New BLM office building to cut off critical pronghorn migration route

New BLM office building to cut off critical pronghorn migration route

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has contracted to construct a new office building for itself within a narrow corridor used by an already seriously stressed segment of migratory pronghorn, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

When BLM allowed oil and gas development in the well-known Trapper=s Point big game migration route along the Upper Green River, a few miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming, the agency was met with a storm of protest. Records from archaeological sites along the route document thousands of years of mule deer and pronghorn migration and use of those animals by aboriginal hunters. At the time, BLM managers professed not to have known of the route=s importance and, under intense pressure from a wide range of constituents, they backed off allowing some development.

Now, however, BLM officials appear to be about to add insult to injury by repeating their mistake just a few miles closer to Pinedale. They are on the verge of building a new Pinedale Field Office directly in the path of about 1,500 pronghorn that pass each spring and fall through a narrow 200-yard wide gap of remaining habitat (referred to as "antelope alley") between the town of Pinedale and massive development in the Pinedale Anticline gas field. Pinedale and Sublette County officials also have contributed to constriction of the migration route by repeatedly allowing new subdivisions and even municipal buildings to be constructed in the path of the pronghorn.

The Pinedale area has changed markedly during just the last five years. Wildlife corridors and other prime habitats that sustain the wild beauty of the area and attract hunters and tourists are in jeopardy from rapid, extensive development of the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah gas fields. Residential growth and sprawl have occurred partly as a result of an influx of people for the area=s wildlife and scenic beauty and partly to accommodate large numbers of influx of energy field workers and their families. Housing prices have skyrocketed and locals worry about Pinedale becoming more like nearby Jackson Hole, where working people have trouble affording to live.

With new hotels in place and a city bus barn under construction in antelope alley, there seems to be no plan for sustaining pronghorn migration when the path is blocked by the new BLM office. To the contrary, because the BLM office is literally and figuratively permitting fast-paced development in the surrounding area, with negative impacts on pronghorn and other wildlife, conservationists are left to wonder what the agency is thinking and doing by not only allowing, but causing a final blow to this pronghorn migration route so close to town.

Apparently, no environmental analysis will be done to assess the impact of the construction decision. Bald eagles use the area at several times each year. Part of the area is wetland. There are a number of important archaeological sites. The key concern, however, is what will become of the pronghorn when the migration route is shut down.

Conservationists maintain a hope that BLM will not add to the area=s loss of critical wildlife habitats by insensitive siting of its new office building and, instead, that it will act to conserve and safeguard the already jeopardized migration route. They argue that there is an opportunity for BLM_in partnership with Pinedale, Sublette County, and property developers_to show leadership and create a positive outcome for all, by constructing the new office on one of many available sites, including those offered by large acreages of nearby BLM-administered public domain. Furthermore, if additional funding is required to effect this responsible relocation, conservationists point to the $3+ billion dollars in oil and gas revenues that were returned last year in Sublette County alone.

April 13, 2006