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[cdt-l] Oil and gas, etc. vs. Griz
I found this on AOL from an AP report.
ALONG THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, Wyo.(Aug. 5)- ''Grizzly Bear Area!''
''Special Rules Apply!'' screams the bright orange sign.
Riding atop North America's burly shoulders, miles from the nearest pavement,
outfitter Tory Taylor pats his holster.
Instead of carrying a six-shooter - this is the New West, after all - it
holds a can of hot pepper spray. To deter danger, humanely.
Overhead, a golden eagle soars the thermals southeast of Yellowstone National
Park. Beneath his boots, 30 miles of wild tumble all the way to the Tetons,
still snowcapped in midsummer.
No ''Ursus arctos horribilis'' here. Although nobody can say they weren't
warned if one appears, snarling.
''Grizzlies tend to move at daylight and again in the evening,'' Taylor says.
''During the day, they head for the shade.''
But. With grizzlies, there's always a but.
''It all depends on how hungry they are,'' he says, spurring his horse. ''If
their stomachs are empty, they're liable to go anywhere.''
So are humans. That's the problem.
America is hungry for fuel. And industry, backed by the Bush administration,
wants to drill for oil and natural gas on almost a million acres of back
country in the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton national forests - areas where the
grizzly bear is largely free to roam.
The grizzly is listed as a threatened species - one step safer than
endangered status, but still scarce and protected by law.
There are only 1,110 remaining in the Lower 48 states, a tiny fraction of the
estimated 100,000 grizzlies that roamed the West in the 19th Century. More
than half of the survivors live in Yellowstone.
But they spend considerable periods roaming 4 million adjacent federal acres
of peaks, dense timber and lush meadows - places that are prime bear country,
but beyond the national park's sheltering embrace.
National forests are working lands. Some oil and gas wells already are
pumping in less-sensitive areas of the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton. Given the
proper permits, petroleum geologists could go exploring many new spots before
the snow flies in autumn.
If necessary, drilling supporters want to go all the way to the dizzying
ridge in the Rocky Mountains where Taylor is riding.
''Looking at the energy crisis that we're in,'' says Dru Bower, vice
president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, ''it's irresponsible to
withdraw an area from availability when there are known resources that can be
Opponents say the drilling plans are deliberately provocative.
In the Shoshone, for example, an exploratory well is proposed beneath
Ramshorn Peak where 15 of the bears have been tracked using radio collars,
along with wolves, lynx and the northern goshawk, an endangered bird of prey.
''They know where the critical habitat is,'' says Lloyd Dorsey of the Wyoming
Wildlife Federation. ''To say it is a coincidence they want to drill there
would really be stretching it.''
Environmentalists fear industrial development would bring the same result as
Bears, they say, ''always lose.''
''You'll never see a grizzly in an oil field,'' says Liz Howell of the Sierra
Industry officials say they would tailor their work to comply with the
Endangered Species Act and other regulations. But these federal lands are
open to multiple uses, including commercial development and recreation. The
U.S. Forest Service and other agencies now are deep into a bureaucratic
evaluation of the problems that drilling poses.
Few creatures are considered more important in this corner than the grizzly,
America's largest land predator. An adult can weigh 900 pounds. Standing on
its hind legs, it would dwarf 7-foot-1 basketball star Shaquille O'Neal.
Grizzlies have killed 17 people in the Lower 48 in the past century. However,
they tend to be shy and rather high-strung, despite their huge bulk and
ferocious reputations. Even distant noise can prompt them to abandon their
dens, abort fetuses and suffer stress-related illness, scientists warn.
Their real conflict is with ranchers. In dry years, some bears risk capture
and elimination by boldly venturing into the valleys to eat livestock.
Last year, 33 grizzlies were killed or found dead. Most were mistakenly shot
by hunters; others either wandered into highways or were destroyed by
authorities for transgressions against humans.
The Bush White House has abandoned a Clinton administration plan to
reintroduce 25 grizzlies into Idaho wilderness west of Yellowstone.
Interior secretary Gale Norton has said she is ''fully committed'' to the
bears' survival, but won't reintroduce them into new lands without community
Scientists say Norton's decision dooms grizzlies to interbreeding in national
parks and other ''isolated islands of habitat.''
''Drilling could be the last straw that pushes imperiled wildlife like the
grizzly to edge of extinction,'' Dorsey predicts.
All of which begs the question: How much energy is up here?
According to a 1995 assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey, 229 million
barrels of oil are technically recoverable in the area of Wyoming immediately
east of Yellowstone, including the Shoshone, known as the Sub-Absaroka Play.
It's a modest reserve that even petroleum experts concede would be
challenging to tap using today's methods. If companies were to bore through
volcanic rock, ''they might hit something,'' suggests Chris Schenk, project
chief of the USGS assessment.
More appealing is the southern reach of the Bridger-Teton, closer to existing
natural gas fields. One estimate suggests parcels there might hold 80
trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to supply 1 million homes for decades.
Questions persist. How many wells? Would they be profitable? For how long?
There's only one way to find out.
''We'll never know what's in there, under that ground, unless we're allowed
to drill,'' says Don Likwartz, director of Wyoming's Oil and Gas Conservation
After leasing, production would be delayed by several more years of
additional studies and permits. Every drill site must be restored, too.
''We can't turn over a rock without approvals from several agencies,''
complains Bower of the Petroleum Association.
Environmental groups pledge to seek an injunction to keep every rock right
where it is.
''There will not be a well drilled unless a federal judge tells us so,'' says
attorney Tim Preso of Earthjustice, formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense
''What we're seeing in this little corner could play itself out across large
parts of the West, particularly in critical wildlife strongholds.''
Industry officials complain that the public tug-of-war between precious
energy and imperiled wildlife has turned into a distorted popularity contest.
It's the latest in a series of public showdowns that have erupted in the
Yellowstone region involving species considered to be emblems of the American
West. Elk, bison, wolves - all have triggered bitter quarrels with landowners
and ranchers, many of them smaller operators who have lived here for
The prospect of energy drilling triggers a more visceral reaction. It's Big
Business, bringing roads, utilities, pipelines, waste pits and dehydration
plants to the back country.
''Resources are where they are,'' Bower declares. ''We can't decide where
they should be located. Mother Nature doesn't work that way.''
High on the Continental Divide, it's hard to imagine industry coming this
far, this high to the place that outfitter Taylor calls ''a whole lotta
>From his saddle, he counts seven mountain ranges. Using his finger, he traces
the ridgeline down to Union Pass, where the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds
Up here, rainfall splits three ways to ride America's great river systems -
the Mississippi, the Columbia and the Colorado.
Taylor doesn't look like an activist, or a cowboy. He wears a frayed mesh
ballcap emblazoned with the logo of a fertilizer company. Smudged eyeglasses
slide down his nose.
Looks deceive. Budweiser named him its national Outdoorsman of the Year in
2000. Like a raindrop on Union Pass, Taylor split the $50,000 prize between
several nature groups.
Along the trail, he points out hidden treasures to a dozen visitors.
A rotting log ripped open by a bear hungry for grubs. A splash of purple
lupine wildflowers. The silhouette of an elk on a distant ridge.
Still, no grizzlies.
A few guests dismount to hike the final quarter-mile up Union Peak, elevation
The golden eagle suddenly dive-bombs. Its 7-foot wingspan casts a fearsome
shadow. With talons flashing, it plucks a fat marmot from the rocks.
The astonished hikers stare as the eagle flaps homeward, dinner dangling,
squealing. Then they erupt in animated re-creations of the wild moment.
Taylor fixes his gaze on the distant Tetons.
''Leave it alone,'' he says. ''That's the best use of this land.''
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