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More BLM thoughts and Jack Turner’s new book

I just love Jack Turner’s writing.  He hasn’t written much, but the stuff he does write is great.  His easy style of writing weaves a lot of good facts, ecological outrage, and story detail.  I’ve just finished his new book “Travels in the Greater Yellowstone”.  Each chapter explores a different area of the ecosystem, either with his wife Dana, or sometimes hiking with a friend.

Turner spurred some additional thoughts on my last entry regarding the Big Horn Basin BLM plans.  The commissioners in the surrounding counties got together and hired, with our tax dollars, a company to do an analysis of oil and gas in the basin; really paying them to turn out a document that would support what the commissioners want.  From the presentation the company gave at the commissioners meeting, they did a good job distorting facts to support massive development as a sound idea.  For instance, they had slides of pronghorn and deer around gas wells.

Now for a pertinent comment by Turner in his chapter on the Green River Lakes, where the Jonah and Pinedale gas fields have taken over the Pinedale area:

“What is the status of sage-grouse populations here?  As usual, none of the interested parties agree about the numbers–counting is political–but no one denies that this basin is one of the species’ remaining strongholds and that it is suffering plenty.  One study suggests that the 1,200 or so sage grouse that live around the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline gas fields will be gone in twenty years.  The government, worried sick that Endangered Species listing will radically curtail energy development, has called for a Sagebrush Grouse Summit.  Nor is it just the grouse that are a problem.  The mule deer population has already declined 46 percent in the area around the Pinedale Anticline field.  They are supposed to be protected in the winter by limits on drillings, but the limits are a farce.  The energy companies can request exemptions and the BLM grants damn near every one of their requests.”

Turner is my kind of guy.  He is no-nonsense blunt when it comes to the environment.  For those who are thinking in support of Plan C, the commissioners drilling dream, here’s another wonderful quote:

So…Wyoming has another energy boom–there have been many.  And when the boom collapses–all booms throughout history eventually go bust–the resources and traditions that could have sustained the state for centuries will be gone.  Who will want to vacation in a Superfund site?”

That is my bold and for good reason, because our commissioners have forgotten what we love about the Cody area and why people come to visit here. They also seem to have forgotten the amount of revenue that comes from tourists.

Big Horn Mountains looking from the Big Horn Basin

At one time, I was going to buy land in the Pinedale area.  This was before the boom.  I’d been coming there every summer since 1996.  I’d stay at the wonderful Wagon Wheel motel, a tiny place that’s been there forever.  The town was just one street with no good restaurants, but a great outdoor equipment store.  It was nice and sleepy and I loved it.  Jackson was an hour and a half away, through the Hoback Canyon, “a canyon that in any other part of the country would be a national park“.  Pinedale reminded me just a little of Jackson in 1972 when I first came to these parts.  I could live here, I said to myself.

But then things changed, almost overnight.  The next summer I arrived and there was an Americinn, charging $265/night vs. my little motel at $50/night, and all the hotels were booked.

“What is happening here?”  I asked.  The Jonah field, they said.  It was the beginning.  From what the townspeople told me, Bush/Cheney more than tripled the amount of lease permits allowed to be issued for drilling per year, pushing them through with little regulations, and nixed the required townhall meetings.  That was over seven years ago and back then the townspeople were complaining about the lights to me…”You can see those lights in the oil fields from up in the Wind Rivers”.  There’s been a lot of growth since then, so much so that ozone alerts occur regularly in the winter.  They have worse smog/ozone in that area than the whole of  Los Angeles.  Needless to say, I was no longer going to buy property there.  I began looking around Cody and the first thing I asked my realtor was about oil/gas development here.

“The oil fields are all old and pretty much maxed out”, he said.  What he nor I didn’t consider was new technology and the nation’s thirst for energy.

Last summer I drove, quickly, through Pinedale up from the south on my way back from a trip through Big Sandy in the Winds.  Miles of tacky housing fills the once open spaces, probably houses for the workers.  The growth in just the last seven years, or degradation of the environment depending upon how you look at it, is amazing.

“Seventy percent of the Wind River lakes that are more than 9,000 feet have low alkalinity levels, hence they are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of oil, gas, and coal-bed methane development upwind in the Green River Basin and Wyoming Range, which will disgorge a cocktail of toxic fumes into the air twenty-four hours a day for the next fifty to hundred years.  The Wind River Range and its three crown jewels of America’s wilderness system have the misfortune to be immediately downwind.  Air standards already are being violated with only 600 wells in operation–and with 10,000 more planned, pollution can only get worse.”

Our last wild places in the lower 48, where grizzlies can still roam, and pronghorn can still migrate, are being chopped up and compromised.  If this is not an outrage, then we are not awake.

Hear ye, Hear ye, Commissioners:

“When people ask what Wyoming should do with those billions of dollars in mineral royalties left over in the budget, I say: Invest them.  Future generations in this state are going to need more than billions to clean up their wasteland.”–Jack Turner