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Wilderness Study Areas affect Wyoming ranchers’ ability to operate on public lands

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Sheridan – Forty-two designated Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) fall within the confines of the state of Wyoming. Ambiguities in legislation surrounding WSAs have allowed for misinterpretations that may harm Wyoming ranchers. 

The 2019 Wyoming Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Conference featured a discussion panel on WSAs. Speakers included various professionals involved in legislation, grazing and public lands.


“The Federal Land Policy Act of 1976 established Congress as the only body able to designate or release WSAs,” said Legislative Assistant to Congressman Liz Cheney Holly Hinojsa.

“But, in 1991, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) report recommended over half of Wyoming’s WSAs be released. Considerations for release included conservation, other current uses and surrounding public lands,” Hinojsa commented. 

Hinojsa pointed out the Obama administration allowed BLM to inventory any land with wilderness characteristics and manage it as such. 

“This caused a lot of frustration because it felt as though the bureaus were going around Congress to manage lands,” Hinojsa explained.

Legislative priorities

Hinojsa pointed out these areas can be extremely problematic for ranchers due to the restrictions and lack of flexibility in how they are managed. 

“Congressman Cheney has made an effort to tackle this issue since she was campaigning for Congress,” Hinojsa said. “Our office talked to a variety of people to reach a solution that met the needs of all involved.”

“We didn’t want to step on people’s toes, and there was a great effort by the County Commissioners in Wyoming to help improve legislation for WSAs,” Hinojsa said. “Cheney was able to introduce a bill that would release WSAs in Sweetwater, Big Horn and Lincoln counties, as well as prevent the creation of any new WSAs without congressional approval.”

Hinojsa mentioned they also worked with Wyoming Farm Bureau and Wyoming Stock Growers Association in creating this bill. 

“Unfortunately, the timing for the bill wasn’t right,” Hinojsa said. “It passed the House Natural Resources Committee but will have to be reintroduced.”

Hinojsa pointed out there are a lot of ambiguities within legislation that allow for interpretations that are damaging to ranchers. 

“For example, there is protection for grazing and multiple uses in the writing of some laws but not in practice,” she said. “This is why it’s so important for legislation to be written in a way that allows for very little interpretation.”

“Legislation has to be written tightly, so there are no questions as to what is and is not allowed,” Hinojsa stated. 


“When people from back East enter Wyoming, they think the entire state is wilderness,” said Washakie County Public Lands Initiative Advisory Committeeman Dan Rice. 

“We don’t want to do is marginalize what wilderness really is,” Rice commented. “For those of us living out West, we understand what wilderness is and isn’t, and we don’t want to set harmful precedence for the future.”

Rice brought up the question as to whether or not areas with roadways should be labeled wilderness. 

“There shouldn’t be roads in a wilderness area in my opinion,” Rice stated. “But if we allow one area with roads to be labeled as wilderness, it sets a precedent for this to happen in the future.” 

Hinojsa pointed out it is often hard to relay western issues to eastern Republicans. 

“At a national level, it can be really hard to gain the support of legislators who don’t understand and have never experienced western issues first hand,” Hinojsa said. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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