From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 29 - October 16, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Trappers Point issues hashed out

by Cat Urbigkit

The second of the meetings aimed at addressing problems with the Trappers Point wildlife migration corridor was held Tuesday in the Daniel Community Center and was well attended, with new attendees including several local ranchers. Much of the discussion again turned to the appropriate acreage to be addressed in the planning process.

Representative Monte Olsen, who served as facilitator of both sessions held so far, attempted to narrow the group's focus entirely to federal and state lands, cautioning the group that it would be inappropriate to talk about including private land "without the owners of those properties sitting at the table."

He said: "If you want to talk about those fee lands, we have to invite those people to the table. We really need to be careful and cognizant of that."

Sublette County Commission Chairman Gordon Johnston disagreed, stating that if there were a group talking about the Tyler Subdivision, he wouldn't feel that all of the landowners in the subdivision would need to be invited. Johnston said that as a commissioner, he represents landowners in the county, although he acknowledged that some would argue that assertion.

Upper Green River Cattle Association President Albert Sommers was one, who responded: "Gordon may take our taxes, but Gordon does not pay our taxes." Sommers said that Johnston does not represent landowners along the corridor and that the private landowners have to be invited to the table if their lands will be discussed.

Olsen emphasized that the group cannot circumvent private property rights.

Sommers said while there is an area of concern, it is a small area. He noted that cattle trail through the same route as the wildlife in the Trappers Point area: "They use the same route."

Rancher Charles Price said it was important to recognize that it was concern over oil and gas development in the bottleneck that is driving the issue, to which Dru Bower of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming said, "That's why we're at the table."

Price noted that the cattle have used the area for 100 years, subdivision growth has occurred in the last 20 years, and although concerns for the bottleneck have been building, "oil and gas brought it to the surface."

Upper Green River Valley Coalition representative Linda Baker said she felt the group needed to address three issues: oil and gas development, encroaching housing development and problems associated with the highway.

Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative representative Jason Wilmot suggested that the goal of the group should be to maintain functioning wildlife movement through the Trappers Point bottleneck. He suggested that issues that should be addressed include the ones mentioned by Baker, with the addition of fences.

Joel Berger of the Wildlife Conservation Society questioned whether the stated goal would be the same goal for the cattlemen, to which Sommers responded, "It depends on if you strip out all of my fences and I can't manage my cattle."

Price said, "The fences further back off the highway aren't near the problem as the ones right alongside the highway."

He said what he has observed in the area is that when the antelope move south toward the fence at the highway, they "come down not worried and pool up above the highway." Price said once a leader moves forward, the group of antelope will move to get through the fence, clearing their first major hurdle, then they may pool up in the highway right-of-way, but sometimes it's not until they've moved across the roadway. He said once they've crossed the south side, "they make a line and head out," crossing the East Green River Road and dropping down into a bowl before they begin to spread out and utilize their range.

Price said behaviorally, the animals stay "pretty wound up" until after they reach what's called the Sand Hill.

Bob Maxam of the Wyoming Department of Transportation confirmed that most of the traffic fatalities involving wildlife in the area involve mule deer, not antelope. Sommers noted that antelope cross the highway during daylight hours, while the mule deer cross at night, and added that the amount of nighttime semi traffic has greatly increased.

Sommers talked about the possibility of reducing the speed limit through the area, at least at night, although Maxam somewhat discouraged the idea. Maxam noted that it's not a real popular idea within his agency and "reduction of speed just doesn't work."

Meredith Taylor of the Wyoming Outdoor Council reported that she is aware of a planning effort within WyDOT involving the assessment of a wildlife overpass at Trappers Point, in which the vehicle traffic would use a tunnel.

Upon learning that the antelope and the cattle come down together at about the same time in the fall, and in the spring, antelope seem to move up before cattle go onto allotments, Taylor suggested cooperative gate installation and management program between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and cattle producers.

But Sommers and Price explained that the cattle drift down, so open gates wouldn't work.

"You can't let them on the highway," Price said, adding that other people use the livestock driveway as well.

It was agreed that a smaller group of people would inspect the existing fence situation in the area to see if any modifications would be needed. In addition, Johnston will write to WyDOT to examine the potential for reducing the speed limit.

Price asked if antelope would actually use an overpass. Berger responded it has never been tried, but "if it's wide enough, there seems to be a high probability of success."

Rancher Jim Greenwood, representing the Green River Valley Cattlemen's Association, pointed out that if antelope kills are 1 out of 10, he would be interested in seeing the fatality numbers before anyone looks too seriously at building an overpass for antelope.

"You have to look at the economics," Greenwood said, especially if deer are what are being killed the most, and deer have different behavior than antelope.

Discussion then turned to human encroachments and housing development. It was agreed that Baker will work to draft an educational packet that could be given to potential landowners by local realtors, addressing items such as wildlife-friendly fencing, outdoor lights, roaming dogs and other potential disturbances.

Price proposed that there be no mineral leases issued in Section 28, which lies just north of the highway, as well as in about 160 acres of Section 34. He suggested no hunting be allowed in that area either. Price said having the animals dodging bullets while preparing to navigate the highway was too disruptive for the animals.

Baker responded that one problem with the idea is: "It's Trappers Point, people have hunted there for over 6,000 years."

Greenwood voiced his disagreement with the idea of closing hunting in the area, suggesting instead that WG&F change the season dates in that area to protect the wildlife movement instead.

WG&F's Scott Smith agreed: "It's on the table and worth discussing."

Greenwood said it's not the drilling of one well that causes a big disturbance.

"It's how many you drill at a time," he said.

The next meeting, of which the date has not yet been set, will focus on oil and gas development. Price suggested that the industry bring forth a proposal for protecting the wildlife migration corridor as it relates to industrial development, to which Bower said, "That's my intent."

Bower said that she would speak with the mineral companies holding leases in the area and get their input for the next meeting. She once again cautioned the group from expanding its area of focus, noting in two meetings the acreage went from 320 acres to the potential for 3,000 acres, according to one suggestion Tuesday.

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