Trapper's Point/Pinedale

Posted: Apr 1, 2005
Written by: 
Robyn Morrison


Location:
Sublette County, Wyoming

Objective: To develop a protection plan for the Trapper's Point wildlife migration route, a crucial corridor for pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and other ungulates migrating between summer and winter feeding range.

History: In the shadow of Wyoming's Wind River Mountains sits the longest wildlife migration route in the lower 48 states. For at least 6,000 years, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and other wildlife have traveled the 160-mile stretch between their mountainous summer range in and around Teton National Park and the rolling, high-elevation sage plains of southwest Wyoming that serve as their wintering grounds.

Just west of Pinedale (pop. 1,400) the corridor shrinks to a mile-wide slot flanked by the Green and New Fork rivers. Houses, a highway and dirt roads squeeze what's known as Trapper's Point to a mere half-mile wide bottleneck. The area also sits on the edge of the Pinedale Anticline, one of the nation's richest known natural gas deposits.

Connecticut-sized Sublette County has always relied on energy industry jobs as well as ranching and catering to hunters and backpackers that visit nearby national forests and wilderness areas. Recently, there's been a dramatic boost in the number of producing and planned gas wells on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Today, over 93 percent of the surrounding BLM land is leased for oil and gas development. The Pinedale BLM office is updating its regional land use plan and the Department of the Interior has identified that planning work as a top priority.

Some of the county's 5,000 residents have expressed concerns over what this could mean for Trapper's Point and the 45,000 antelope and 33,000 deer that roam the region.

In the summer of 2003, gas industry officials approached the local state representative about gathering a group of stakeholders to address the issues surrounding Trapper's Point. The first meeting, held in October 2003, drew representatives from local and regional environmental organizations, ranchers, county and industry officials, and Wyoming Game and Fish and Wyoming Transportation Department staffers.

ph.trappers2.jpg
Facilities used in gas production
Bureau of Land Management/Photo by Jerry Sintz
Accomplishments: In what's been identified as the first phase, the working group narrowed its discussion to protecting the Trapper's Point bottleneck and identified five core issues: oil and gas development, highway traffic collisions with wildlife, development of private lands, fencing, and hunting.

The group worked with the Transportation Department to install pressure-sensitive lights that notify drivers when wildlife is on the road. Stakeholders also agreed to work on assuring that fencing is wildlife-friendly and to work with private landowners on conservation easements. The Green River Valley Land Trust also launched a Corridor Conservation Campaign that includes a wildlife friendly fencing component.

In mid-December 2003, a majority of the stakeholders reached an agreement over gas leasing and development at Trapper's Point and sent a recommendation to the BLM. The recommendation suggests that 640 acres remain unleased and 1,600 acres be managed under the guidelines of "no surface occupancy," meaning that any development that occurred would use directional drilling.  The BLM Resource Management Plan also included protections for migration corridors at Trapper's Point.

Joel Berger of the Wildlife Conservation Society has proposed a "Path of the Pronghorn" wildlife corridor that would provide for the safe migration of antelope and other wildlife. The corridor would be largely comprised of public lands (over 90%) and would encompass an area 90 miles long with a one-mile wide buffer. The corridor would include Trapper's Point as well as other critical bottlenecks. A series of round-tables are being held in the affected counties to discuss the corridor proposal and other issues relating to wildlife migration. The first roundtable was held in March. Participants included state and federal agencies, city and county officials, ranchers, outfitters, tribal members, landowners, and environmentalists, among others.  Since this roundtable took place, the United States Forest amended the forest plan to designate a Pronghorn Migration Corridor in the forest.

The first phase of a project to put interpretive signs along the pronghorn migration corridor between Trapper's Point and Grand Teton National Park has been completed.  Funding partners and cooperators for the project included the Wildlife Conservation Society, 1% for the Tetons, Grand Teton National Park, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  Interpretive signs were installed in Grand Teton National Park near the Kelly Warm Springs, on the Bridger-Teton National Forest near Red Hills and the Forest boundary in the Upper Green, and near the Bend in the Upper Green.  The second phase, to be completed in 2009, will include creating a Scenic Byways site along US Highway 191 a few miles west of Pinedale that will provide information about the historical significants of the corridor for Native Americans, early settlers, and how this same corridor is presently used in ranching operations.

Challenges/constraints: Stakeholders were pressed for time when the BLM announced in early December 2003 that the group had just four days to submit its recommendation. In the scramble, an informal poll was taken and a majority of stakeholders agreed to the terms. But environmental representatives at the table weren't comfortable with the recommended stipulations sent to the agency on behalf of the group. They are concerned with the uncertainty of "no surface occupancy" stipulations, which can be waived by the BLM.

In hindsight, stakeholders say that the terms of consensus weren't clearly defined at the onset of their work. The environmental groups have sent their own recommendation to the BLM, encouraging the agency to adopt a no-leasing policy for 2,320 acres of the bottleneck.

For more information see:

National Wildlife Federation Story

Upper Green River Valley Coalition

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