Responding to intense public opposition — including detailed legal objections by Earthjustice — the U.S. Forest Service has withdrawn plans for imminent oil and gas leasing across a broad swath of scenic national forest lands south of Yellowstone National Park.
The leasing would have paved the way for oil and gas development on nearly 158,000 acres in the Wyoming Range of western Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, including 92,000 acres of pristine roadless areas that provide habitat for wildlife species ranging from elk to Canada lynx.
“We set out to nip this leasing proposal in the bud, and we did that,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso.
Acting on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups, Earthjustice sent a letter to the Forest Service in August detailing numerous legal violations in connection with the proposed leases, which were scheduled to be auctioned to oil and gas companies beginning this October. The letter asked the Forest Service to withdraw the proposed leasing, and threatened a lawsuit if the agency refused. Read the Earthjustice letter.
In the wake of the Earthjustice letter, the Forest Service faced a rising tide of public opposition to the proposed leasing, including standing-room-only public meetings in Jackson Hole and Alpine, Wyoming, and objections from Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Sen. Craig Thomas. Finally, on September 14 the Forest Service yielded to this opposition by withdrawing the proposed leases from auction pending further environmental study.
“The Forest Service’s decision amounts to a stay of execution,” Preso said. “Now the challenge is to ensure lasting protection for these public lands. People who want to pass an unspoiled Yellowstone ecosystem on to the next generation need to speak up and tell the Forest Service to leave these lands alone.”
The proposed Bridger-Teton National Forest leasing represented only one of several recent attempts by the Bush administration to unleash industrial development in National Forest roadless areas. The administration has also proposed oil and gas leasing of roadless lands in Utah’s Uinta National Forest, and has proposed a massive logging operation in roadless areas of southwest Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest.