WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced that the department has officially named a key public land site in northern Wyoming in honor of the late U.S. Senator Craig Thomas, who was a major advocate for public lands in the West.
“Craig Thomas was a beloved Western leader and champion of rural development who supported key public land initiatives in the Big Horn Basin,” Secretary Kempthorne said. “Through his encouragement and perseverance, the site we have named for him offers the public better access to important recreational and educational lands on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains.
“Craig Thomas was also a Senate colleague and a good friend,” Kempthorne noted, “so I am doubly pleased that we are able to recognize his vision and leadership by naming this site the ‘Craig Thomas Little Mountain Special Management Area’.”
Kempthorne thanked a number of people for their help in accomplishing the designation, including the family and staff of the late Senator Thomas; the Big Horn County Commissioners; and the Wyoming Congressional delegation.
Senator Thomas passed away on June 4, 2007, having served for more than 17 years in the U.S. Congress, the last 12 in the Senate, where he won recognition as an expert on agriculture, rural development and public lands and a champion of Western communities, including farmers and ranchers.
The area named in his honor consists of about 69,200 acres that contain numerous sites of historic, cultural and paleontological interest. In addition to recently acquired private land, the area includes the Little Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern and a portion of the West Slope Special Recreation Management Area. Located in Big Horn County, all of these lands are managed by the Department’s Bureau of Land Management through its Cody Field Office.
With the help of Senator Thomas, Big Horn County Commissioner Keith Grant and the work of national conservation groups, the Bureau of Land Management acquired 8,200 acres of private land for the Little Mountain site in June 2003. This land had been part of the Devils Canyon Ranch.
The first phase of the acquisition was funded by a $4 million congressional appropriation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and a $100,000 donation from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. An additional 3,000 acres in the Little Mountain area are being held by The Trust for Public Land for transfer to the Bureau of Land Management at a later date. This land will automatically become part of the Craig Thomas Little Mountain Special Management Area.
The 2003 acquisition improved access to lands managed by the State of Wyoming, Bureau of Land Management and National Forest System in the Big Horn Basin. The Craig Thomas Little Mountain Special Management Area is entirely surrounded by public lands, with the Bighorn National Forest and Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark to the east and south; and the Yellowtail Reservoir and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area to the west.