From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 51 - March 20, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

"Valley" is environmental ground zero

by Cat Urbigkit

You might have seen the full-color brochure mailed to all postal patrons, or perhaps you saw the full-page ad in this newspaper. Maybe it was the front-page article in the Casper-Star Tribune about a massive gas development project, or the large color photo on the second section of the same paper, talking about a new lawsuit being filed.

The "Upper Green River Valley" has become ground zero for the environmental movement, from local environmental interests to national and international groups all turning their eyes in our direction. They call this the "Valley," always with a capital V.

There's been a flurry of activity in recent weeks and months, from a recent presentation before the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, to a scientific symposium hosted by the Wildlife Management Institute two weeks ago in the Pinedale library and a conference last weekend at the same place, for environmentalists convening here from throughout the region. The groups are filing appeals, holding meetings, opening offices, conducting mass mailings and buying full-page ads in newspapers in the region, all to draw attention to an area they say needs to be saved. It's attention this region has never had before.

Last year the Wyoming Outdoor Council opened an office in Washington, D.C. Tom Darin mans that office and recently noted that he has been meeting with national environmental organizations "to maintain a high profile for the Red Desert, Powder River Basin, the Upper Green River Valley and other endangered public lands in Wyoming."

One of the ways these organizations can assure that actions in the Upper Green River region maintain a high profile is through providing stunning visuals. One way to make that happen in through a partnership with a unique environmental organization: LightHawk.

In 2001, LightHawk moved its headquarters to Lander, where WOC is also located, according to its annual report. LightHawk says it enhances the efforts of other environmental organizations "by providing flights to obtain photographic, video and mapping documentation to support the passage of pro-environment legislation; the designation of national wilderness areas, national parks, national recreation areas and other protected areas; and support for sound management of natural resources in the lumber, mining, and oil and gas industries."

In June 2001, WOC partnered with LightHawk to fly environmental activists and foundation officers "to see how Wyoming's open lands are being altered by the rapid escalation in oil and gas production," including overflights of the LaBarge, Big Piney, Jonah, Pinedale Anticline gas fields, as well as the wild country in the Upper Green and Gros Ventre regions.

Sierra Club organizer Liz Howell of Sheridan was quoted by LightHawk as stating, "The vision of ugly (natural gas field) development will give us the ability to show that the threat is real."

A month later, the Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club flew members of the media for an overview of oil and gas development in western Wyoming and the areas of the Bridger-Teton National Forest being considered for gas leasing. According to the LightHawk 2001 annual report, "The flights were organized in conjunction with a three-day pack trip led by the Sierra Club that took members of the media to view the affected Bridger-Teton management areas from the ground." Included in the flights that day were photographers from the National Geographic Channel and the Associated Press.

Three months later, a LightHawk pilot flew another National Geographic photographer over the Red Desert and the Jonah gas field to take photos for a book about Bureau of Land Management-administered lands. "Flights highlighted mining and energy development in Wyoming and degradation from abusive practices, as well as the beauty of the area," LightHawk reported.

A great deal of the recent activity focusing attention to this region is in line with a project called "Restoring Wild Patterns." According to an article in the Spring 2001 issue of Northern Lights, environmentalists Lloyd Dorsey (then with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation) and Meredith Taylor (of the Wyoming Outdoor Council) hatched the idea for "Restoring Wild Patterns" about three years ago, then held a meeting with other activists to develop the details. The program is aimed to protect existing wildlife migration corridors from future development and restore historic routes, from Yellowstone to the Red Desert, "be it on public or private land," according to the article.

The program includes recommendations like removal and modification of fences in western Wyoming, phasing out elk feedgrounds, purchasing conservation easements and adopting certain land use planning provisions for both private and public lands.

Dorsey said his "Restoring Wild Patterns" program is crucial because it covers the gap between the Yellowstone-to-Yukon Conservation Initiative and The Wildlands Project, which has gained national attention for its potential impact on private property rights.

Taylor advocated that the antelope migration route she followed from Grand-Teton National Park to Pinedale's Mesa "deserves a yet-to-be-created legislative designation of 'national migration corridor.' "

But migration corridors aren't all the groups want protected - apparently Sublette County needs to be saved from, well, itself.

Last fall Taylor wrote in a WOC newsletter: "Oil and gas development in the popular Pinedale area has made it extremely vulnerable to rapid growth, especially since Sublette County has resisted land use planning ... it's not too late for Sublette County to create and implement land-use plans for ranches and other privately owned open space to help protect migration routes for America's last great wildlife herds."

Other threats to the Upper Green River region abound, if the newsletters are any indication, from livestock grazing to urban sprawl. And there is an environmental group available to focus on each threat.

WOC's fall 2002 membership newsletter noted: "To protect the Green River and its surrounding lands, WOC and a number of other conservation groups have launched a coordinated campaign centered on the BLM's resource management plan revision process. In addition, Southwest Rivers recently announced its Green River Wild campaign which seeks to protect those portions of the Green River and its tributaries that remain relatively pristine."

The same newsletter also had an article entitled "The Next Powder River Basin? Pinedale area faces coalbed methane assault," in which the organization stated, "We are increasingly concerned that the Pinedale area could face CBM development that dwarfs the 51,000 wells anticipated in the Powder River Basin." WOC questions if southwestern Wyoming will become "a massive industrial sacrifice zone," with the BLM putting the revision process "on the fast-track" to allow more development to proceed.

The Wilderness Society is a national environmental organization also joining in to protect Sublette County from development. On its website listing 18 areas containing "threatened lands" due to "Big Oil's Energy Plan 2002," included are both the Bridger-Teton National Forest and Upper Green River Basin.

One of the nation's largest environmental groups, Defenders of Wildlife, printed a full-color brochure for distribution, urging protection for the "Greater Green River Basin," and claiming, "More and more new oil and gas leases with fewer and weaker protections for wildlife could make energy developers more at home on the range than wildlife."

This organization also sent out an action alert to its members, urging comment on the Pinedale BLM's revision of its management plan. For comparison, a similar alert from the same organization generated 230,000 e-mails to the Forest Service on a new regulation proposed by that agency.

Other organizations targeting this area for preservation include the Wildlife Conservation Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Wildlife Federation and the home-grown Upper Green River Valley Coalition.

For more information on local environmental protection efforts, contact Linda Baker of the Upper Green River Valley Coalition in Pinedale at 307-367-3670.

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