PXP proposal ignores best wildlife science

Deer herd in jeopardy

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

April 15, 2011

A mule deer herd hit hard by energy development in Sublette County would likely suffer further if such development is allowed in the Noble Basin southeast of Jackson, wildlife advocates said Thursday.

A substantial portion of the herd relies on Noble Basin in Sublette County’s Wyoming Range for a migration corridor and transitional range, wildlife advocates said during a teleconference. The deer in question are part of the Sublette Mule Deer Herd that winters on the Pinedale Mesa, approximately 90 miles southeast of Jackson.

At least one deer has been tracked from summer range on Snow King Mountain to the mesa. Deer on and near the mesa, site of the Pinedale Anticline field, have declined by 60 percent since 2001, according to research by Western Ecosystems Technology biologist Hall Sawyer.

A U.S. Forest Service draft document examining a plan to drill 136 wells from 17 drill pads in Noble Basin fails to include not only Sawyer’s data, but other research showing the importance of the area to wildlife, said Bill Alldredge, a wildlife ecologist and former professor at Colorado State University.

“Their data show that the Noble Basin area is an extremely important wildlife corridor,” Alldredge said. Forty-two of the deer Sawyer tracked — “a significant portion of the [mule deer] sampled,” Alldredge said — moved through Noble Basin.

The gas field is proposed on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The basin also is important to other species like pronghorn.

Transitional range is important because it provides needed calories for animals to build fat before they move to winter range and also helps replenish fat reserves that animals have burned off during the winter, Alldredge said.

“The [document] largely ignored that body of scientific literature,” he said. “The studies they did use were outdated and, in some places, the studies they used were misrepresented.”

The result is an incomplete document, Alldredge asserted.

“They failed to play [by the rules of] Forest Service regulations and the National Environmental Policy Act,” he said.

The lessons learned from the loss of mule deer on the mesa should not be ignored, said Walt Gasson, director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

“Without question, mule deer have been losers, hunters have been losers,” he said. “That’s not right.

“I’m confident that unless real people are involved, actively involved, as the process goes forward we’ll get what we got from the Anticline,” Gasson said. “We’ve already seen what will happen.”

Sweetwater County resident Carl Bennett, who has worked in the minerals extraction industry, said Noble Basin has been a part of his family’s heritage for decades.

“My father passed this on to me when I was a boy,” Bennett said of the area. “He said ... treat it with respect; if you do that it will always be there.

“I can’t do that with my children,” if Noble Basin becomes a gas field, he said. “It’d break my heart to have to pass that on to my children.”

Plains Exploration and Production Company has asked the Bridger-Teton for permission to develop the gas field. The development would include the construction of gas and liquids gathering lines and facilities, the upgrade of 14 miles of existing roads and the construction of nearly 15 miles of new roads.

The area would be in production for more than 30 years.