B-T calls for better science

Forest rethinks energy leases

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Date: May 6, 2011

 

Bridger-Teton National Forest supervisor Jacque Buchanan on Thursday backtracked on a decision to withdraw energy leases on 44,720 acres in the Wyoming Range, citing the need for more analysis.

In January, Buchanan withdrew 35 leases on the 44,720 acres, saying energy development in that part of the Wyoming Range would cause unacceptable impacts to air quality and wildlife, particularly Canada lynx, a species that is considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Stanley Energy, Inc., the Western Energy Alliance, Wold Oil Properties and Sublette County Commissioners appealed the decision. Late last month, Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and other members of Congress asked regional forester Harv Forsgren to rescind the decision, saying it was bad for the country’s energy independence and security.

The Jan. 25 decision to withdraw the leases is “under great scrutiny and it’s going to be challenged,” Buchanan said when reach by phone while on vacation Thursday in Florida.  “I looked at it and determined, after receiving the appeals and looking at the record, that we have a little more work to do.”

Buchanan officially took her post as Forest Supervisor on the Bridger-Teton in late summer of 2010.

 “It’s my opportunity to go back and give it a really good look,” she said of reviewing the decision. “It’s an opportunity that I haven’t had because I came into it so late.”

In particular, Buchanan said she would take a closer look on sections of the decision dealing with air quality, lynx and mule deer.

“From my view, there were some things we could improve upon that could better document the decision rationale,” she said. “It was not that I saw a major issue with how the process went. I said, ‘There are some things we can add to it to make the analysis more complete.’”

The result of this new analysis won’t necessarily echo her January decision, she said.

“There’s no absolute,” she said. “I’m going to let the [National Environmental Policy Act] process drive where we end up — to be true to the process and not be pre-decisional. There will be plenty of public opportunity to comment, regardless.”

Conservation groups said withdrawing the decision isn’t necessarily a win for the energy companies. “We support [Buchanan’s] decision to do a more thorough analysis,” said Lisa McGee, national forests and parks program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “This is an important decision and she should take the time to get it right.”

“We’re confident that, once the analysis is complete, the Forest Service will be on even firmer ground to not open up the Wyoming Range for oil and gas leases,” she added.