“A lease sale back in 2008 was the impetus for the Greater Little Mountain Coalition to be formed. The prized recreation and wildlife area is a local hot spot that after working a long week folks like to unwind and enjoy this home place – Little Mountain, Pine Mountain, Trout Creek, Red Creek, and Miller Mountain are where we go,” says Craig Thompson, Western Wyoming Community College Professor Emeritus.
Wyoming residents, including Republican county commissioners, are contesting a proposal to lease thousands of acres of key wildlife habitat for oil and gas development under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s new leasing rules.
Zinke in January stripped state Bureau of Land Management officials of the power to postpone leases, a practice widely used by the agency while developing long term management plans for an area. BLM Wyoming officials had previously postponed drilling activity in parts of Sweetwater County while the agency gathered local stakeholder input and rewrote the area’s comprehensive Resource Management Plan.
But with a memo issued in January, “that decision now lies with Secretary Zinke,” said Tasha Sorensen, Trout Unlimited’s Wyoming field representative, and he’s implementing a faster leasing schedule.
With the power shifted to Washington, the BLM is now considering leasing almost 700,000 acres in southwest Wyoming in December.
Sweetwater County Commissioners are concerned the new policy threatens the Greater Little Mountain Area — and a years-long collaborative effort to determine its management. Covering 522,236 acres of public land, the GLMA has been called “a hidden gem of the West,” “the crown jewel for wildlife and recreation,” and “some of the most sensitive fish and wildlife habitat in Wyoming.”
Sweetwater commissioners also contest proposed leasing in the 150-mile mule deer migration route known as “Hoback to Red Desert.” Recent studies show much of that route was used by at least one deer that traveled considerably farther — 242 miles one way.
On March 20, Sweetwater County sent a letter to Governor Mead requesting that he consider asking the BLM to delay these proposed GLMA and Migration Corridor oil and gas sales until the public has had an opportunity to provide comment on the Draft RMP. Also, that letter was sent to the Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, the Wyoming congressional delegation and the BLM.
The Coalition began working with the BLM in early 2000 to limit leasing and drilling that threatened the area’s prized big game herds and cold-water fisheries.
These efforts, aided by a series of reforms adopted by BLM in 2010 that further encouraged community-driven solutions to resolving oil and gas conflicts on nearby public lands, resulted in a broadly-supported proposal that would safeguard much of Little Mountain’s most important big game habitat and fisheries, while still allowing for responsible development in the right places.
The BLM had agreed to consider this proposal through the ongoing revision to its land use plan for the Rock Springs area.
However, at the end of January, the Interior Department cancelled those reforms, and threw into doubt whether the BLM would continue to honor the voices of local communities and the Coalition in developing a well-rounded, sustainable solution for Little Mountain.
Members and partners, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Bureau of Land Management, have contributed more than $4.5 million to complete habitat projects designed to conserve and enhance native cutthroat trout and big game habitat, improve grazing management and provide opportunities for hunting, angling and other outdoor recreation activities.