From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 103, Number 20 - January 18, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Citizens protest parcel in BLM's February lease sale
Not just “not in my backyard” either
by Julia Stuble

Neighbors to the BLM parcel WY-0702-191, which is up for leasing at the February BLM lease sale, have stepped up to the plate and issued protests against leasing this land. Their concerns range from the environmental impacts to wildlife, air and water quality, to the outrage they feel at drilling so close to historical and cultural resources. Though there is a hint of the ubiquitous “not in my backyard” attitiude there is also a healthy dose of “enough is enough” in their protests.

Parcel 191 is south of Daniel, in Section 1 of Township 33N and Range 111W. It is just under 400 acres. Section 1 is one mile east of Daniel, down the road leading to the DeSmet Monument.

This parcel restricts surface activities between November 15 and July 15, to protect sage grouse wintering and nesting habitats, as well as big game winter range. Blane Woodfin, M.D, says he is “on the nearest privately-owned land to the parcel,” which comprises “historically and environmentally-sensitive areas.”

“It’s near the Daniel Cemetary, and they held Rendezvous in view of this site. I can go on and on with reasons that this is a really bad idea,” Woodfin said, citing impacts to wildlife and emissions which would affect air quality. Woodfin was also concerned with surface and groundwater contamination.

“The land itself is elevated relative to the surrounding creeks and river, so there is not only the probability of significant visual disruption, but because of the topography, any surface activity would have an immediate impact on the watershed,” he noted.

The parcel, which is within a mile from the Green River, contains Horse Creek. Woodfin identified noise and light pollution as issues as well, noting the proximity to his land.

“My kids saw the Milky Way for the first time standing on Grindstone Butte,” Woodfin said. Coming from back east, his children had not been able to identify astrological features because of light pollution and smog, he explained.

“They saw constellations and planets never seen before in their life when standing there, because of the clarity of the sky and lack of air pollution.” Woodfin spends most weekends on his land from May 1 to December 1, and regularly works at the Pinedale Clinic.

“This is the ninth year I’ve spent on that land, enjoying a beauty that I believe is unrivaled. I understand how important oil and gas is for our community, but I recognize that the special resource that will sustain our community is not oil and gas, but the scenery, the air quality, the wildlife,” he said, concluding, “This is probably the most egregious example I can think of encroachment on these values and could kill the one thing about Sublette County that brought most of us here.”

Woodfin’s neighbor Jack Miller, and his wife Alison “couldn’t believe this was going up for lease.” Miller’s land is “at the bottom” in the Daniel Meadows. “[The parcel] is right next to the Father DeSmet Monument and Daniel Cemetary. And I watch the deer go up and down all season long; it’s not just a winter range deal,” he asserted.

Seeing this as a parcel that has “fallen through the cracks,” Miller described the surrounding land as “probably the prettiest spot – it’s unbelievable. It’s only 400 acres, they can go somewhere else if they’ve got to do it.”

“I talked to the Game and Fish, and they said they asked it not be put up [for the sale], and heard the local BLM office asked them not to as well. It’s crazy because the decision is coming from somebody who doesn’t even know what it is,” he said. Miller spends the entire summer on his property, and is planning on moving there full-time.

Their neighbor Bob Moore also spends most of the summer on his land near the proposed parcel. “It’s kind of our escape,” he explained. “It ultimately will be our retirement.”

Of the protest, Moore described himself as reluctant to speak up. “I have a hard time doing it because I’m a right-winger. We need the gas and oil,” he said, and chuckled. “I guess I’m the classic ‘not in my backyard,’ but there are places to drill that are more appropriate than others. The Jonah Field is in the middle of nowhere – the deer and antelope there can go elsewhere. The Mesa, that’s winter range, so that’s a bit more problematic. But now it’s moving in our direction, popping a well here, a well there, I’m just not in agreement with that.”

As with Miller, Moore feels that federal officials are responsible for making on-theground decisions they know nothing about, while ignoring the people who can advise them as to the specifics of the parcel. “There’s a huge need and demand right now for oil and gas. I think upper level officials are putting the push on to free up these lands and be less dependent, but I don’t want to see them trashed.” Moore acknowledged that “the rig will be there for only a short time,” but added “all the other b.s. that goes with it is there forever.”

And though self-described as reluctant, Moore did highlight some environmental issues to leasing these lands. “It’s just not good to have these things as close to riparian areas as they are placing them,” he noted. All of the citizen protesters found that they were “hampered” in some way to develop their protests. Each one was angered to some degree that they were not notified by the BLM that a neighboring parcel to their private lands was going up for sale.

Linda Baker, of the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, shares their disgust at this secretive nature. “BLM does not even notify landowners of split-estate parcels that they are putting it up for sale,” she noted.

Steven Hall, with the BLM’s state office, defended his agency’s non-notification policy, explaining, “One of the reasons is that land ownership changes so much and BLM doesn’t have the resources to track and notify everybody.”

Hall invited landowners who border BLM land to make themselves aware of the status of their bordering federal land. If it is identified in the RMP as available for leasing, the landowners need to read the lease sale notices, and look for their neighboring parcel on the map provided on the BLM website to see if it is up for leasing, he said.

“BLM Cheyenne has refused to provide up-to-date maps at the website, despite several requests to do so,” contends Baker. Judy Walker, who is also protesting Parcel -191 and neighbors it, noted that once a citizen figures out if the land near them is up for sale, “it’s very difficult to find out what exactly to do.”

Woodfin, who learned of the lease sale of -191 through a newspaper article, noted that the timeframe is then very short. “It gave us less than two weeks notice to get our protests together,” he said. Formatting guidelines for protests are very specific, and must be followed exactly for the protest to make it to BLM State Director Bob Bennett’s desk. Baker, who provides guidance for citizens wishing to protest, said that for letters, the instructions for protesting “must be followed exactly or the BLM will reject the protest.” Protests must be filed on the 15th calendar day prior to the sale, which is Jan. 22 for this sale. They must be faxed or mailed via USPS.

“While the BLM has made it much more difficult for the average citizen to protest lease sales, shortening the comment period, dis-allowing emails, providing only the most basic information about lease locations,” Baker noted that the UGRVC can help citizens formulate their protest. Instructions for protesting can be found at the website, on page 8.

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