There are a number of bills in the upcoming Wyoming Legislature that could have an impact on the environment and local conservation efforts.
On Jan. 31, The Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Wyoming Outdoor Council hosted a Beers & Bills event to discuss the upcoming legislation.
“What is it that Wyoming people value?” asked Kristen Gunther, a conservation advocate at the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Overwhelmingly, that is our wildlife resources, our clean air, our clean water, our public lands in this state.”
One bill of great concern to environmental groups is House Bill 29, which considers the designation of migration corridors. If passed, it would make the process for delineating a migration corridor much more extensive and give certain agencies much more leverage for deciding what is a corridor and was is not.
“It would be up to people who don’t work on wildlife to essentially make a habitat decision,” Gunther said. “When there is science and there is a wildlife and habitat issue it should be our Game and Fish department making a call about that issue.”
Wyoming G&F would need to consider consultation from the office of state lands and investments, the department of revenue, the department of transportation, the department of environmental quality and the oil and gas conservation commission to complete impact assessments for determining migration corridors.
Only recommendations and implementations could come from local working groups made up by county commissioners and various industry representatives, for the governor to consider.
“It puts groups like the Department of Revenue’s opinion ahead of the Game and Fish when it comes to our wildlife habitat,” Gunther said. “We want to make sure that science and good constituent decision-making really drives our wildlife and our wildlife management decisions.”
The bill would supersede Gov. Mark Gordon’s draft migration corridor executive order that was released in early January after about a year of help from an advisory group comprised of conservation, oil and gas, sportsmen, agriculture, mining, recreation, G&F and county government representatives.
“It’s a real overreach, a real overstep of all the hard collaborative work that the governor’s advisory group and all the stakeholders who have been engaged,” Gunther said.
The bill was introduced into the House on Friday.
Another bill with environmental ramifications is HB 74, a bill sponsored by Rep. David Miller (R-Riverton), that would grant small nuclear reactor permitting in Wyoming.
“As far as I know this is not a type of technology we know we can implement right now nor do we have adequate safety standards for storing (spent nuclear rods) should they be … that we can even permit this and regulate effectively,” Gunther said. “We think it’s a really bad idea to take an idea like that, that is a really big deal and throw it into a budget discussion without any discussion about whether it’s safe.”
The legislation would authorize coal generating capacity to be replaced with nuclear reactors for the purpose of generating electricity. Miller said current coal plant infrastructure could already facilitate use of nuclear power, allowing for fewer lost jobs when a coal plant goes under.
“The impact to an area, to a city, to a population would be far less than simply shutting it down,” Miller said.
He described safety concerns as “nonsense” and said that nuclear power is safer than any other energy.
“It’s the safest energy generation out there,” Miller said. “Safer than coal, far safer than oil and gas. Far safer than wind turbines and solar.”
The bill was introduced into the House on Friday.
A worrisome bill for fishers and anglers could be Senate File 75. This bill would allow the Wyoming Water Development Commission to ignore recommendations from Wyoming Game and Fish on which segments of a stream have the most critical need for an instream flow change.
“I think (the commission) needs to work hand-in-hand with Game and Fish so fisheries are as viable as any other water use,” said Tim Wade of North Fork Anglers, who opposes the bill.
For many years Wade has advocated for an increase of the winter river flow rates on the Shoshone River up to a range of 450-550 cfs, up from the current 162-350 cubic feet per second mandate.
The bill was received for introduction in the Senate on Monday.
Conservation groups support a few bills up for consideration as well.
SF 4, which establishes a no-ceiling wildlife conservation account for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, would provide citizens the option to voluntarily donate any amount more than the $150 minimum to wildlife conservation with their specialty license plate registration, earning the donator a conservation license plate. There is a minimum $50 fee to renew the plate.
Donated funds go to support wildlife conservation efforts related to WYDOT wildlife collision mitigation such as wildlife crossings and other efforts.
“It’s used for wildlife crossing infrastructure so that can become fencing, you can make culverts bigger so that animals can go under, actually doing a really big overpass- there’s a whole array of things that can go to,” said Jenny Desarro, Wyoming conservation coordinator for Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
Desarro said the more community support there is, the easier it is to obtain Federal grants for certain projects.
The bill was introduced into the Senate on Tuesday on a 27-0 vote.
HB 37 would permit an expedited, voluntary land exchange process to be managed by the Office of State Lands and Investments to regulate.
“I definitely support having a clear process that makes sense when we are looking for tools to increase access to public lands,” said Wes Allen, owner of Sunlight Sports. “In principle, I am in favor of this bill if the process for swapping those lands is fair and balanced.”
Last fall, Allen announced plans to start a public lands board to discuss local land access issues and implement growth opportunities. He also mentioned it is critical for the public to have input in these exchanges and for there to be safeguards in place to make sure the expedited process isn’t abused, causing the same problems it is intended to alleviate.
The bill was introduced into the House on a 52-7 vote Tuesday.
SF 36 would add more regulation to the alternative energy in Wyoming, requiring that all commercial solar energy projects obtain a permit from a county commissioner board.
“I think it’s (solar energy) a golden opportunity that a lot of businesses and consumers are missing out on,” said local resident Justine Larsen.
Gunther said her organization supports the bill on face value because it helps ensure smart site choices for large-scale solar panel sites, but also finds the legislation rushed.
“It came out of a very, very short conversation,” Gunther said. “We think this is one of those ideas that is going to take a lot of conversation and deliberation together.”
The bill was introduced into the Senate on Monday with a 29-0 vote.
Visit wyoleg.gov/ for more detail on bills and for senator and representative contact information.