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

RMP not satisfactory to Coalition, WOC

by Julia Stuble

The Upper Green River Valley Coalition is not happy with the Bureau of Land Management’s draft Resource Management Plan for the Pinedale Field area. Of the four alternatives developed by the BLM for public purview and analysis, none provide enough environmental protections for the coalition’s approval.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council is not yet clapping their hands, either, but is “cautiously supportive” of Alternative 3. Linda Baker, the coalition’s organizer, agrees. Both groups are focusing their RMP analysis on oil and gas issues. Alternative 4, the BLM’s preferred alternative, allows too many wells, over 7,000, points out Baker. This would “dramatically” increase development. Alternative 4 would make over one million acres available for leasing.

Alternative 3, the greenest of the alternatives, looks a little bit better to the groups, toning down the well numbers and slashing the available acreage by about half. It also institutes No Surface Occupancy (NSO) stipulations on several key areas.

However, too much is already leased for this to be acceptable to the coalition. In a statement, the coalition notes that under Alternative 3, 50 percent of the Pinedale Field Office’s jurisdiction would be unavailable to leasing or NSO. But Baker points out that 70 percent of the area is already leased, and therefore, legally untouchable for more restrictions. Once leased, the lease owner has every right to develop the lands. The amount of leased acreage brings Baker to her next point: not enough land is protected.

“With that level of development that the BLM really has no control over, the coalition believes there are some places that should not be offered,” she commented. The coalition overlaid important habitat values onto a map of the Pinedale Field area, highlighting areas that are important to more than one species’ use, including crucial mule deer, pronghorn, elk and moose winter range, and sage-grouse strutting and nesting grounds. In many currently undeveloped areas, multiple wildlife values coexisted.

“The thing to remember about this valley is it is a core piece of a bigger ecosystem and water, wildlife and air all pass through it and are connected to other areas. Neighboring ranges depend on how well we maintain this valley. Those natural resources know no political boundaries. We have a responsibility to not only future generations, but our neighbors as well, to maintain our part of that ecosystem,” Baker said.

The Wind River front made itself patently clear as important for several ranges, and it has an added benefit. According to the BLM, it has a low potential for natural gas development. And according to Baker, it is a very high, proven, value for wildlife. This is why she and WOC want it put off-limits to developers. Baker praised the BLM field office for taking into account public comments during the scoping period, which asked for the Wind River Front to be unavailable for leasing. Under Alternative 4, the BLM categorized the southern block of the Wind River front unavailable, but kept NSO stipulations to protect the northern end. This was a change from the current program which has a slimmer Wind River Front unavailable.

Alternative 3, and Baker’s proposal, keeps a larger portion unavailable, rather than switching to NSO on the north, and expands the southern reach.

Baker also wants the Ryegrass, Cottonwood, Trapper’s Point and elk winter grounds in the southern Wyoming Range foothills unavailable for leasing as well. Alternative 3 has sweeping chunks of these areas, and others, unavailable for leasing, while Alternative 4 puts seasonal restrictions and controlled surface use restrictions on most of them. Trapper’s Point, a key bottleneck for pronghorn migration is unavailable in Alternative 4.

The coalition’s stance is not only that more lands need to be unavailable, but that NSO is not an adequate protective category. WOC and Baker are concerned with loopholes, that will allow NSO restrictions to be lifted, and the lands developed on the surface as well. Baker said these loopholes make NSO “completely negotiable” and asserted that the loopholes must be closed to ensure the lands’ protection.

Air and water quality are also at risk, not simply habitat disruptions or losses. For air quality, Baker calls for a reduced pace, and for BLM-mandated use of lowemission technologies. For water quality, she reiterated the Wind River Front’s importance, especially the significance of the Kendall Valley area in aquifer recharge rates. This area is one of the more important in the basin for refilling the aquifer upon which many Sublette County inhabitants rely for well water.

Monitoring and mitigation claims made by Alternative 4 must be explicitly defined, with timetables and intended outcomes, and other details worked out, Baker added. These changes, and several others, were put together into a proposal for the BLM, as part of the RMP’s public comment period, which ends June 18. For more information on commenting on the RMP, contact BLM planners at 367-5300.

“[The coalition’s] proposal seems to be a balance between allowing energy development and allowing our hunting, fishing, our recreation, and our high quality of life to coexist,” Baker commented

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