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Reclamation in Pinedale Anticline has created healthy environment for insect and vegetation growth 

Wyoming Public Media

The largest gas field in Wyoming – and the sixth largest in the country – has been undergoing reclamation over the past few years, and new research shows it has been effective.

The Pinedale Anticline Natural Gas Field spans 198,000 acresin west-central Wyoming. It was part of the oil and gas boom in the 2000s.

Although it is still active, nearly 70 percent of disturbed land is in the reclamation process. Replanting the sites can be tricky, as the area receives little precipitation and frost-free days.

“They're some of the hardest areas in the entire country to get vegetation to grow,” Michael Curran, ecologist and researcher who studied the area, said. “And it's just amazing that folks from industry have figured that out.”

Many of the well-pad sites have been planted with native grasses and floral pollinator plants.

Curran, along with other researchers primarily from the University of Wyoming, were curious about how the vegetation and insects coexisted on the reclaimed sites.

“They can be key indicators of ecosystem functionality,” Curran said. “On top of that, insects are such a critical component of diets of various bird species, including the greater sage grouse.”

The Upper Green River Basin, which includes the Pinedale Anticline, is seen as one of the last ecosystems where the greater sage grouse are thriving – although their numbers are dwindling. The sage grouse was nearly listed as an endangered species in 2015.

But, Curran said he is relatively optimistic from his research. They found reclaimed sites to be a better environment for insects compared to similar vegetated areas that weren’t reclaimed or drilled.

Specifically, the insects preferred the sites planted with floral pollinator plants. In some instances, they saw a six to 12 times increase in insects, and 73 times more beetles.

“We know beetles are one of the very critical components of sage grouse diets in the early season, especially for sage grouse chicks.”

Curran said a similar follow-up study is currently in review for the Jonah Natural Gas Field – 30,000 acres south of Pinedale.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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