Earlier this month Defenders, along with some of our partners, submitted a letter calling for greater conservation measures to be incorporated into a proposed drilling project on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in eastern Wyoming, near Yellowstone National Park. Our very own Dave Gaillard provided his expertise on lynx in an effort to show the Forest Service that this area may be, simply put, too special to drill.
One of the key issues that makes this project so important (and frightening) to Defenders of Wildlife is habitat connectivity – full field development of more than 300 acres in this area will lead to further fragmentation of habitat for lynx, as well as other iconic species in the region like elk. Fragmentation is a problem because not only does it lead to less habitat for lynx and (as important) lynx prey, it also contributes to the separation of remaining lynx populations from each other. This leads to a shallower gene pool and to difficulty moving through the landscape and escaping threats – wide ranging animals like lynx need space if they’re going to survive, and drilling dozens of oil wells in their way certainly won’t help efforts to recover the species.
As Dave puts it: “We are aware of no better documented travel corridor for lynx in the contiguous U.S. than the Hoback Rim, or “Bondurant Corridor” that passes directly through the project area.” The challenges that lynx and other resources will face if this project moves forward as designed inspired a number of organizations to come together and seek out a solution (from our letter):
“The best solution to protecting these natural values from the development of these leases is to negotiate a buy-out and retirement of the leases . . . . Yet we understand the Forest Service lacks the authority to select this alternative without the consent of the lease holder. Thus we urge the Forest Service to create a new ‘conservation’ alternative for the exploration and development of these leases that can serve as a showcase for drilling in areas of extraordinary value to wildlife and recreation.”
As we state, our first and foremost priority is to see the negotiation of a buy-out of the leases, but this solution requires a great deal of cooperation, and isn’t one the Forest Service necessarily has control over. The Forest Service does have the ability to influence what the project looks like if it moves forward. The types of things we would expect out of a “conservation” alternative include project phasing, which would allow only one well pad to be built and operated at a time. Each well pad would have to be disassembled and the location would be restored before the next pad could be built and drilled. Such an alternative, along with other mitigation measures, would lay out a realistic way forward in which leases that have given private oil companies certain rights can be honored without permanent damage to the public lands that we all have ownership over.
Though we worry about the lynx, at its core this is a human problem. Citizens for the Wyoming Range has put together a great video of local residents who attended the Forest Service public meeting on this project, and shared their own concerns.
We look forward to seeing the Forest Service do the right thing for the Hoback basin of Wyoming, as well as the people and wildlife that call it home.