From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 7 - May 16, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Coddle wildlife or habituate them to disturbance?

by Cat Urbigkit

Coddle wildlife or habituate them to disturbance

The Bureau of Land Management’s call for data to be used in revising the Pinedale Resource Management plan resulted in a stack of 53 letters, most of which came from environmental groups, natural gas industry interests and governmental agencies.

Some of the letters expressed views which are nearly polar opposites. For instance, Questar representative Ron Hogan wrote, "It is crucial that BLM avoid reacting to development proposals by halting all activity pending completion of a new environmental impact statement."

But Noah Matson’s 19 pages of comments for Defenders of Wildlife advocated a complete prohibition on any oil, gas or coal leasing prior to the completion of an EIS dealing with leasing.

Many letters from within the natural gas industry touched on the same subjects. True Oil’s Renee Taylor noted that directional drilling is extremely risky and costly and urged the agency to consider socio-economic factors as the planning process continues.

Chuck Sawyer of Western Gas Resource Inc. wrote that natural gas leasing activities will continue to be widespread in the future.

"Western also believes that other Jonah fields exist in the Pinedale area," Sawyer wrote. "While not yet on the exploration radar, don’t be surprised to see interest over the next 20 years in sub-thrust plays under the Wind River Mountains."

Sawyer noted Western’s subsidiary, Mountain Gas Resources, estimates there are 900 drillable locations on the Pinedale/Mesa anticline "at the present spacing of 40 acres per well. ... If another Jonah Field is discovered, the BLM can anticipate development to occur much as it did in Jonah."

Gene George submitted comments on behalf of Yates Petroleum, stating that the RMP needs little revision. George stated that recent sage grouse research "suggests that nests near activity may be more productive because the activity scares away predators." This demonstrates that mitigation used in development has been successful, according to George, and protected species are flourishing in the area.

Special consideration should be given to grouse and other wildlife species, according to a letter from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Wildlife Society, Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. These groups want the RMP revision process to include a broad range of issues, including examining the impacts of night lighting from flaring activities, wilderness proposals, fencing issues, protecting wildlife corridors from oil and gas activity and the effect of having elk feedgrounds on habitat quality.

One idea often advanced by environmental groups is phased development of minerals, but George’s letter noted, "Phased leasing and development are unacceptable."

Rita Donham and James Burgess of Cora requested special protection for the glacial moraine kettle pond area from mineral development, while still allowing livestock grazing and recreational use.

Leo and Rosemary Benson of Bondurant propose that the BLM closely examine the impacts of livestock grazing and how allotments are managed.

The Defenders of Wildlife letter requested the BLM consider the relative values of the various resources involved in the planning process. "Rare, unique and sensitive native species … have a value far in excess of more common or easily replaced public land resources," according to DOW.

The impacts of livestock grazing should be examined, according to DOW, because such grazing "can have profound impacts on wildlife and the ecosystems they depend on." The letter suggests that perhaps livestock grazing shouldn’t be allowed annually, but periodically instead.

Off-road vehicles shouldn’t actually be allowed to be off-road, according to DOW. This group advocated ORVs remain on designated, signed routes. Otherwise, ORVs should be prohibited, with monitoring and enforcement, according to DOW.

While DOW wants the BLM to designate "Areas of Critical Environmental Concern" to protect species from disturbance, another letter suggests doing the opposite.

CC Parsons of EOG Resources proposed: "In light of the controversy over the degree to which various wildlife species may be impacted by development of important oil and gas resources, the new RMP should include provisions for additional budget and staff to monitor the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Significant effort should be directed toward facilitating the habitation of wildlife to ordinary drilling and production operations."

Parsons pointed out that the Big Piney mule deer herd has "adapted very well to the presence of oil and gas operations on crucial winter range" and elk in both Jackson Hole and Estes Park, Colo., have become habituated to human presence as well.

"Ways to facilitate this process should receive serious consideration in the planning process fore this important multiple use area,’ wrote Parsons.

Parsons also noted, "The Upper Green River Basin is one of the most attractive exploration provinces for natural gas in North America and is likely to see significant activity in the next 20 years to help meet the nation’s demand for clean burning, environmentally friendly fuel."

What was notable from the nearly three-inch-thick stack of letters and information provided to the BLM in its call for data was the complete lack of input from livestock grazing permittees, as well as the very limited amount of input from Sublette County residents. However, there will be plenty of opportunities to participate as the planning process continues. For more information, or to get your name placed on the mailing list for RMP documents, contact Kellie Roadifer at the BLM at 307-367-5309.

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