A sad fate for more than 44,000 acres of unspoiled lands in western Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest has just taken an incredible turn for the better.
Our work with local residents, sportsmen, decision makers and partner groups has finally led to the Bridger-Teton National Forest’s cancellation of oil and gas leases on 44,720 acres in this southern part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
This is a tremendous victory that we’ve worked on for years. And once the celebrations settle, we hope to expand the win into the nearby Upper Hoback, an equally wild and gorgeous area that is still threatened by natural gas drilling.
Concerns about the leases on what’s commonly known as “the 44K” kicked off The Wilderness Society’s work to protect the area.
The acres of cancelled leases near Daniel, Wyo., are scattered across the eastern front of the Wyoming Range, located in many scenic and recreational areas, including McDougal Gap and the popular Horse Creek drainage west of Daniel.
Our supporters helped protect this stunning landscape by organizing a campaign that eventually led to the passage of the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which shields the land from all future energy leasing. However, the Legacy Act did not apply to oil leases that were already sold on the land in 2005.
The recent de-authorization of that leasing will mean that this part of the Range will now be fully protected from all oil and gas leasing.
JJ Healy, a Wilderness Society member and Daniel-area rancher who runs a cow-calf operation at the foot of the Wyoming Range, said the Forest Service’s decision shows that the agency is finally listening to the people of Wyoming and its elected officials.
“This is really good news,” Healy said. “They’re doing the right thing. This ensures that all of the things that make the Wyoming Range such an important resource for Wyoming—its scenic beauty, its hunting and fishing, its pristine streams—will be around for our kids and grandkids.”
“These leases started the whole drive to protect the Wyoming Range in the first place, so I guess it’s fitting that we finally put these leases to bed,” he said.
Mike Burd, a trona miner from Green River shared the enthusiasm. “There are places to develop and places to leave alone and I’m excited that we’re keeping development out of the Wyoming Range. All sportsmen on this side of the state are very happy. This is not about killing jobs. It’s about preserving our Wyoming heritage and recreational lifestyle.”
In 2005, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management first began offering leases on 44,720 acres of popular recreation lands and important wildlife habitat. When these leases went up for sale, it rallied a groundswell of diverse citizens to protest and appeal the sales, including local outfitters, residents, sportsmen, the AFL-CIO and former Gov. Dave Freudenthal. About half of the 44,720 acres were leased (i.e. sold to high bidding companies and issued, but suspended pending appeal and the preparation of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement). The other half of the leases were sold to high bidders, but not issued.
Expanding victory to the Upper Hoback
“Conserving the 44K is what’s best for the Wyoming Range and the entire Greater Yellowstone region,” said Steff Kessler, Wyoming program manager for The Wilderness Society. “Now, let’s hope the Forest Service extends the same protections to the Upper Hoback Basin. It’s right next to the 44K and it’s threatened by a proposal to drill 136 new natural gas wells.
Working with members and supporters, The Wilderness Society helped generate more than 20,000 public comments opposed to drilling in the 44K. Now we’re working to produce even more comments on the planned drilling in the Upper Hoback, which is threatened by a proposal to drill 136 new natural gas wells.
The Upper Hoback Basin sits just north of the 44K lease area. Like the 44 K, it consists of stunning mountain views, important wildlife habitat and lands that locals care deeply about. In its decision to cancel the leases, the Forest Service noted how the Hoback provides important “habitat and population connectivity” for the entire Greater Yellowstone Area.
If the proposal succeeds, the beautiful Hoback region would fall victim to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a natural gas extraction process that is known to pollute drinking water and streams.
“The Forest Service did more than cancel these leases on the 44,720 acres. It also spelled out why no development should occur in the adjacent Upper Hoback Basin,” said Dan Smitherman, with Citizens for the Wyoming Range.
In cancelling the 44kk leases, the Forest Service
The Wilderness Society works with Smitherman and others in the Citizens for the Wyoming Range coalition. For more detailed information go to: www.wyomingrange.org.
Upper Hoback Basin in Wyoming. Photo by Diane Corsick.