My friends at Wyoming Outdoor Council, helped clarify the situation with the 44,720 acre contested area in the Wyoming Range. WOC has been involved from the start, when they contested the original plan to lease 175,000 acres in the Wyoming Range for oil and gas development back in 2004.
First, I referenced two areas that are contested, “The 44” and the South Rim Unit in Hoback Basin. They’re very close geographically, both are contested, and they’re on different timelines. Regarding “The 44”, I said the area is “leased for drilling”, which is technically correct, but it’s a bit more complicated. Lisa McGee at WOC explained: “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 were sold to high bidders but not leased. In the draft EIS the Forest Service (USFS) released in January, the preferred alternative was to cancel the leases issued improperly and to reject bids and not issue the other leases-effectively nullifying all of the leases. The final EIS and record of decision for The 44 is also slated to come out this month (after the S. Rim Unit 136 well proposal).” The USFS has since recommended the preferred alternative of “No Action” and conservationists are hopeful, awaiting a final, and good decision this fall. The No Action alternative would protect The 44 from drilling and ensure that this special area remains wild.
The draft EIS for the nearby South Rim Unit (Hoback/Noble Basin) is expected soon and one of the alternatives will be “No Action”. Going forward, I’ll post updates for each unit separately to keep things straight and will be leaning heavily on Wyoming Outdoor Council to keep me up to speed.
History of the 44,720 contested lease acres in the Wyoming Range
2004: The Bridger-Teton National Forest announces its intention to lease 175,000 acres in the
Wyoming Range for oil and gas development. Many of these acres are roadless.
2004: Wyoming Outdoor Council and other conservation and sportsmen’s groups voice strong
opposition to any such lease sales.
2004: Governor Dave Freudenthal and Senator Craig Thomas, along with state and local
officials, also express opposition to these lease offerings.
2005: The Forest Service scales back its proposed lease sale to 44,720 acres along the eastern
front of the range and outside of inventoried roadless areas.
2005: Wyoming Outdoor Council and others cite degraded air quality and impacts to mule deer
populations as a result of large-scale oil and gas development on nearby BLM lands as just some
of the changed circumstances that warrant preparation of an updated environmental analysis by
the Forest Service.
Dec. 2005: The Forest Service ignores our requests and relying on outdated analyses from the
early 1990s, authorizes the BLM to proceed with the first of what will be four oil and gas lease
sales in the Wyoming Range. The Wyoming Outdoor Council files a protest on behalf of several
April 2006: The second and largest of the four lease sales occurs. More than 20,000 acres are
leased. We protest this sale as well.
May 2006: The BLM dismisses our protests. We appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals
(IBLA) and request a stay pending a decision on the merits.
June 2006: The IBLA grants our stay request, finding it likely that we would be successful on the
merits of our appeal. This halts development on the parcel offered in December.
June 2006: Concerned citizens, outfitters, sportsmen, and conservationists meet to discuss a
long-term solution to protect the Wyoming Range. Citizens Protecting the Wyoming Range, a
coalition of outfitters, ranchers, conservation groups, landowners, labor union members and
sportsmen is founded. Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range, a group of hunting and angling
organizations, is also founded. The participants agree that federal legislation prohibiting future
oil and gas leasing is necessary.
June and August 2006: BLM goes ahead with the third and fourth lease sales, offering the
remainder of the 44,720 acres. We protest these sales. As a result of the IBLA stays on the first
and second lease sales, the BLM upholds our protests and the leases from the June and August
sales are not issued, but held in a pending status.Sept. 2006: The IBLA grants our second stay request, halting development on the parcels offered
Jan. 2007: The BLM requests the IBLA remand the appeals so that the Forest Service and the
BLM can remedy the inadequate environmental analysis. Wyoming Outdoor Council opposes
remand without cancellation of the leases. The agencies argue that objective analysis can occur
without cancellation and that the option to cancel the leases remains after the updated
environmental review is prepared.
Feb. 2007: The IBLA grants the remand request and does not require lease cancellation. It
makes it clear; however, that “[f]ollowing further analysis on remand, BLM may decide that it is
necessary to cancel the leases.”
June 2007: Senator Thomas announces his intention to draft legislation that would protect the
range. Sadly, a few days later he dies of leukemia.
Summer-Fall 2007: Gov. Freudenthal appoints John Barrasso to replace Thomas. In October
Sen. Barrasso introduces the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, which will prohibit future oil and gas
leasing on 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range and facilitate a process by which valid,
existing leases could be donated, purchased or traded and then retired permanently.
February 2008: The Wyoming Range Legacy Act passes out of committee after Governor
Freudenthal and Gary Amerine, an outfitter and one of the founders of Citizens Protecting the
Wyoming Range, testify in support of the bill. Although the contested lease acres are within the
withdrawal boundary, the language of the bill makes clear that resolution of the contested 44,720
acres will result from the agencies’ administrative processes, not the passage of the legislation.
April 2008: The Forest Service announces its intention to prepare a supplemental environmental
impact statement (EIS) for the 44,720 acres of contested leases. The agency explains that the
purpose of the process “is to determine whether and to what extent analysis of new issues and
information might alter the oil and gas leasing decision.”
April 2008: Wyoming Outdoor Council uncovers via FOIA requests to the Forest Service that
one of the high bidding companies, Stanley Energy, is not only paying for the preparation of the
EIS, but that the company entered into a MOU with the Forest Service that granted them
oversight and improper involvement in the process. The governor’s office raises objections.
May 2008: The Forest Service issues a statement admitting that “mistakes were made” in the
deal with Stanley Energy that had compromised “public trust and confidence.” The agency
withdraws from the MOU and agrees to pay for the analysis itself.
August 2008: Wyoming Outdoor Council and The Wilderness Society host a field trip in the
Wyoming Range for citizens to learn more about the leasing EIS. Regional and District Forest
Service staff attend and provide information about the status of the leasing EIS. The acceleratedtimeline aims for release of a draft EIS prior to the change in administrations.Dec. 2008: The Wyoming Range Legacy Act is packaged with more than 150 other public lands
bills having bipartisan support in an omnibus package.
Jan. 2009: The Omnibus Public Land Management Act passed the Senate.
March 2009: The Act, and in it the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, passes the House with
overwhelming bipartisan support. President Obama signs it into law. Although the Act does not
resolve the controversy surrounding the 44,720 acres, because these acres are included in the
withdrawal boundary, if the Forest Service decides not to lease (and thus cancel and withdraw
the contested parcels) these acres would be permanently off limits to future oil and gas leasing.
Fall 2009: The EIS process for the 44,720 acres is still underway. In addition to the changed
circumstances in the valley that we noted in our appeals (e.g. degraded air quality, impacts to
mule deer, etc.) the passage of the Wyoming Range Legacy Act sends a significant message to
the Forest Service that this place is far too valuable for recreation, wildlife and its scenic values
to risk sacrificing to industrial development.
It was the leasing of these acres in 2005-2006 that inspired the widespread and diverse support
for protective legislation. We hope the agency agrees with the vast majority of the public that
that the “no action” alternative, which would require cancellation and withdraw of the leases, is
the best resolution.
January 2010: The Forest Service issues the draft EIS with the “no action” as its preferred
alternative. This is great news.
November 2010: We await the final EIS and record of decision, which, if the “no action”
alternative is retained, will safeguard the 44,720 acres.