The Powder River Basin
An area steeped in the culture of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne nations, the Powder River Basin in Montana is known for some of the most outstanding hunting for elk, mule deer, pronghorn and wild turkeys in Montana. Area ponds, the Tongue River Reservoir and the Yellowstone and Tongue rivers provide unique angling experiences for sauger, walleye and paddlefish. Sportsmen widely identify the Powder River Basin as one of the most important areas in the state for high-quality big-game and upland bird hunting.
The Powder River Basin also is rich in resources. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has developed a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for coalbed methane drilling on nearly 3.2 million acres of public land in the Powder River and Billings resource management areas. Methane drilling impacts include saline discharges into the waterways, roads, pads, pipelines, power lines, transmission stations, and noisy compressors, all of which threaten habitat and disrupt migration routes. Many sportsmen as well as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) have concluded that the BLM’s plan in the SEIS is wholly inadequate for the protection and maintenance of fish and wildlife habitat, and will have a substantial impact on the future of hunting and fishing in the Powder River Basin. If this plan moves forward as it stands, the basin’s outstanding fish and wildlife habitat could be rendered unsuitable for hunting and fishing.
What’s at Risk?
The Powder River Basin boasts a mule deer population of more than 36,000 and supports nearly 11,000 hunters annually. In Montana, the Powder River Basin ranks first for mule deer hunting among the state’s top four mule deer areas. Throughout the basin, coalbed methane drilling, similar to the development in the Powder River Basin in neighboring Wyoming, threatens the Montana part of the basin’s mule deer habitat, and would make maintaining a healthy mule deer population and reaching FWP’s regionwide annual harvest objectives virtually impossible.
The Sportsmen’s Solution
A sharp decline in sage-grouse populations finally has forced the BLM’s office in Buffalo, Wyo., to significantly revise its land-use plan and impose interim restrictions on some methane drilling in order to conserve sage-grouse habitat. Unfortunately, with much of the land already leased and being drilled, the success of this after-the-fact conservation effort is uncertain. With careful planning that incorporates better science on managing sage-grouse populations as well other wildlife and fisheries resources and energy development, the Powder River country in Montana can avoid the wildlife losses experienced in Wyoming.
Sportsman in the Spotlight
A Miles City, Mont., resident and chair of the Tongue River Chapter of Pheasants Forever, Scott Hicswa is a dedicated mule deer and upland bird hunter in the Powder River Basin. Scott is a natural resources professional who understands the need for sound up-front planning of energy development to attain the right balance between natural gas production and fish and wildlife conservation.
“This is an opportunity to ensure that things are done right, so our kids will have special places and abundant natural resources to enjoy.” - Scott HicswaPrev: The Middle Yellowstone River Valley