Protect Our Mule Deer
If you agree that we need to postpone oil and gas leasing in mule deer migration corridors and crucial winter range until we have a permanent, science-based regulation that protects our deer from development threats, add your name to this letter. We will send the letter and a list of signers to Bureau of Land Management on Friday, November 9.
Healthy and sustainable wildlife is essential to Wyoming’s economy and culture. We need certainty — based in scientific research and backed by legally-enforceable stipulations — that our big game herds are protected.
As Wyoming residents, we understand that we can have both healthy and sustainable wildlife and sustainable energy development. Protecting big game migration corridors and crucial winter range habitats is not a threat to oil and gas companies, which already have thousands of permits to drill and large amounts of acreage to develop across the state. Therefore, we ask the Bureau of Land Management to defer all oil and gas leases in its fourth quarter sale that overlap migration corridors and crucial winter range until permanent science-based and legally-enforceable stipulations are developed.
Some Wyoming leaders mistakenly believe the current strategy, which involves attaching a notice concerning corridor and winter range to lease parcels that overlap corridor or winter range, is sufficient protection. However, attaching a “lease notice” merely encourages oil and gas companies purchasing leases in a migration corridor to work with Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials to avoid harming migrations. These lease notices carry no legal weight. We — Wyoming residents, business owners, sportsmen and women, and outdoorspeople — ask for a permanent and enforceable solution.
As an indication that these lease notices are ineffective attempts to protect wildlife migrations, both the Office of State Lands and the BLM have separately acknowledged the need for lease stipulations in the future. The Office of State Lands has already postponed leasing in the Red Desert to Hoback corridor while they prepare a stipulation, and the BLM plans to have a stipulation concerning migration in the upcoming revised Rock Springs Resource Management Plan. But until these legally-enforceable solutions can give us certainty, we must ask that all lease parcels overlapping wildlife migration corridors and crucial winter range be deferred from the upcoming lease sale.
The importance of certainty is especially pronounced when it comes to mule deer, which exhibit high fidelity to migration routes, rely on functional winter range to survive harsh Wyoming winters, and do not acclimate to the presence of oil and gas infrastructure even over generations. Even a small amount of disturbance in a migration corridor or on winter range can lead to a loss of habitat function, and potentially even prevent a herd from traveling between summer and winter range. Corridors can only continue to maintain function when they provide connectivity between seasonal ranges, as well as between the “stopover” areas where they take advantage of the most nutritious forage and spend critical time putting on body fat. Even if most of a corridor is protected, a disruption in one portion could cause the entire pathway to lose function. Leading scientific research conducted in Wyoming clearly demonstrates that mule deer do not acclimate to oil and gas activity, and that they are sensitive to disturbance. We are concerned that this scientific research is being obscured and misrepresented.
The BLM has the duty and opportunity to minimize the risk that oil and gas leasing will degrade these habitats, disrupt migrations, and threaten our big game herds. It can do so without significant harm to the oil and gas industry. In the fourth quarter lease sale, only 7.9 percent of the acreage up for lease overlaps corridors and/or winter range. The BLM has the ability to defer these leases in whole, or even to partially defer these leases by removing from the sale only the portions of parcels that overlap these critical habitat types.
In September, parcels overlapping the corridor sold at very low prices — between $2 and $9 per acre. Wyoming earned only a little more than $50,000 on these parcels. This price does not come close to justifying the potential permanent loss of big game herds that represent significant economic and cultural value for Wyoming. Deer hunting in Sublette County alone brings in more than $4 million in revenue annually. It is clear that protecting this vital corridor is a much higher value. We cannot afford to take this type of risk, which means we cannot tolerate any uncertainty in the understanding and agreement between the state and federal land management agencies in regard to these corridors.
We need clear, science-based rules and legally-enforceable agreements between the state and federal government to truly protect our deer. We must take the time to do this right; that’s the Wyoming way.