From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 33 - November 13, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

No leasing in bottleneck proposed

by Cat Urbigkit

Varied interest groups gathered in the Daniel Community Center last Thursday to continue discussions aimed at preserving the integrity of the Trapper's Point migration bottleneck used by antelope and mule deer.

Following up on the group's recommendation from the last meeting, Sublette County Commission Chairman Gordon Johnston had submitted a letter to the Wyoming Department of Transportation requesting the agency consider lowering the speed limit through the area, at least seasonally or during the night hours, but the state transportation agency has already rejected the idea.

WyDOT's John Eddins explained that when a speed limit is lowered on a section of road, that introduces a mixture of speeds, ranging from 55 miles per hour to 65 mph. Eddins said that in some areas, the mixture of speeds actually increases the number of multiple-vehicle accidents happening on that section of roadway.

Eddins instead suggested that the group be patient with his agency, noting that by next fall his agency plans to install a deer detection system that triggers flashing lights to warn vehicles. Eddins said that the system can help to train local traffic to develop a trust that when the lights are flashing there are indeed deer in the roadway. Eddins said the system should be installed by next October.

Joel Berger of the Wildlife Conservation Society gave a presentation on antelope foraging and movements as influenced by the distance of the animals from Trapper's Point. His research, involving radio-collared animals, reinforced the description of antelope movement as explained by rancher Charles Price at the last meeting. Price, and Berger, both maintained that as antelope move closer to the bottleneck, the animals quit eating and move quickly, only slowing down and dispersing to graze again once they have navigated across the highway and fences, making it through the constriction of the bottleneck.

Berger explained that by the time the animals move a mile away from the bottleneck, 100 percent of them had resumed their feeding behavior.

The main focus of last week's meeting was an industry-generated proposal presented by Dru Bower of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. Bower explained that she talked to all leaseholders in the area (including those who aren't members of her association) and these companies had reached a consensus on the proposal. Within the narrowest point of the bottleneck, industry proposed no leasing within a 320-acre area.

Bower explained, "That was not easy to get to," and received a round of applause from the group for her efforts.

To the north and south of the no-leasing area, industry proposed there be a total of 320 acres where no surface occupancy would be allowed. That means no drilling rig could sit on the land, but development could occur using directional drilling.

The proposal included one further component, to the north and south of the NSO areas. These two areas would be stipulation areas where the industry would voluntarily refrain from new surface-disturbing activities during the main portion of the wildlife migrations in the spring and fall. The total acreage proposed in the stipulation areas would be 520 acres.

In total, industry proposed to implement restrictions on itself on 1,160 acres for the benefit of migrating wildlife in the Trapper's Point area.

While the environmentalists at the table generally commended Bower for her efforts in getting a consensus proposal from industrial interests, Tom Darin of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance took issue with the proposal. He noted that all of Section 28 had been leased to Continental Land Resource, but that lease is currently under appeal. Darin maintained since the lease was under appeal, that means it is not currently leased. Darin questioned that if there is no development currently with the 1,160 acres proposed to be protected by industry, and it remains unleased now, why should the environmental groups agree to the industry proposal, which would be a compromise from what they want, which is no leasing in a larger area.

Meredith Taylor of the Wyoming Outdoor Council agreed with Darin, telling Bowers, "It's a great start" but maintained that at least a few thousand acres needed to be included.

Bower said she understands the concerns of the environmental interests, but cautioned that the proposal needs to be reasonable if they expect to generate support from the industry.

Darin said he is confident that the BLM will call for no mineral leasing within two entire sections in the area of the bottleneck when it completes the revision of its resource management plan.

"That's more protection than the industry proposal, so why would I accept it?" Darin questioned. "I have a good level of confidence ... I have some faith in how that process is going to turn out."

Shell Rocky Mountain's Fred Palmer reminded Darin that the purpose of the group coming together in the first place was to try to develop a protection plan for Trapper's Point and provide recommendations to the BLM and other agencies.

Facilitator Monte Olsen, House District 22 representative, told Darin, "We cannot not do anything."

Bower reminded the group that the industry-generated proposal is far stricter than the mandates imposed by the BLM in the current resource management plan.

"We've gone above and beyond what's in the existing RMP," Bower said.

Bernie Holz of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department looked at the proposal and said: "This looks like it would cover most of the sites where normal foraging is reduced. I believe this is a reasonable proposal and addresses our concern."

Taylor suggested that the proposal should be modified to examine a larger area where no leasing would occur: "That might be a good place to start on a compromise."

The group agreed to meet again to continue the discussions and to make a list of items that the members agree on, and items that it does not agree on.

Natural gas industry representatives have proposed that there be a protected core area where no leasing would occur, surrounded by areas of no surface occupancy,and buffered by stipulation areas.

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