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
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.