From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 23 - June 7, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wyoming Range loses key supporter

by Julia Stuble

With the passing of Wyoming’s U.S. Senator Craig Thomas, the beleaguered Wyoming Range has lost a key supporter in the fight to save the mountains from drilling. In recent weeks, news of Thomas’ draft bill to ban any future oil and gas leasing in the Wyoming Range hit the airwaves, thrilling the Range’s proponents but not stalwart oil and gas employees.

This bill, if passed, would have been only the second in the nation to federally remove lands from lease sales. Legislation is required to put such an all-out stop on leasing, and thus far, only lands in New Mexico’s Valle Vidal have been protected so.

Of the 400,000 acres considered the Wyoming Range, over 150,000 have already been leased and can, or have been, developed. Thomas came out only a year ago as a Wyoming Range defender, to the acclaim of a growing grassroots movement to keep rigs out of the mountains and off the forest. Speaking in the now common-place terms of a “special place” and “enough is enough,” Thomas told KMER radio three months ago that the Wyoming Range should be off-limits.

“I know that energy has been good for Wyoming and we need it for the nation…but I think there ought to be some restrictions on some of the lands in Wyoming; some of the places that were set aside for enjoyment in the future and maintaining the characteristics of those places and I think the Wyoming Range is one of those,” he said in the March interview.

Thomas had previously acknowledged that even drilling well will change the character of lands.

Cathy Purves, a Trout Unlimited Technical Advisor on energy development who works closely on the Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range campaign said, “It was always a pleasure working with Senator Thomas because he had such a fondness for the Wyoming Range.”

“He understood the efforts that we were doing, and he definitely understood the sportsmen’s ethic and desire for protections for the Wyoming Range,” she added. When working with federal officials for the Range’s protections, Purves explained that Sportsmen concentrated on Thomas. Though his fellow Republican senator Mike Enzi is competing in the Cutt-Slam, only Thomas vociferously defended the Range. He was also Wyoming’s senior senator, and his standing on several committees to do with public lands, set him up as their key partner, Purves explained.

“He was deeply committed to the Wyoming Range and felt the passion and necessity of preserving it, but he was also very pragmatic about what was reasonable to expect,” she said.

Wyoming Range supporters are now wondering if the campaign will lose federal support, depending on whom Governor Dave Freudenthal will appoint to fill Thomas’ seat. Purves hopes that such support will continue. “It’s a tremendous loss for the legacy of the Wyoming Range. He certainly saw something…obviously he was a visionary and hopefully [the Wyoming Range campaign] can go forward in that perspective,” she commented.

Three candidates will be proposed by the state republican party, chaired by soon-to-be Sublette County resident Fred Parady. It is unclear if the central committee will have a say in the candidates. Mary Lankford, Dave Lankford and Cat Urbigkit, from Pinedale and Big Piney, serve on that central committee. When asked if a candidate with a leaning towards the Wyoming Range such as Thomas’ would be presented, Tammy Johnson, the central committee’s chairwoman, noted, “We as a party will continue to defend the rights of the property owner and adhere to our Republican foundation.”

Governor Freudenthal, with the final say, has often spoken of protecting the Wyoming Range as well.

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