OPINION: ENERGY DEVELOPMENT THREATENS BIG GAME HERDS IN WYOMING (AND WHY IT MATTERS OUTSIDE THE STATE, TOO)
We’re faced with a federal government determined to continue free-for-all industrial development even when there are pragmatic, evidence-based conservative solutions available.
Illustration by Sean Quinn
Wyoming is sprawling and sparsely populated, home to some of the most awe-inspiring, intact lands and ecosystems in North America. Tourists from all over the world flock to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to spot iconic wildlife such as elk, bison, deer and pronghorn. Hunters travel here for once-in-a-lifetime experiences chasing big game through Wyoming’s rugged mountains and desert basins.
Wyoming also plays an important role in the nation’s energy economy: Our production of oil, natural gas and coal ranks us as one of the top energy-supplying states. The majority of those industrial operations take place on over 30 million acres (12 million hectares) of federal public lands, which comprise about half the state.
For decades, Wyomingites have strived to strike a balance between an energy economy and an outdoor culture that values both natural resources and energy extraction. Our state leaders were at the forefront of Greater sage-grouse conservation and championed a collaborative, science-based plan that was adopted throughout the West and was credited for the 2015 decision that no listing was required for the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.
Yet in the current political climate and administration, where an “energy dominance” mandate for management has been passed to federal public lands managers, we are facing a future where one of the West’s most iconic species — the mule deer — could be irreparably devastated. The stakes are obvious for Wyoming, but even for those who aren’t concerned about Wyoming ecosystems or the native big game species of the West, this is a conflict with sobering nationwide ramifications.
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