to get an aerial perspective on the three wilderness study areas in Sublette County: Shoal Creek, Scab Creek and Lake Mountain.
The students also flew over wilderness study areas near Rawlins, Riverton, Jackson and Worland. After the flights, they met with local committee members and other stakeholders.
"It's really cool to see community members get involved in the process," EcoFlight's Michael Gorman said. "Students got to see how everyone works together and how (the wilderness study areas) are important to everyone for different reasons."
"I think there's a lot of consensus and respect among the committee," EcoFlight's Jane Pargiter said. "They all value wilderness as wild lands, but see value in other uses."
EcoFlight also flew the members of the WPLI over the study areas earlier this year so they could see the area from the air, as well.
Sublette County's advisory board met for the first time on Aug. 1, 2016.
It's still unclear what will happen to the local wilderness areas being studied, but the WPLI is helping more people have a voice in the conversation. Sublette County's WPLI typically meets the first Wednesday of the month from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Sublette County Commissioners Chambers in Pinedale.
"I don't know if the students, and even myself, understand how important our decisions will be and then what will happen when the county commissioners and the governor, etc., gets (our recommendations)," Skinner said.
"In all these deliberations, you need to look at the landscape level and the most important fact is that it is not what you call it, but how you protect the values represented," Smitherman said.