Volume 104, Number 37 - September 13, 2007
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Barrasso’s plan to protect Wyoming Range praised
To the elation of sportsmen, environmental organizations and landowners in northern Wyoming, Sen. John Barrasso announced on Monday on the Senate floor that he will introduce a bill to protect the Wyoming Range in the Bridger-Teton National Forest from leasing for energy development.
The late senator Craig Thomas, whom Barrasso replaced in June, had drafted a bill to achieve the same goal before his death. As oil and gas operators had leased 44,000 acres of land on the range between 2005 and 2006, according to the Citizens Protecting the Wyoming Range Web site, the new senator was immediately confronted with demands of whether he would continue his predecessor’s mission to battle the rapid trend.
Cameron Hardy, Barrasso’s press secretary, said the senator confirmed his decision to introduce the bill after touring 30 Wyoming towns this August to hear local opinions. At the senator’s town meeting in Pinedale, more than 100 people turned out with a general consensus that they wanted the forest and the range preserved.
“I’m thinking he felt it was very important to continue Senator Thomas’ legacy,” Hardy said of the bill that Barrasso has already drafted and plans to introduce soon.
“He believes in multiple use of our public lands, but he also believes like Senator Thomas did that some places are so special that they deserve further protection.”
Aiming to prevent future development while respecting operators’ current property rights on their leases on the southern Wyoming Range, Barrasso constructed the bill with two parts, one restricting future leasing, the other stipulating that once current leases retire, they can’t be brought back again.
“People who have ongoing leases will hopefully agree for those leases to be bought out,” Hardy said. “The hope is that going into the future, the Wyoming Range will be a place that’s set aside for other activities, because we have plenty of other places around Wyoming that are seeing energy development.” Chris Mehl, communications coordinator for the Wilderness Society, which conducted a campaign to save the range from development, praised the senator’s announcement.
“It reflects the desires of the great majority of Wyomingites,” Mehl said, adding that the Wilderness Society received calls from a number of landowners and ranchers on the range asking for the organization’s help in preventing leasing there.
“(Barrasso) says we certainly need energy development, but acknowledges that it’s not appropriate everywhere.”
The bill’s structure allows input from all sides, which proves good news for ranchers along the range, as well as sportsmen who enjoy a multitude of activities across the peaks, from hunting to fishing to snowmobiling, said Tom Reed, Wyoming field representative for Trout Unlimited, a national environmental conservation group.
“This bill basically sets a place at the table for entities to talk to each other like gas companies and hunting and fishing groups,” Reed said. “If an operator wants to sell or donate a lease, it gives us a chance to (approach them about it). It opens up the market for another avenue, so basically we’re paying them not to drill.”
Deena McMullen, Shell Exploration and Production communications advisor, said Shell doesn’t have any leases in the Wyoming Range, but operators have known for some time that Sen. Barrasso planned to carry on with Thomas’ legislation, as the staff for both senators maintained open communication with the industry about their ideas.
“We recognize that there are several places that are important to Wyoming citizens and the Wyoming Range is one of those places,” McMullen said. “We believe that a decision to limit development in specific locations should be made on a case by case basis and take into account the many resources in an area.”
Mehl said Sublette County citizens shouldbe pleased, as they won’t lose any employment opportunities from current development and will retain a prime recreation source that brings out-of-state tourists and revenue.
“(The Wyoming Range) is a hidden gem and a natural tribute to how spectacular Wyoming is,” Mehl said. “Considering keeping it the way it is now for such a wide amount of people to enjoy is a great opportunity, and a tribute to Barrasso that he’s doing this.”
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