Yellowstone Lynx Threatened By Oil And Gas Project

This spring, we reported on a proposal to turn a vast, undeveloped basin south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming into a major industrial oil and gas field.  This summer, our Rocky Mountain staff had the opportunity to visit this area and document the unique wildlife values at stake. Check out my photos below:

Sagebrush

Looking north from the sagebrush meadows to the forested Hoback Rim, a vital wildlife travel corridor.

Trail camera

A photo of a camera we deployed to document wildlife using the area.

Hoback camera, © Defenders of Wildlife

A second camera we deployed that evening in the forested corridor of the Hoback Rim. The same well pad is about a quarter-mile from this spot.

Yellow field

The main access road from the Hoback Rim down to the Noble Basin.

Noble Basin 1

Three of the 17 proposed well pads are to be located within a mile of this spot, the closest within a couple hundred yards.

Noble Basin 2
Noble Basin 3
Aspen

An aspen stand as we head back up through the Hoback Rim corridor.

The Upper Hoback area provides habitat for an entire suite of wildlife, including pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk, moose, black bears, mountain lions, wolves and possibly grizzly bears (it lies at the southern frontier of the Yellowstone population’s current range).  Yet our chief concern is the potential impact of this project on the imperiled  Canada lynx.

Lynx are exceedingly rare in the greater Yellowstone area, such that their entire population is believed to be fewer than 10 animals! The northeastern portion of the Wyoming Range, where this oil and gas project is proposed, provides some of the very best habitat for lynx in the entire state because of its abundance of snowshoe hares–the lynx’s main prey.  And if that isn’t enough cause for concern, the oil and gas project is located right next to a vital travel corridor for lynx, and its main access road goes right through it!

Don’t just take our word for it, here is some language from the **Forest Service’s recent environmental impact statement that describes the importance of this area to Wyoming’s imperiled lynx population:

Portions of the project area including the South Rim and parts of Middle Beaver Creek drainage have been described as prime lynx habitat… Experts have described the southern portions of the project area and the land immediately south of the project area as vital to the survival of lynx in Wyoming, and as the highest quality lynx habitat within the state… Recent research has shown that the unprecedented density of snowshoe hares present in the area likely contributes to the quality of the habitat as well as the consistent history of occupation in this area by lynx… Hare densities in this area are the highest ever observed in the greater Yellowstone area… Besides naturally occurring lynx, reintroduced lynx from Colorado have, on several occasions, dispersed to the area immediately south of the project area… The nearest denning activity to the project area has been documented in the vicinity of the South Rim about 1 to 2 miles west of the project area…

Radio collared lynx from the Wyoming Range have been tracked making regular long range movements through the project area. A single male made extra-territorial exploratory movements to the north of his delineated home-range each of at least four summers. The male used the South Rim as a travel corridor to travel to and from his home-range each year. The South Rim may represent vital linkage habitat, connecting lynx habitat in the Wyoming Range to suitable habitats with the Wind River Range, the Gros Ventre Range, Yellowstone and other suitable habitats farther north

(**The project lies in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, so the Forest Service has authority over if and how the drilling is conducted.)

Here is a map of lynx movements through this area from a research project.  The project area is outlined with a white box.

Source: Squires et al. 2003, Distribution of lynx and other forest carnivores in the Wyoming Range, southcentral Wyoming, Final Report. Rocky Mountain Research Station and Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Hope!

There is still hope that this potentially devastating project can be stopped, or at least scaled way back to ensure minimal harm to lynx and other wildlife.  A unique coalition of conservation advocates like Defenders of Wildlife, plus hunters, outfitters, residents and many others who know and love this area have joined forces to do just that.  Visit www.wyomingrange.org to learn more, and how you can help!

“Fracking” is shorthand for Hydraulic Fracturing: a drilling method used to extract oil and gas by injecting fluids into a deep well. The practice threatens ground and surface water quality, which is particularly worrisome to local landowners and given the project’s location at the headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Hoback River, a tributary to the Snake River.

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