Trump’s gas wells in Wyoming would block pronghorn migration

The 170-mile route has been traveled for 6,000 years. Conservation groups are trying to prevent 3,500 new wells from severing it.

 

Pronghorn pass their migration memories onto their offspring. As their routes are cut off, so too is that inheritance, researchers say.
This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here with permission.

The Path of the Pronghorn is a 170-mile migration route that the antelope-like creatures have traveled annually for 6,000 years. It is one of North America’s last remaining long-distance terrestrial migration corridors.

And it is at risk. This week conservation groups filed a legal petition challenging the Trump administration’s plan to allow 3,500 new gas wells in southwestern Wyoming that would block the route.

The petition alleges that the government approved the wells without properly analyzing the potential harm to pronghorn and the greater sage grouse, a chicken-like bird that requires vast, intact landscapes for habitat, from well pads, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure. The frack-field expansion would prevent access to winter ranges that pronghorn need to survive.

Migration memory is passed from parent to offspring among ungulates, said the conservationist Linda Baker, the director of the Upper Green River Alliance. “If we cut off their migration route, that memory is lost and not likely to be regained in the life of a pronghorn. This area is a high cold desert, so they survive on sagebrush. If they can’t get to traditional winter ranges on these pathways, they won’t survive.”

“If we cut off their migration route, that memory is lost and not likely to be regained in the life of a pronghorn.”

The migrating animals belong to the the Sublette herd, which has already declined by 40% in the past decade. About 300 animals from this herd live in a summer range in Grand Teton national park in north-western Wyoming and travel the Path of the Pronghorn to their winter range in the Upper Green River Valley in south-east Wyoming.

The northern portion of their route is protected as the nation’s first national pronghorn migration corridor. Oil and gas leasing and development is closed, wildlife overpasses and underpasses have been installed along major roadways, and millions of dollars in wildlife-friendly fencing have replaced barbed wire fences that prevented pronghorn passage.

“If this corridor is destroyed by natural gasfields, the people that come to Grand Teton to see these amazing animals will no longer be able to see them,” said Linda Baker, director of the Upper Green River Alliance.
But the southern portion, where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permitted Jonah Energy to build the 3,500 new wells, enjoys no such protection. In fact, the migration corridor on this end has already been narrowed by two existing neighboring gasfields.

Studies show pronghorn do not deviate from their ancient routes, so blocking access to these southerly habitats would probably destroy the park’s entire pronghorn herd and further reduce the Sublette pronghorn population.

“We’re very concerned about what this could do for the pronghorn of Grand Teton national park,” said Kelly Fuller, the energy and mining campaign director at Western Watersheds Project. “BLM never analyzed these impacts, even though they knew this could happen. They never analyzed what would happen to the park if it lost its pronghorn, or what would happen to communities that promote pronghorn migration for tourism.”

The BLM is currently reviewing the legal petition, but it told the Guardian that it believed the energy permits complied with rules regulating wildlife and conservation.

Unlike birds that have individual stopover locations along migratory routes, entire regional landscapes must be managed in order to conserve ungulate migrations so that animals can find mates, food and seasonal habitats.

Conservationists decry the fossil-fuel permits as short-sighted.

“If this corridor is destroyed by natural gas fields, the people that come to Grand Teton to see these amazing animals will no longer be able to see them,” said Baker. “It’s just not acceptable to let a beautiful species like this go extinct in one of our most iconic national parks.”

Cassidy Randall is a freelance writer based in Montana telling stories about all things outdoors, from adventure to public lands and conservation. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

This story is published with the 
Guardian as part of their two-year series, This Land is Your Land, examining the threats facing America’s public lands, with support from the Society of Environmental Journalists.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...