From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 1 - April 1, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Conservation Congress

by Bill Boender

The Upper Green River Valley Coalition, represented by Lauren McKeever and Linda Baker, organized and presented a two-day conference of conservation groups, including the Wilderness Society, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Wyoming Wildlife Federation. The congress drew some 274 people from Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, California and from many Wyoming communities as well as a few Sublette County residents. The meetings were held Friday and Saturday at the Pinedale Entertainment Center.

The focus of the meetings and discussions centered on perceived negative impacts the current natural gas boom in Sublette County is having and may have in the future and ways to address this issue.

Panels made up of conservation advocates discussed issues concerning wildlife, hunters and anglers, landowners and, finally, a mitigation panel composed of persons not connected to conservation movements.

Governor Dave Freudenthal was the keynote speaker at the luncheon Saturday, when he addressed the issues raised in the discussions. Freudenthal began by pointing out that "100 percenters," or those who expect to get all they ask for, are seldom successful in the political arena. The only positive results are achieved by hard work, listening and compromise. Being aware of all perspectives on the issues is essential to building consensus and striking balances.

Freudenthal further noted that we have a gas and oil industry that truly cares about doing the right thing and a resource that can afford to do it properly. Lease holders have not only a right to extract oil and gas, they have an obligation to both the stockholders of their companies and the mineral owners to perform that duty efficiently and within very strict and detailed regulations.

With the unprecedented demand for energy and the federal administration position that tries to expedite production, the governor expressed doubt that any significant change could occur in the near future. Even a change in political parties in the White House would have little impact, according to Freudenthal. In response to a question from the audience, Freudenthal stated that he would not, under any circumstances, support a moratorium on drilling.

The efforts in Wyoming need to be directed toward the best possible use of the tremendous economic benefits generated by energy production. The agencies most in need of redirected funding are cities and counties that are heavily impacted, as well as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which is facing financial shortfalls.

The final panel discussion of the day was chaired by Bernie Holz of the WG&F and included panelists Fred Palmer of Shell Rocky Mountain Production, Walt Lowery of EnCana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc., Bill Rudd of WG&F, Prill Mecham of the Bureau of Land Management and Wyoming State Representative Monte Olsen.

The gas industry representatives outlined their operational plans and the steps they are taking over and above the minimum requirements to be environmentally sensitive and to address concerns brought to them. Mecham reported that the BLM is operating under an existing plan and must abide by that until a new plan is developed. The new plan will be released for public review and comment about May 27 and will be open until Aug. 27. She requested that any negative comment be accompanied by constructive recommendations for alternatives.

Olsen echoed the governor's advice that all sides need to work toward a common goal to achieve results. He pointed to the recent agreement regarding the Trapper's Point migration bottleneck, which he facilitated through meetings with leaseholders and conservationists. This agreement resulted in 2,200 acres being voluntarily withdrawn from drilling consideration.

Bill Rudd pointed out that Wyoming is no longer a wilderness and that mineral development will occur. He felt there should be key area set-asides to accommodate winter range and migration for big game and that more studies are needed to determine the effects of production as well as drilling. The oil and gas industry is and will continue to help fund these studies as needed.

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