The Council believes that some areas of our state must remain free from energy development. These areas make up Wyoming’s heritage landscapes and are too special to drill. Where development does occur, it should be handled with the highest possible sensitivity for wildlife, air and water quality, and human health. We call this “doing it right.”
Wyoming Outdoor Council's Heritage Landscapes
Click the coins on the map above to read more about each area.
It is our view that all national forest lands in Wyoming should be protected from oil and gas development. These areas provide important wildlife habitat and are popular with both tourists and locals for recreation. And given the massive oil and gas development occurring and proposed on many BLM lands, it is important that some areas provide quiet, restful solitude. As our late U.S. Senator Craig Thomas said: “My general feeling is we shouldn’t be drilling in national forests. They’re there for special reasons and I don’t think we should diminish those reasons.”
The Wyoming Range is a 150-mile expanse of rugged and majestic mountains in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Tucked in the southern reaches of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the range provides critical habitat for wildlife and is highly valued for its recreational opportunities.
After a multi-year, homegrown campaign, the Wyoming Range Legacy Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 30, 2009. This historic legislation permanently protects 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range from future oil and gas leasing.
The grassroots movement to protect Wyoming’s namesake mountains was initiated by a broad coalition of outfitters, ranchers, labor union members, sportsmen, small business owners, conservation groups—including the Wyoming Outdoor Council—and the faith community, all of whom came together with a single purpose: to protect an irreplaceable part of Wyoming for its residents and for future generations.
The bill was modeled after legislation that Wyoming Republican Sen. Craig Thomas had planned to create before his death. It was ultimately drafted and introduced by his successor, Sen. John Barrasso. The legislation garnered bipartisan support from Wyoming’s Democratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal and others around the state.
Wyoming State Sen. Mike Massie, who served in the state legislature for fifteen years, described the Wyoming Range legislation, shortly after its passage, as an indication that a new model of conservation is emerging—one that features a big-tent approach to conservation initiatives.
“The Wyoming Range effort was a successful endeavor because groups who were historically at odds were able to come together to pursue a common purpose for the public good,” Massie said at a celebration event in April 2009. “As we work to grow Wyoming on its own terms, this process will be invaluable for fi nding other lasting solutions that are developed locally rather than from Washington.”
Reverend Warren Murphy, director of the Wyoming Association of Churches, also praised the effort and the legislation.
“Protection of the Wyoming Range from over-development is part of a sacred trust to protect Wyoming’s natural heritage while responsibly utilizing its natural resources,” Murphy said. “Both the Wyoming Association of Churches and the National Council of Churches have committed their time and energy to supporting the Wyoming Range Legacy Act because of the benefits the legislation will bring to future generations.”
The Wyoming Range represents the heart and soul of our state—independent, still wild, rugged, and a wonder for those that come from all over to experience it. … People in Wyoming are looking for some balance. So yes, “God bless Wyoming and keep it wild.” —October 25, 2007, U.S. Senator John Barrasso
The Wind River Front is the majestic gateway to the Wind River Mountains, Wyoming's tallest mountain range. The front runs along the eastern edge of the Upper Green River Basin, with sagebrush-rich foothills, important wildlife habitat, and a key migration route for mule deer.
We believe that permanent closure of the Wind River Front to energy and mineral leasing is essential. With the diminishing habitat in the adjacent Upper Green River Valley from a decade-long natural gas development boom, the front has become increasingly important.
In 2007 we worked to protect the front by helping to revise the Pinedale Resource Management Plan, which will determine management direction for the next 20 years for 1.2 million acres of federal surface and mineral estate lands—an area roughly three times the size of Rhode Island. Bruce Pendery, staff attorney and program director, made a significant contribution to this plan in 2007, helping to increase the proposed acreage slated for protection from oil and gas development from 156,900 acres in the 2007 draft plan to 455,340 acres in the 2008 final plan (this compares to just 7,636 acres deemed off limits in the original 1988 plan). This includes designation of the Wind River Front as a special management area that is unavailable for leasing.
North of the Medicine Bow National Forest, the Shirley Basin supports an extraordinary mix of grassland, forest, and river ecosystems. It is home to the black-footed ferrets, white-tailed prairie dogs, fisheries, bat roosts, and numerous bird species.
The Shirley Basin is a critical grassland area that provides an array of resources and economic benefits, including hunting and fishing opportunities, tourism, hiking and biking, livestock forage, and watershed protection.
Adobe Town is one of the Red Desert’s most iconic “Wild West” landscapes, known for its intricate badlands, towering cliffs, spires, and arches. This wild and arid jewel located in the south-central Wyoming is imbued with human history and is a key haven for wildlife.
It is a treasure-trove of fossils, a haven for big game and sage-grouse, and it is a sacred site for Native American religious ceremonies. Butch Cassidy's Hole-in-the-Wall gang also famously stashed their horses in Adobe Town for an escape after the Tipton train robbery of 1900.
Although a significant section of Adobe Town is protected on an interim basis as a BLM wilderness study area, our goal is to extend this protection for the long term. The Outdoor Council participated in an effort in 2007 and 2008 to successfully designate 180,000 acres in Adobe Town as a “very rare or uncommon area” under Wyoming State law. This rarely granted designation defends the area against non-coal surface mining, uranium mining and oil shale mining. It also is a clear statement from the State of Wyoming that it values these lands. Although the designation does not protect the area from oil and gas development, it communicates to federal land managers how important adobe town is to Wyoming and to the state's natural heritage.
The state of Wyoming has issued this "very rare or uncommon" designation only four times in three decades.
The Jack Morrow Hills is a 620,000-acre landscape in the northern Red Desert that includes seven wilderness study areas, five areas of critical environmental concern, and some of the best remaining intact sections of the historic Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express pioneer trails. It also offers spectacular views from the nearby Continental Divide Trail.
Adjacent to the Oregon Buttes, the Jack Morrow Hills is home to the legendary Boar's Tusk formation and the Killpecker Sand Dunes—-the second largest active sand dune complex in the world. Tens of thousands of pronghorn use this landscape every summer, which overlooks the vast, wide-open beauty of the Great Divide Basin, and some of the most untouched landscapes left in the West.
The Outdoor Council continues to be a leading advocate for protecting the Red Desert’s Jack Morrow Hills.
The Beartooth Front frames the eastern approach to Yellowstone National Park. The world-renowned Beartooth Plateau is located in the Shoshone National Forest. This vast wall of mountains and foothills sweeps up from the sagebrush-covered plains northwest of Cody, and is a haven for wildlife and is an outstanding recreation spot.
In the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, this crucial transition from mountain to basin wildlife habitats is home to some of the greatest biodiversity left in the American West. We believe the Beartooth Front’s rich and irreplaceable natural resources demand for its permanent protection.
This remote, 100,000 acre area is located in the middle of the Powder River Basin and contains a 12,000-acre wilderness study area. A key wildlife resource within the basin, Fortification Creek serves as a refuge to one of the last remaining plains elk herds in the West, and it supports other critical wildlife and paleontological resources.
The Little Mountain area in southwest Wyoming is a hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation paradise. The western edge of this vast public landscape begins at the shores of Flaming Gorge Reservoir and climbs eastward to the summits of Little, Pine, Richards, and Miller Mountains.
The area is recognized nationally as one of the West's top mule deer hunting spots, and is famed for its trophy elk and its genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout, which can be found in Red, Sage, and Currant Creeks. Pronghorn, moose, raptors, songbirds, and other animals, also attract hunters and wildlife viewers.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has designated much of the greater Little Mountain area as a key non-game area because of the important habitat it provides for a number of sensitive species including greater sage-grouse, ferruginous hawk, pygmy rabbit, and the Wyoming pocket gopher.
The Little Mountain area also contains a wilderness study area (the Red Creek Badland) and one federally designated area of critical environmental concern (Greater Red Creek).
The Little Mountain area's watersheds are highly sensitive, but trout populations have increased since 1990, as a wide range of groups has provided more than $2 million for habitat restoration projects.
Nevertheless, more than 169,000 acres of public lands in this area have been leased for oil and gas development. In addition, the BLM has authorized nearly 32,000 acres of right-of-way for wind energy testing.
The BLM has designated a number of areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) throughout Wyoming. These areas are designated to protect and prevent irreparable damage to unique characteristics and resources in an area. Examples include ACECs designated to protect the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express National Historic Trails and others designated to protect unique wildlife habitats like the pronghorn migration corridor at Trappers Point near Pinedale. In all but a few cases, oil and gas development is incompatible with the purposes for which an ACEC was designated, and therefore the Wyoming Outdoor Council does not believe oil and gas development should be allowed in these areas.
These priceless national gems have long been protected from oil and gas development and that protection should clearly be maintained. In Wyoming these areas include Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Devils Tower and Fossil Butte National Monuments.
Like national parks and monuments, national wildlife refuges are generally not available for oil and gas development. That protection should remain firmly in place. These areas were created for the benefit of wildlife and in no case does oil and gas development benefit wildlife. National wildlife refuges in Wyoming include Pathfinder, Seedskadee, Hutton Lake, Bamforth, and others.
The BLM has classified a number wilderness study areas (WSA) throughout the state. Generally there is little threat to these areas from oil and gas development because they are not available for leasing any longer. It is crucial to ensure these protections remain in place so that wilderness values and experiences are not lost. But in addition to BLM WSAs, citizens have proposed a number of wilderness areas on BLM lands in Wyoming. These areas generally include the BLM WSAs but often also include a larger perimeter around these areas, and in some cases are in areas the BLM did not designate as a WSA. We feel these areas should be protected from oil and gas development. Leasing should not occur in citizens’ proposed wilderness areas on BLM lands. These citizens’ proposed wilderness areas are treasured, natural landscapes that should be spared.
If the above areas were fully protected from oil and gas development, that would be a legacy Wyoming could be proud of. Protecting these areas would hardly limit oil and gas development to any significant degree; they represent a small fraction of the federal mineral estate in Wyoming.
While we think protecting these areas would go far towards creating a legacy, additional areas warrant setting aside from oil and gas development, such as the popular Ryegrass area in the Pinedale Field Office. We would also note that our call for protection of these areas only applies to federal lands and federally owned minerals; we do not intend to influence private land or the development of privately owned mineral estate.