Volume 7, Number 51 - March 13, 2008
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Focus On Wyoming Range Status
Within the past year more than any time in its eons of existence, the Wyoming Range is under the spotlight for those wanting to see the state’s rampant energy development wrestled to a slow-down or even a standstill.
Thousands of comments poured in to the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s (BTNF) modest Big Piney Ranger District office about the potential natural gas Noble Basin drilling project proposed by Plains Exploratory (PXP). And the hackles went up when the public learned that Stanley Energy wanted to swap one piece of its leased land (under suspension) for another the Forest Service wasn’t even planning to lease out.
Even Gov. Dave Freudenthal journeyed to Washington, D.C., recently, exhorting lawmakers in person to protect a major portion of the Wyoming Range from energy drilling and pave the way for operators to retire or sell out their mineral leases.
The Canada lynx is an unwitting yet crucial element of the range’s ecosystem to be examined and protected, especially after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Feb. 28 proposal to revise the amount of critical habitat designated for the lynx under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including Sublette and Teton counties.
All this for a wild and discreet mountain range not so long ago known by some at the south end of Sublette County “the Greys River Mountains” and at the north end, “the Cliff Creek Mountains.”
Comment period ending
Those who haven’t yet submitted comments on BTNF’s Wyoming Range project to review suspended leases have through March 20 to speak up. BTNF’s notice of intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to analyze new information relative to the suspended oil and gas leases on 44,720 acres doesn’t affect the PXP Noble Basin project, nor are those leases covered in U.S. Sen. John Barrasso’s version of the late Craig Thomas’ Wyoming Range Legacy Act.
“The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) decision held that BLM had relied on an inadequate/stale NEPA analysis in reaching its decision to sell and issue the lease parcels,” says the notice. “In the case of oil and gas leasing decisions on National Forest system lands, and in conformance with a MOU between the BLM and FS which identifies the need for BLM to be a cooperating agency, the NEPA analysis that was relied on by BLM to inform leasing decisions was adopted from the appropriate and applicable Forest Service NEPA. This supplemental EIS will address the issues identified by IBLA as “inadequately or inappropriately addressed in previous NEPA analyses informing leasing decisions, and other issues identified though scoping.”
BTNF and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offered those leases in 2005 and 2006. The sales were appealed and after the “underlying leasing decisions were found to be legally deficient” (by the IBLA) the parcels were remanded back to the BLM. IBLA had stated in its decision that the BLM might decide to cancel the leases.
While the suspended leases are in the Big Piney District, this decision will fall on the shoulders of BTNF Supervisor Kniffy Hamilton, who responsible for deciding if and how new analysis could alter the previous oil and gas leasing decision.
If a new decision isn’t needed after the SEIS, it will not be subject to appeal, the notice states. The BLM will then decide whether or not the revised analyses is adequate, whether to lift the suspension on existing leases and whether or not to issue leases on the other lease parcels.
The governor has consistently and often opposed allowing the suspended – or any other – Wyoming Range leases to become active.
“I respectfully request that you direct your respective agencies to cancel the leases in question and reimburse the lease proponents for any costs they incurred,” Gov. Freudenthal has written to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and DOI Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. “The leases can then be retired under the legislation... proposed by Sen. Barrasso.”
The Draft SEIS is expected in May and the Final SEIS in September. The entire notice of intent can be seen at www.fs.fed.us/r4/btnf/projects.
Send written comments to Stephen Haydon, Forest Minerals Staff, Bridger-Teton National Forest, 340 N. Cache, PO Box 1888, Jackson, WY 83001-1888. Send electronic comments to email@example.com.
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