The Wyoming Wilderness Association has been pushing for the designation for the Rock Creek Wilderness Area as protected wilderness since 2005, when the Bighorn National Forest recommended the action in its forest plan. The area spans 34,000 acres of undeveloped land, just a few miles west of Buffalo.
And to have it established as protected wilderness, Congress would need to act. Rob Davidson, northeast Wyoming community organizer with the WWA, explains why the organization is pursuing that designation and the protection of other lands across the state.
Davidson says it's those undeveloped open spaces that make Wyoming a special place. He says the WWA has been pursuing the designation of Rock Creek to ensure it's there for future generations.
Christie Love, owner of the UM Ranch and a grazing permit holder in Rock Creek, is unabashedly opposed to the designation of the area as protected wilderness. She says it would be redundant and claims that the possibility of Rock Creek being developed is slim to none.
Davidson says the threat of losing Rock Creek piece by piece, as it happened in the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act, is fairly high.
During the 2012 Gilead Fire, parts of the Rock Creek Wilderness Area were heavily burned. If it were designated, the use of heavy machinery, ATVs, chainsaws, timber harvesting and drilling would all be prohibited. WWA Associate Director, Carolyn Schroth, says grazing rights would be protected, as would the ability to hunt, fish and ride horseback in the area.
Love says she believes if Rock Creek were designated, the ability to appropriately fight fires like the Gilead Fire would be hindered.
But Davidson disagrees. He says if another fire sparked in Rock Creek - and if it were granted protected status - appropriate firefighting techniques could be used. And he says he doubts firefighting efforts during the Gilead Fire would have changed if it were protected at the time.
U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis toured Rock Creek for the first time in 2005, and later said the issue should be decided by the Johnson County Commissioners. Davidson says he is hopeful that the two newest commissioners will support the organization's local cause. He says within a decade, Rock Creek will be permanently protected.