Greens are still seeing red

  • WESTERN DREAM: Mac Blewer in Wyoming's Red Desert with Oregon Buttes in the background

    Mike McClure


After 100 years of failed attempts to protect southwest Wyoming's Red Desert, environmentalists say it's do or die. Oil and gas companies plan to sink 10,000 to 15,000 wells by 2010, and a coalition of conservation groups, ranchers and outfitters doesn't think the Bureau of Land Management's plan will protect the area.

Mac Blewer of the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the state's largest environmental group, says the alternatives listed in the agency's draft environmental impact statement fail to safeguard the 575,000-acre desert, centered on the Jack Morrow Hills, from mineral development. The agency is trying to please everyone, he says, and can't let go of its "age-old love affair with the mineral industry."

"The Red Desert represents everything about the West that Americans dream about," says Blewer (HCN, 5/27/96: Wyoming's Red Desert: 15 million acres of contention). It's significant both biologically and culturally, he says; the desert is home to some 40,000 pronghorn antelope that make up the largest migratory game herd in the lower 48 states, and contains significant sites left by both pioneers and Native Americans. "Visitors aren't coming to see oil and gas fields," he says.

The coalition has submitted an alternative citizens' proposal, which would allow some grazing and off-road vehicle use, but would halt all oil and gas leasing within the area. It would also designate the Red Desert as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, forcing the BLM to write a specific management plan for the area.

The BLM is reviewing the citizens' proposal and the 12,000 other public comments it has received before it issues a final EIS. The BLM's Renee Dana says the agency's goal is to "strike a balance" between the multiple uses of the area. She adds that by the time the agency releases a final EIS, it will probably be too late for Bruce Babbitt to sign a Record of Decision. That chore would fall to the next secretary of the Interior.

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