Forest Service recommends cancellation of contested leases

THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE HAS INDICATED IT INTENDS TO REVERSE COURSE on a previous decision to lease 44,000 acres in the Wyoming Range for oil and gas development.

The federal agency on Thursday released a draft of its long-awaited updated analysis of contested oil and gas leases on the eastern front of the Wyoming Range in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The draft states the agency’s preferred course of action now is to cancel all of the contested leases—a decision that would be in line with the wishes of a broad coalition that has worked for four years to protect the Wyoming Range from development. Those working to protect the range include Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, area ranchers, sportsmen’s groups, labor union members, outfitters, outdoors enthusiasts and conservation organizations.

LEASES CONTROVERSIAL FROM THE START

The Forest Service leased the acres in question for oil and gas development in four sales in 2005 and 2006. The leases faced numerous protests from conservation groups, labor unions, hunters and fishermen, concerned citizens, and the governor’s office, among others—who came together to stop the industrialization of the Wyoming Range, and conserve its recreational values.

The Wyoming Range Legacy Act—introduced by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso in October 2007 in response to the development threats—was signed into law in March 2009. The act removed 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range from future oil and gas leasing, and had widespread public support.

The legislation left the fate of the 44,720 acres of contested leases to the agencies. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management decided in August to rescind about half of the contested leases, and refund the high bidders.

This latest draft analysis by the Forest Service addresses the entire 44,720 acres—not simply the remaining 21,000 acres—because industry is currently challenging the BLM’s decision to rescind the other half of the leases.

This updated analysis shows that the Forest Service’s preferred alternative is to cancel all of the leases from the first two sales.

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

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