September 12, 2008

Wildlife Groups Deserve Voice at Energy Table

The mantra across this country recently is that not enough drilling is taking place to help lower record-setting gasoline prices or to slake this country's thirst for natural gas.

Government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management - in a rush to respond to the bidding of the White House - often turn a blind eye to energy development's impact on wildlife in the West.

Well, wildlife now is getting some support from a recently formed group: Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development. Some of the organizations joining hands are the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Wyoming Council of Trout Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Make one thing clear: These groups are not out to stop oil and gas development in Wyoming or in the West. They understand that the abundance of energy is in high demand across America, and to stop this would put the nation in jeopardy.

On the other hand, their concern for wildlife is real. And their goal is to develop a more rational process that will allow development to move ahead while protecting the animals that live on the land.

One example: A study near Pinedale, where development is in high gear, found a 40 percent decline in mule deer. This is critical winter range for one of the largest mule deer herds in the state. Yet the BLM is moving ahead with plans open about 85 percent of the area to drilling and to approve 4,399 new natural-gas wells.

Another problem is that companies are allowed to continue to work in winter ranges and to disturb wildlife. Having a buffer in the calendar is important for the health and safety of wildlife.

Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development believes the needs of wildlife can be balanced against the needs for energy by using smarter development. That includes:

- Having many wells on one pad. With directional drilling now feasible, this should be a requirement for all.

- Instead of sending trucks to well sites, why not have all the oil and gas pumped to central locations? There, trucks can pick it up without harming pristine habitat.

- Companies need to go the extra mile to protect vital fish and wildlife habitat on public lands. Sage ground leks, fragile trout streams and deer and elk winter ranges can't be replaced if they are lost in the name of extraction.

The group offers other proposals as well.

There is no way that energy development is going stop. On the other hand, companies will do what it takes to extract resources from Wyoming. With that said, public officials should demand that companies make every effort to protect wildlife, which is another important state resource.

For that to happen, wildlife groups should be given a place at the table - and be listened to - when energy development or expansion is considered. After all, something precious to the people of this state - wildlife - is at stake.

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