Greater Little Mountain Area
Little Mountain has emerged as a battleground in the oil and gas energy boom in southwestern Wyoming. Located about 40 miles south of Rock Springs, the greater Little Mountain area supports thriving populations of elk and mule deer and is considered by many to be one of the best hunting destinations in the state. In addition to healthy sage grouse populations, the sub-alpine fir and juniper woodland-laced landscape also includes streams with superior trout fisheries for the sensitive Colorado River cutthroat trout.
Limited energy development already is occurring on Wyoming state lands in the area. More than 169,000 acres in the greater Little Mountain area have been placed on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) lease sale auction block for oil and gas development, but not all acres were sold. Gov. Dave Freudenthal has publicly voiced his concern about the impacts of such development on recreation, critical wildlife habitat, sensitive species, and air and water quality.
“Any energy development, whether limited or broad, in the Little Mountain area is going to stir up a perfect storm of wildlife, environmental, recreational and social issues,” the governor said recently. According to the Wyoming State Geological Survey, the proposed energy field in the greater Little Mountain area likely will be characterized by closely spaced wells that will turn this world-class hunting area into a pock-marked industrial zone.
Oil and gas leasing and development can adversely affect wildlife habitat if it’s not done carefully. The well pads and construction of associated pipelines and roads, as well as the noise and water and air degradation, may independently and cumulatively impair a wide range
of species. Increased human activity – from truck traffic to the presence of machinery and workers – also can result in conflicts ranging from changed wildlife movement patterns to wildlife poaching.
What’s at Risk?
Since 1990, the greater Little Mountain area has benefited from more than $2 million in habitat restoration projects funded by a wide range of groups including Trout Unlimited, Bowhunters of Wyoming, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Western Wyoming Mule Deer Foundation, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and the BLM. Local hunters, anglers, teachers, Boy Scouts and wildlife enthusiasts have donated their time and participated in on-the-ground habitat projects and monitoring efforts.
These restoration activities have supported the thriving elk herd in the Little Mountain area, which offers one of the most sought-after elk tags in the state. In fact, a resident hunter has only about a 6-percent chance of drawing an elk license for the area. Energy development here would bring new roads, which would reduce cover security for elk, increase elk vulnerability and decrease the size of the animals. Colorado River cutthroat trout, which have benefited from habitat restoration efforts in these fragile watersheds, would be compromised by development activity, and that could force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The Sportsmen’s Solution
Sportsmen who use this area want to make sure that development on these lands occurs responsibly and preserves the unique qualities of these important wildlife resources. Where development does take place, the impacts should be minimized through conservation and mitigation measures including proper monitoring and the mandated use of best management practices. Habitats that have not been developed or leased at this point should remain free from development activities and be withdrawn from future leasing.
Sportsman in the Spotlight
Joshua Coursey is an avid sportsman and the local chapter chairman of the Mule Deer Foundation. As a successful businessman, he appreciates the benefits that energy development has brought to his community in southwestern Wyoming. Yet, what is sometimes overlooked, he says, is “the level of accountability, how exploration occurs on public lands, and the impacts it holds for future generations.” Having hunted for trophy mule deer in the Little Mountain area for more than 20 years, Joshua wants to help ensure that his children can enjoy the same opportunity.
“This issue is one of great emotion and passion, as it should be, for it revolves around an area that many of us hold to be serene and very dear to our hearts.” – Joshua CourseyNext: Horse Creek - Ryegrass Rim