By Sarah Elmquist Squires, Managing Editor
It’s the largest unfenced area in the continental U.S., and the biggest migration corridor in North America. Its history is steeped in Indigenous culture, and for many, its future, and whether it’s preserved and protected, is a critical issue.
Though many may not know much about the Red Desert, a new documentary about the many stakeholders who want to see it conserved is about to debut in Riverton. Its aim is to tell the story of the Red Desert, and about the promise the land holds if it is preserved.
“I think, for us, what this project is meant to do is to show people a window of what the Red Desert is, to talk about that rich history of the land,” explained Big Wind Carpenter, Wyoming Outdoor Council’s tribal engagement coordinator. “I think it’s really important that the film ties together the intersectionalities of different communities. What people can expect is that there are hunters being highlighted, recreations being highlighted, and then scientists and tribes alike – all these different communities are finding connections through this place, the Red Desert. This area has brought a lot of people together, a lot of communities together.”
The Red Desert is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), from ranching and grazing to oil and gas. Some is already heavily developed, and the Outdoors Council and others would like to see a bigger effort at conserving it for the future. Instead of local tribes just being consulted in land use decisions, shared Carpenter, “that we be part of the decision-making process” when it comes to development. Two areas – the Boars Tusk and Indian Gap Trail, in particular – are particularly important to numerous tribes, he explained, and the BLM has been asked to designate them areas of critical and environmental concern. “This is a birthplace of a lot of different people’s stories.”
“The Red Desert is a treasure that not a lot of folks know much about,” shared Kyle Elmquist, Wyoming Outdoor Council Red Desert advocate. The Outdoor Council itself is closely tied with the desert; its founder, Tom Bell, returned from WWII and found peace and solace there, and the organization has been advocating for its conservation for the last five and a half decades. This film, Elmquist said, focuses on the need for the BLM to draw more stakeholders to the table when it comes to decisions about it. “What this film is really shining a light on is the Indigenous values and the conservation values that really need equal priority in these land use decisions,” he said.
After the film’s debut in Riverton this Saturday, there will be more local screenings, and the council expects to bring the show on the road to other Wyoming communities this fall. Elmquist said those who are interested in safeguarding the Red Desert can follow the Wyoming Outdoor Council online, become a member, and follow opportunities to get involved.
The first screening will be this Saturday in Riverton at the Central Wyoming College auditorium from 5-7 p.m., including a reception with food, drinks, and music. After the 25-minute film screening, a panel discussion moderated by Yufna Soldier Wolf will include the voices of Jason Baldes, Mary Headley, and Wes Martel.
The second showing will be in Laramie on Thursday, April 27, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., 710 East Garfield Street, Studio #333. It will also be shown in Rock Springs on Friday, April 28, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at 618 Broadway Street; and in Pinedale on Thursday, May 11, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Sublette County Library, Lovett Room. It will return to Fremont County in Lander on Friday, May 19, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Lander Valley High School, 350 Baldwin Creek Road.