Migration task force sets standards for most uses

Joy Ufford photo Members of the Governor’s Migration Corridor Advisory Group listen to public comments during the two-day meeting in Pinedale on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12.

‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’

The Governor’s Migration

Corridor Advisory Group’s final two days

of meetings in Pinedale narrowed down its

recommendations for the governor’s consideration

to protect designated mule deer and

antelope migration corridors from disruptive

activities on public lands.

One common denominator for each member

was the strong belief that maintaining and

protecting centuries-old migration routes and

the animals that use them – especially mule

deer – is of great, even utmost, importance.

Facilitator Ryan Lance led the eight members

through the Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 meeting

at the Bureau of Land Management’s Pinedale

Field Office. Renny MacKay, senior policy

advisor for Gov. Mark Gordon, said the governor

asked the small group of Wyomingites

to shape recommendations he could consider

while shaping his own policies and decisions

on proposed development – or not – on public

lands’ big-game migration corridors.

Wyoming Game and Fish has “designated”

migration corridors, the Red Desert to Hoback

Mule Deer Migration and the Platte Valley

Mule Deer Migration routes. More are proposed

including the Sublette Pronghorn Migration

Corridor and the Wyoming Range Mule

Deer Migration Corridor.

Members are Commissioner John Espy of

Carbon County, conservation’s Kathy Lichtendahl

of Park County, recreation’s Max Ludington

of Teton County, Wyoming Game and

Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid of Lincoln

County, sportsman Dan Stanton of Sweetwater

County, mining’s Marty Stearns from Sweetwater

County, rancher Marissa Taylor of Uinta

County and energy’s QEP manager Kevin William

from Sublette County.

Throughout the summer, they intensely debated

topics of oil and gas, recreation, research,

grazing/ private lands, hunting, mining, renewable

energy, pipelines, transmission lines and

county governments/ gravel pits.

First steps

The group agreed to ask Gov. Gordon for

an executive order to protect wildlife migration

routes. It also agreed that the Game and

Fish’s corridor designation process could be rearranged

to get more public, county and local

working groups’ input earlier in its designation

process.

McKay noted the suggested policy shift and

that local working groups “can influence and

make recommendations including related to

mitigation benefits and opportunities.”

For all eight, it was simple to agree that

“bottlenecks” or pinch-points in a migration

corridor should offer no surface occupancy for

oil and gas development or any other permitted

activity.

The group then split about how to regard

wildlife stopovers essential for forage and rest.

Half said there should be no development at

high-use stopovers whatsoever; the other half

Joy Ufford photo

Members of the Governor’s Migration Corridor Advisory Group listen to public

comments during the two-day meeting in Pinedale on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12.

Migration task force sets standards for most uses

‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’

By Joy Ufford, [email protected]

said that would be “too restrictive.”

Williams said, “The first step is avoidance;

obviously we all want to do that. … We’re losing

flexibility by saying absolutely no surface

occupancy.”

Espy reminded the group that not all mineral

rights lay underneath public lands – “There’s

the potential for taking a quarter-million acres

of private property rights as a worst-case scenario.”

“We could say there are exceptions, modifications

and waivers on a case by case basis,”

Lance said.

Stopovers

Stopovers are mapped by years of GPScollared

animals’ movements, which the group

recognized have yet to be determined as low,

medium or high use with more GPS-collar

data.

“Science says these are critical parts of these

corridors,” said Lichtendahl, asking for the

“strongest protections possible.”

Lance said, “Start with the presumption the

answer (to development) is ‘no.’ We’ll open

up that door – we need to have a relief valve

somewhere.”

Once the compromise was tendered, Game

and Fish Commissioner Schmid spoke strongly

against “the cracked door.”

“Mule deer continue to slip; we can do

something on this public land right now,” he

said.

Espy pointed out that by banning energy

development, other multiple uses would be restricted

as well, which other members noted.

“Where does that put agriculture, recreation

– the area is now closed to the public,” he said.

Compromises

The group agreed it could go no further with

one voice – except to strongly advise conservation

and mitigation for development and not

impact the corridor’s functionality, flexibility

and herd health.

“We’re probably as close as we’re going to

get to consensus right now,” Williams said.

MacKay read back his notes for the governor:

“(T)he goal is to ensure functionality and

healthy corridors … by avoiding and minimizing

with an emphasis on conservation of highuse

areas. Greater value should be placed on

those priority areas. Decisions should be made

in consultation with Game and Fish using best

available science. That consultation and recommendation

would be approved or denied by the

governor.”

The advisory group agreed to follow the

same guidelines for more nomadic pronghorn

with no development at bottlenecks and trimming

the size of stopovers and corridors as

more GPS-collar data come in.

“Case by case”

After the door opened for “case by case”

review, state leasing and applications for permits

to drill in corridors found possible avenues

through state-based processes. Wyoming Office

of State Lands’ Jason Crowder said his

office is not bound to executive orders but

can adopt one and write lease language as requested

by the governor.

“Renewables” such as wind farms and solar

arrays, they all agreed, are more disruptive than

oil and gas with more on-the-ground structures

and facilities. It was recommended that all projects

go to the state’s Industrial Siting Council.

Trona, uranium, bentonite and other minerals

proposals can be evaluated through the

same general reference to preserving a migration

corridor’s continuity, flexibility and functionality,

according to Lance.

As for approving leases in a migration corridor,

Joe Scott, Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission

natural resources supervisor, said his

office also could impose whatever restrictions

the state wants for applications for permits to

drill (APDs) as it does for important greater

sage-grouse habitat. In fact, he said, all APDs

could be run through the WOGC office.

Gravel pits of less than 15 acres are essential

for counties to use for road repairs, Espy

noted. Currently, those are approved (or not)

by county commissioners. Ludington said it is

important to support county officials with more

knowledge about disturbances in mule deer or

pronghorn corridors.

“A 15-acre gravel pit put in a corridor is

as much or more of a disturbance than oil and

gas,” Stearns said. “Bottlenecks – no. High

use – avoid and minimize. Stopovers – avoid,

avoid, avoid.”

Pipelines and transmission lines, generally

buried, could be sited more flexibly if in

a corridor but some come with access roads.

Ultra’s Jasmine Allison pointed out that federal

regulations require a trench to be closed within

10 days of being opened. “If you don’t have a

pipeline, you will have more truck traffic.”

Game and Fish Migration Specialist Jill

Randall said it might be better to leave temporary

water lines as they are. “In some terrain,

you can’t bury them.”

The group agreed on seasonal restrictions

for construction of larger transmission lines

to subdivisions, for example. Also, disturbed

surfaces can be reclaimed.

“We need to be consistent as far as the end

goals,” Stearns said. “What’s good for the

goose is good for the gander.”

Moving on

Recommendations to Gov. Gordon for an

executive order included finding money for

research, wildlife-friendly fences and highway

crossings and setting up a process for local

working groups, Game and Fish reviews and

state agencies.

The group also asked about legislation to

back up an executive order for migration corridors.

Sen. Eli Bebout, chairman of the Senate Appropriations

Committee, said he “is looking at

huge deficit in revenues,” advising members to

“keep the doors open for oil and gas.”

He advised they work with local officials.

As for funds for fences and highway crossings,

Bebout said, “Yeah, I would look at that. We’re

going to have a half billion shortfall. … You

bet I’ll look at that. Every day $4 million goes

into the state coffers from oil and gas.”

Ludington said, “I would love to see legislation

to back up this EO.”

“Count me in; glad to be a sponsor,” Bebout

said. “… Be smart about how you do it.”

For more

For additional coverage about the Governor’s

Migration Corridor Advisory Group’s

Aug. 11-12 meetings in Pinedale, see the Friday,

Aug. 16, Pinedale Roundup. For more

about the group, its past meetings and reports,

go to https://sites.google.com/view/wywildlifemigrationadvisorygrp/

home.

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