PINEDALE, Wyo. – Flying above the most prolific natural-gas field in the lower 48 states last summer, Linda Baker, an environmentalist, looked at the spider web of drill sites spread out like an ugly but lucrative quilt.
Nearby, another gas-rich field was just starting to be drilled, but this time, Baker hoped, it would have fewer drill pads to disturb dwindling wildlife. In an unusual move, environmentalists and industry here had forged a compromise to allow drilling while also protecting the environment. Ron Hogan, local general manager of Questar Exploration & Production Co., described it this way: “We win. The government wins. The country wins. The wildlife wins.”
The alliance excited Baker: “Here in the middle of the hottest gas field in the U.S., we have these two extremes juxtaposed right next to each other: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
This rare compromise has vanished in the seven months since Hurricane Katrina swept ashore in the Gulf of Mexico, 2,255 miles away.
During her tenure, oil and gas companies won thousands of permits to drill in western states as the administration moved to speed domestic oil and gas production.
Bureau of Land Management employees and others have publicly criticized the administration for placing such an emphasis on energy development that they don’t have time for research and to investigate the environmental impact of drilling.
Environmentalists say that drilling has encroached on lands that should be designated as wilderness not open for development and has affected populations of sage grouse and mule deer.
“The Bureau of Land Management has essentially become the bureau of oil and gas development,” said Dave Alberswerth, a public lands expert with the Wilderness Society.
Val Grant, president of the Bridgerland Audubon Society, said the society defends Selman because two species of rare grouse exist on his property and they believe his property rights have been violated.
“We are just trying to keep those protected and keep people from trespassing on that property,” Grant said.
One species of grouse, the sharp-tailed grouse, is considered a threatened species, and the other, the sage grouse, is close to being threatened, Grant said.
The next meeting of the Big Horn Basin Local Sage Grouse Working Group will take place Friday at the Worland Bureau of Land Management office. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m.
Birdwatching in Colorado
More species of grouse are found in Colorado than anywhere else in North America and springtime offers fantastic views of their totally spellbinding display rituals. Each species has its own unique and bizarre performance involving ritualized dancing, inflammation of brightly coloured air sacs, curious vocalizations and extraordinary postures. As the small group of maximum seven participants make their way from the Great Plains up to almost 12,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, there’ll be visits to leks of greater sage grouse, Gunnison sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chicken; displays of blue grouse and wild turkeys and coveys of scaled, gambel and northern bobwhite ptarmigan.
WRNF Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson has decided to more than halve the number of species or species groups the Forest Service tracks as measures of the impacts of forest management on wildlife and aquatic habitat.
That leaves seven so-called management indicator species or species groups on its list.
“That’s not good, and we’ll have to consider challenging that. I don’t know if we will or not,” said Rocky Smith, forest watch coordinator for the environmental group Colorado Wild.
Any appeals of Gustafson’s decision would have to be filed within 45 days.
The Forest Service has been monitoring 16 management indicator species or species groups under the 2002 WRNF management plan. It now plans to keep track of elk, cave bats, aquatic macroinvertebrates, all trout, and three birds: the American pipit, Brewer’s sparrow and Virginia’s warbler.
That leaves out current indicator species such as the snowshoe hare and northern sage grouse, as well as vegetative communities such as the alpine willow and piñon-juniper habitats.
The agency is trimming down its management indicator species (MIS) list because it believes some species aren’t good indicators of management activities, are too difficult to monitor, or are redundant because of other monitoring that is occurring.
Game and Fish funds have been used in past years for projects such as research into whether a toxic mix of chocolate and caffeine extracts can kill coyotes; studies to determine if birth control drugs can be developed to prevent pregnancy in free-ranging coyotes; and an intensive grazing and predator-control program aimed at rejuvenating sage grouse leks.