In March of 2009 the House of Representatives approved a bill that calls for protection of some of America's finest natural landscapes. President Obama signed the bill within a week.
One of the expanses of wild lands that is protected by the law is part of the Rocky Mountains called the Wyoming Range in western Wyoming. The Wyoming Range lies south of the Grand Tetons near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It contains the largest tract of roadless land in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
Without the work of Earthjustice, the Wyoming Range today would likely be marked by oil derricks, compressor stations and all the other industrial trappings that go with oil and gas development
The Wyoming Range is prime ground for hunting, fishing, recreation, and associated travel worth tens of millions of dollars annually to Wyoming. Under thhis bill, about 1.2 million acres of this national forest land will now be protected from future mineral leasing with only a negligible affect on oil and gas production in the region.
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The meadows, forests and streams of the Wyoming Range were threatened when the Bush-Cheney administration moved to open 175,000 acres of national forest lands to massive oil and gas development including 90,000 acres of pristine national forest roadless areas that provide key habitat for numerous wildlife species, including elk and Canada lynx.
In August of 2004, Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso penned a key letter warning such a move violated the law and that the administration should expect to see Earthjustice in court if they proceeded. The Earthjustice letter served to slow the administration until widespread bipartisan support for protection emerged across the state, which eventually stopped plans to develop the roadless areas. The administration next tried to lease and develop about 44,000 acres in a portion of the Wyoming Range enjoyed by the public as prime hunting lands. Earthjustice again pushed back and won a key ruling from the Department of Interior's Board of Land Appeals halting this development and setting the stage for protection of this spectacular mountain landscape.
Although the protections in the new law are great, the U.S. Forest Service is still considering the fate of the 44,000 acres of leases addressed in the Interior Board of Land Appeals decision. The Forest Service is also considering a separate proposal to develop other oil and gas leases issued in the Wyoming Range in the 1990s that survive the new legislation. Threats remain -- and Earthjustice will remain vigilant to address them.