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Guest column Secret meetings should be open to the public.

Posted: Monday, Apr 1st, 2013

By Nathan Maxon

Former Fort Bridger resident


The future of a huge swath of public lands in western Wyoming including a special place known as Little Mountain is currently being decided in secret by the BLM, the Governor's Office, the Sweetwater County Commission, the Sweetwater County Conservation District and a handful of others.

These secret meetings concern BLM's Rock Springs land use plan, that will decide, among other things, if and how industrial development will occur on Little Mountain. Little Mountain is special to many people because of its world-class hunting, abundant wildlife, astounding scenery and lack of industrial development.

In 2008, BLM sold oil and gas leases on Little Mountain. Local citizens were outraged by the lease sale. During the fall of 2010, I participated in a series of stakeholder meetings that began a discussion about the future of Little Mountain. The stakeholder group, composed of sportsmen, landowners, conservationists, energy companies and local government representatives, developed a list of recommendations for BLM to consider during the Rock Springs plan revision. The stakeholders recommended, among other things, that the BLM or incoming governor provide a way for the group to continue to meet. Governor Mead, soon after taking office, submitted the comments on behalf of the stakeholder group. Unfortunately, no stakeholder meetings have taken place since 2010, and BLM is moving forward with the development the Rock Springs plan during the secret meetings.

This BLM has closed other planning meetings in Wyoming but has yet to provide a compelling justification for doing so. If it is so critical that the meetings be closed, why has BLM opened other cooperator meetings concerning sage-grouse management and the Moneta Divide natural gas and oil project? The Forest Service allows anyone to attend its planning meetings. In Montana, state law requires that these BLM cooperator meetings be open to the public. No law, federal or state, requires BLM to keep these meetings secret. In fact, not long after taking office, President Obama directed all federal agencies to increase transparency and openness.

BLM will likely say that citizens will have an opportunity to participate at a later date, after, of course, the most important decisions are made in secret. This arrangement undermines democracy because citizens are being prevented from understanding enough about the discussion to be able to have meaningful communication with their representatives. Furthermore, this secrecy allows elected officials to freely advocate any position without concern for being held accountable to voters. Open meetings are even more important when a handful of public officials are deciding something as controversial as the future of Little Mountain. In the interests of democracy, good government, transparency and accountability, it's time that BLM and the cooperators open these meetings to the public.

For the complete article see the 03-29-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 03-29-2013 paper.

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