Wyoming is home to some of the Lower 48's greatest energy resources, particularly natural gas. The southwestern corner of the state currently is the hot spot in terms of energy exploration, and one area companies have their eyes on is the Wyoming Range. Some Interior Department officials, however, are opposed to drilling there, saying it could be detrimental to Grand Teton's wildlife and scenery.
The Wyoming Range, which is just south of Jackson Hole and Grand Teton, runs about 150 miles north to south. Though not as renowned as the Tetons or the Wind River Range, the Wyoming Range is a beautiful place, with peaks ranging above 11,000 feet and large swaths of roadless areas. Its wildlife habitat is occupied by large herds of moose, elk, mule deer, and pronghorn antelope as well as lynx, wolves, and the occasional grizzly bear and wolverine.
Streams that help fill the Green, Grey, and Hoback rivers still claim much-sought populations of four cutthroat trout species -- the Colorado River Cutthroat Trout, the Bonneville Trout, the Snake River Cutthroat Trout, and the Yellowstone Cutthroat trout.
Additionally, the Wyoming Range National Recreational Trail runs for about 75 miles along the spine of the range, traversing flowered meadows, passing cataracts fueled by snowmelt, and running through thick forests.
Unfortunately, the Wyoming Range also is thought to harbor vast reserves of natural gas. Already more than 150,000 acres of the range have been opened to leasing, and the U.S. Forest Service currently is thinking of putting another 44,600 acres to lease. One company, Plains Exploration and Production Company, has its eyes on drilling on the northern tip of the range, and that proposal has drawn the concern of Robert Stewart, the regional environmental director for the Interior Department.
While Mr. Stewart has several concerns about impacts related to drilling, he's most concerned about how drilling could impact lynx habitat and lynx movement into Grand Teton.
“Radio collar data indicate that lynx from the Wyoming Range have made broad scale movements into areas adjacent to the park,” he said in a letter to Greg Clark, district ranger for the Big Piney Ranger District that has oversight of the drilling activity in the Wyoming Range, which is part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. “Consequently, we are concerned about activities that would reduce the amount of suitable habitat or affect functional travel/movement corridors.”
Mr. Stewart also expressed concerns about how natural gas exploration could impact Grand Teton's air quality and its alpine lakes, which could be harmed by nitrogen and sulfur deposition.
“The National Park Service has major concerns regarding the degradation of visibility within Grand Teton National Park,” he said. “Clean air is a fundamental resource of the park and visitors place a high value upon unimpaired views of the spectacular Teton Range.”
The public comment period on the initial drilling project proposed by Plains Exploration expired back in April. However, the company in June asked the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement on a larger swath of land it's eying for drilling. You can follow its progress from this site.