By Gregory R.C. Hasman
Via Wyoming News Exchange
ROCK SPRINGS — Some welcomed the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to take off three entire parcels from a proposed oil and gas lease sale in the Red Desert to Hoback mule deer corridor while others said it was not enough.
“The migration corridor actions are welcomed news, and the Board of County Commissioners has gone on record supporting such,” Sweetwater County Commission Chairman Reid West said in an email. “It hasn’t been all that long ago that we weren’t even aware of the extent of this migration corridor. Sportsmen, landowners, recreationalists and industry alike recognize that special protections are appropriate and necessary in certain areas, and this migration corridor is certainly one of them.”
BLM Wyoming originally analyzed 394 parcels nominated for the sale. After consulting with the state, it announced it was deleting or deferring 44 entire parcels and portions of 31 other parcels due to resource conflicts and environmental issues. Three of the parcels, totaling almost 5,000 acres, are being deferred because they are largely located in the mule deer corridor, a BLM press release states.
Groups like the Sweetwater County Commission, Wyoming Wildlife Federation and Wyoming Wilderness Association asked the federal government to defer the oil and gas lease sale on areas like the Red Desert to Hoback mule deer corridor.
“We had a lot of people pretty well saying the same thing, ‘Please hold off on these sensitive areas,’” Sweetwater County Commissioner John Kolb said.
WWF Field Director Joy Bannon said the 5,000-acre lease deferral will aid in maintaining the functionality of the migration corridor.
“Oil and gas leases within the corridor have the intent of being developed,” she said. “Habitat fragmentation would disrupt the health of the mule deer corridor and reduce its functionality.”
WWA BLM wild lands community organizer Shaleas Harrison said taking three parcels from the proposed sale wasn’t enough.
“Three entire parcels? Really?” she said. “This is greenwashing. Wyoming residents should not be fooled by this attempt to mute the masses. (U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan) Zinke may speak about conservation and hunting values, but his words are hyperbole. Five-thousand acres does not amount to much when there are over 1 million acres up for lease this fall and winter.
“Wyoming’s wildlife and open spaces are threatened, and we need to do something about it.”
Harrison added that county commissioners have done a better job of speaking up for wildlife than the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“The Game and Fish has been complicit in this process,” she said. “They fail to mention to the BLM their own guidelines regarding energy development in crucial winter range, and hundreds of thousands of acres of lease sales are open in these areas.”
Wyoming Game and Fish Department Communications and Outreach Supervisor Rebekah Fitzgerald responded to Harrison’s comments by saying Game and Fish has been “involved in every step we can be to review the proposed BLM oil and gas leases.”
“Our regional staff worked with the local BLM office to review the proposed lease parcels and ensure the proper wildlife stipulations are placed on these leases,” she added. “For big game crucial winter range the stipulation involves a development restriction; no development on crucial winter ranges from Nov. 15 through April 15.
“If the parcels are leased, Game and Fish will have the opportunity to review the operator’s Environmental Assessment to again verify our recommendations have been applied.”
West said since the commissioners have not had a chance to fully review all of the parcels in question they are unable to comment further at this time.