More than two dozen outdoor advocacy groups wrote the US Forest Service this week, asking it to remove almost 45,000 acres-worth of land in the Wyoming Range from consideration for oil and gas leases.
The organizations, including Trout Unlimited and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said the land comprises vital habitat for mule deer, moose and cutthroat trout.
This follows an initiative in which the nonprofit Trust for Public Land raised private donations to buy 58,000 leases from Plains Exploration Company in the Bridger-Teton National Forest earlier this year and retired them.
Petroleum Association of Wyoming President Bruce Hinchey says these petitions from conservation groups have contributed to a drastic slowdown in leasing in the past five years, which is limiting the state’s economic clout.
“There is a lot of gas potential in the area, as we’ve seen recently, not only with older wells, but new wells that have been brought online, with huge plants that feed some of our major companies in the state,” Hinchey says.
Hinchey says the Wyoming Range Legacy Act already protects 1.4 million acres in the area as wilderness. He says he thinks it’s unhelpful to Wyoming to take more land out of production without establishing another use for it.
“I think any time that you look at trying to buy up a lease and not produce it takes away revenues and jobs from the state as well as the federal government,” says Hinchey.
Steve Kilpatrick of the Wyoming Wildlife Foundation defended the protections in a press release, saying that the state generates $5.2 million dollars a year from hunting and fishing in the area.