Oil drilling threatens nation’s first national forest

By Lisa McGee

THE SHOSHONE NATIONAL FOREST could approve, in the coming months, a decade-old application to drill for oil near Dubois, Wyoming. If the project is given the green light, it would be the first well drilled on the Shoshone in more than 20 years.

Because the drilling would be part of a larger oil and gas unit—more development could follow. As is, the project would require the clear-cutting and leveling of several acres of Shoshone National Forest land to make way for new and upgraded roads and a large well pad.

The U.S. Forest Service has indicated it intends to bypass an in-depth environmental review of this proposed project.

The Outdoor Council believes the Shoshone National Forest deserves better. The proposed oil well was controversial ten years ago and is even more unsettling today. The Council’s members are requesting that the agency proceed more cautiously, and with a thorough review of potential impacts to nearby streams and to big game species, such as elk.

The area where the drilling would take place is important elk winter range and spring calving grounds and is right in the middle of an elk migration route that links the forest to Yellowstone National Park.

It is also an area referred to as “bear central” by a local wildlife manager, because it provides some of the most important springtime grizzly bear habitat in the Greater Yellowstone area, offering the bears a wide variety of lower-elevation food sources.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

Although the Forest Service is not hosting any official public meetings regarding this project, Rick Metzger, the Wind River district ranger, has agreed to meet with interested citizens on Tuesday, February 2, at 6 p.m., at the Forest Service office in Dubois. The Wyoming Outdoor Council is encouraging people to attend.

The Shoshone National Forest is accepting public comments on the project until February 8.

Those interested can send comments to: Rick Metzger, Wind River Ranger District, P.O. Box 186, Dubois, WY 82513, or by email at comments-rocky-mountain-shoshone-wind-river@fs.fed.us or fax a comment to (307) 455-3866 ATTN: Rick Metzger. Include “Scott Well #2” in subject line of emails and faxes.

OLD APPLICATION

This drilling proposal originally came before the U.S. Forest Service in 1999 and—due to public opposition and company inaction then and over the last decade—it was never approved and has remained under suspension.

But late in 2009 the Bureau of Land Management urged the Forest Service to deal with the long-suspended lease, and the Service responded by contacting the company, Hudson Group, LLC, which subsequently expressed a renewed interest in developing the lease.

This fall, the Forest Service indicated it would prefer to opt out of completing a detailed environmental review, claiming the project meets criteria such that it could be “categorically excluded” from review, which would essentially fast-track the approval. Traditionally used for minor administrative actions such as painting a building or mowing a lawn—actions that will have an insignificant effect on the environment—the use of categorical exclusions was expanded under the prior presidential administration. This type of exclusion was adopted toward the end of the last administration, and it would be its first application on any national forest in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council believes the authorization of this kind of industrial development should be made only with the most careful and detailed environmental analysis. The Shoshone is one of our most treasured national forests, and is one of this country’s last, best places for wildlife, biodiversity, and untouched backcountry landscapes.

WILD BACKCOUNTRY

Bordering Yellowstone National Park, the Shoshone National Forest is the United State’s first federally protected national forest, created by an act of Congress in 1891.

Some have mused that if Teddy Roosevelt were to explore the Shoshone today, it would look very much the same to him as it did when he visited in the late 19th century. This is a testament to an engaged public that has demanded routinely and passionately that the Shoshone be managed to retain the wild characteristics that set it apart from other forests in this country and around the globe. The Shoshone National Forest is what we at the Outdoor Council refer to as a “heritage landscape.” Heritage landscapes are places where the wildlife, scenic, historic, cultural, or recreational values are too important to the people of Wyoming—and to the nation as a whole—to sacrifice to industrial development.

The Council is working to ensure that the Shoshone National Forest remains a place where wildlife continues to thrive and people can go to experience world-class backcountry hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing—not unlike the experiences people had more than a century ago. There are perhaps few better examples of a heritage landscape than the Shoshone National Forest.

Contact: Lisa McGee, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 307-332-7031 x20; lisa@wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org.

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