Finally, Forest Service decides no oil drilling in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming Range.

Jared White

The U.S. Forest Service decided to permanently protect Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest near Grand Teton National Park from oil and gas drilling.

After overwhelming public support, the Forest Service issued its final decision on January 17 that withdrew consent to the Bureau of Land Management to offer oil and gases leases on nearly 40,000 acres on the eastern range of the Wyoming Range. This follows a draft environmental impact statement in early April, when the U.S. Forest Service recommended that 30 parcels of land, including the Bridger-Teton National Forest, be withdrawn from leasing for oil and gas.

Finalizing the decision: Why public opinion matters

During the public comment period in spring 2016, more than 62,000 comments were submitted, with the vast majority asking to protect to manage the Wyoming Range for its wildlife, hunting and recreation instead of for oil and gas leasing.

The no-leasing decision is a monumental victory in a decade-long fight to protect the nearly 40,000 acres of pristine wild lands in this part of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Outrage over original leases

While tourists may flock to the nearby Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton area is popular with local recreationists for camping, fishing and big game hunting. It is the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states with nearly 1.2 million acres of designated Wilderness and over 3,000 miles of scenic roads and trails. This is not a place where oil and gas drilling belongs. 

The Forest Service started offering these lands along the gateway to the Wyoming Range for oil and gas leasing in 2005 and 2006. The ensuing outrage by grassroots organizations, sportsmen and political figures created a legal limbo until 2011, when the Forest Service decided to cancel the leases. But two energy companies and some local county commissioners appealed, and the Forest Service withdrew their decision to conduct further environmental analyses.

As part of the April draft statement, the Forest Service was required to provide additional alternatives to its preferred option. While the Forest Service’s preferred option after additional environmental analyses recommends no drilling, other alternatives in the draft plan would allow for varying degrees of oil and gas development. Luckily the chosen plan allows for no leasing in the Wyoming Range. 

Americans say Bridger-Teton is too wild to drill 

Bridger-Teton National Forest is a beloved recreational area with nearly 2,000 miles of hiking trails and adjacent to Grand Teton National Park. Credit: Department of Agriculture..

Over the last decade, The Wilderness Society has asked for your support to protect this magnificent region of the Wyoming Range against oil and gas leasing. To date, thousands of supporters have sent letters against drilling in this wild landscape. The Bridger-Teton National Forest is one of several wild places in our 2013 Too Wild to Drill report.

These wild lands contain critical wildlife habitat, remarkable recreation lands and invaluable water resources for the region. The Range is renowned for mule deer, elk and moose, while many of miles of rivers and streams are home to the native cutthroat trout. Backpackers and hikers explore the over 70-mile Wyoming Range National Scenic Trail that runs at 9,000 feet along the crest of the range. This place is just too wild to drill and needs to be preserved for generations to come.

In 2009, Congress passed the bi-partisan Wyoming Range Legacy Act, protecting nearly 1.2 million acres of public land in the Wyoming Range from future energy development. However, a number of grandfathered energy leases threatened the area. People banded together to buy back leases and protect the Hoback Basin in the northern part of the range

Now, after years of fighting, the Forest Service issued a final and long-awaited decision on the fate of the Wyoming Range, allowing no more oil and gas leases in a remaining 40,000 acres. These acres will now be permanently protected under the Wyoming Range Legacy Act.