CHEYENNE - A ban on new sales of federal oil and gas leases could have negative impacts for Wyoming’s wildlife. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has analyzed potential effects on the state’s wildlife in response to Governor Gordon’s Executive Order Directing State Agencies to Determine Impacts of Federal Oil and Gas Lease Ban. Most of all, a ban of new leasing on federal lands could restrict the ability of Wyoming’s state wildlife agencies to work with proponents to avoid and minimize impacts to fish and wildlife.
“A blanket ban on new sales of federal oil and gas leases decreases proponents’ ability to mitigate wildlife impacts because it restricts potential development locations. This may force development to focus on undisturbed lands including those under state or private ownership,” said Brian Nesvik, Director of Game and Fish. “For example, the ban may remove the flexibility to utilize existing infrastructure on already disturbed, federally-owned land and that may lead to habitat loss and further impacts to wildlife.”
Game and Fish has studied disturbance in areas of oil and gas development. The department uses that information to cooperate with industry to focus development away from crucial wildlife areas. Often, one of the tactics to avoid or minimize wildlife impacts is to consolidate infrastructure in areas where development already exists. A ban decreases Game and Fish’s ability to recommend locations for development in areas with little or no impacts.
“Wyoming has invested significant resources to identify and understand critical habitats across the state to inform the planning processes,” Nesvik said. “This sweeping ban ignores what we’ve proven over and over again; in Wyoming we can use science and technology to responsibly develop resources and mitigate impacts to wildlife.”
Game and Fish maintains strong partnerships with industry in Wyoming which include working closely with proponents during the development and planning phases for oil and gas leases and drilling. These partnerships benefit all wildlife species but primarily sage grouse, big game and a number of species of greatest conservation need. Processes now are mainly guided by Governor Gordon's existing executive orders on Greater Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer and Antelope Migration Corridors and the Department’s long-standing and proven evaluations of impacts to wildlife.
“We know 35% of Wyoming’s sage grouse core area occurs on private lands. This habitat is some of the best in the state. Limiting potential development sites decreases flexibility and may be detrimental to sage grouse and other species,” Nesvik said.
Game and Fish is also concerned about the possibility that oil and gas companies will elect to end operations in Wyoming, putting quality habitat reclamation work potentially on the backburner.
Ultimately, department wildlife managers won’t know the full extent of impacts to fish and wildlife until Game and Fish can evaluate each instance on a case by case basis.
“We remain committed to continuing to work closely with all proponents on all lands in mitigating potential impacts to wildlife from future development,” Nesvik said.