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Wyoming Sportsmen Oppose Development in Roadless Area

January 30, 2008

A network of conservation organizations known as the Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range is urgently reiterating its opposition to federal plans to open thousands of acres of US Forest Service land in Wyoming to oil and gas development.

The group, operating under the emphatic slogan "We're Mother Nature's Body Guards. And yes, we are heavily armed," is joined in its criticism of the development plan by Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, local merchants, chambers of commerce, tourism boards, snowmobilers, campers, and outfitters.

Sportsmen opposing development that endangers critical hunting areas and wildlife habitat has become a common theme in the West, with similar trends in Colorado and Utah.

The full text of a press release from the the Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range follows:

Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range Oppose Land Grab

LANDER, Wyo., Jan. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Today in Jackson, sportsmen and women will convene at a meeting with the U.S. Forest Service to make their views heard on why the service should do more to protect a majestic mountain range in western Wyoming.

Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, local merchants, chambers of commerce, tourism boards, snowmobilers, campers and outfitters have all said the same thing: The Wyoming Range should not be the next Jonah Field.

The meeting to be held today at the Virginian is one of two scheduled scoping hearings to allow public input on the Plains Exploration and Production proposal for drilling in the Upper Hoback, or South Rim Unit, of the state's namesake range.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has called the company's efforts to pursue drilling in this region as the "first domino" toward the industrialization of the national forest.

"It is clear that Plains is willing to endure overwhelming public opposition to move forward with significant additional development in the Wyoming Range," Freudenthal said. "My greatest fear continues to be that history will view this project as the first domino that fell towards the industrialization of over 150,000 acres of oil and gas leases within the Range. I will actively oppose any development scheme that will result in such an outcome."

Walt Gasson, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and spokesperson for Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range, said "It's hard to imagine, that any one entity can blatantly disregard the will of the Wyoming people like the Forest Service has in regard to the Wyoming Range. It's akin to saying, 'OK, we know thousands of you cherish this place but look the other way as we ruin your hunting and fishing for generations to come.' The Wyoming Range is too special a place for me and my family to sit quietly and let this go unchallenged. It saddens me. How do I explain this to my grandchildren?"

Last year more than 19,000 people voiced their concern about this same piece of country through letters, emails and phone calls over much smaller development. Then, the proposal was just three wells and a few miles of road.

Now, the scenario has grown to 17 well pads, 136 wells, and more than 29 miles of developed road in an area that is now roadless and is essential for big game on many levels.

Duane Hyde, a Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range Co-Chairman and former game warden who spent more than 30 years working in the Wyoming Range said, "The Forest Service has an apparent lack of concern for our hunting and fishing rights. Governor Freudenthal said it right. The South Rim Unit could be the first domino. I, too, believe we are sitting on the verge of doing some things in the Wyoming Range that, frankly, we will never recover from, not in my lifetime, not even in our grandchildren's lifetime."

Tom Reed of Trout Unlimited said this new effort to develop the Range puts critical habitat and wildlife winter range at risk. The Plains project area is only a short distance to the north from another 44,700 acres of national forest that were leased for drilling in 2005 and 2006. Those leases were contested and a ruling by a Department of the Interior appeals board said they were improperly leased. The U.S. Forest Service and Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey has the authority to cancel those leases altogether.

Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range and others have been fighting for their hunting and fishing rights and pushing for cancellation of those leases. "When you look at PXP's plan and the plan of another out-of-state company that wants to drill another 200 wells in the Horse Creek drainage, we're talking about nearly 350 wells on the Wyoming Range front," said Reed. "As a sportsman, I'm not willing to let my hunting heritage there fall to the drill bit."

"The Forest Service needs take a deep breath, and look around at not only the number of people concerned here but the quality of the groups they represent," Reed said. "Last October we were applauding Senator John Barrasso, and his introduction of the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, but now it seems stalled."

"People need to understand that drilling on the national forest will punch a hole in some best hunting ground in the United States," Reed said. "So even if the legislation to protect the Range moves forward, if we don't address those 44,700 acres and the leases in the Hoback, we lose. Sportsmen lose big time."

"I've been a conservative all my life," said Dustin Child who operates Trophy Mountain Outfitters near Lookout Mountain in the Wyoming Range. "Mark Rey and Senator Barrasso are conservatives, too. I know I speak for a lot of other conservative voters who are watching them to see if they make sure development never occurs on those 44,700 acres."

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