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Parcel 194 ‘bottleneck’ lease sale approved 

• Nesvik: Pronghorn corridor designation coming soon 

By Joy Ufford 
Pinedale Roundup
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

PINEDALE — Wildlife lovers who support protection of Sublette County’s ancient mule deer and pronghorn antelope migration corridors were shocked by the state’s Oct. 5 approval of Lot 194’s mineral lease sale – in light of a potential designation of the pronghorn corridor. 

The Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners, made of Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Chuck Gray, Auditor Kristi Racines, Treasurer Kurt Meier, Supt. of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder, met and with Gordon’s nay vote, proceeded to approve the mineral lease sale that took place in July. 

The board postponed its final decision to await more information about the upcoming pronghorn corridor’s status, review data for pronghorn use of Parcel 194 and take public comments before its Oct. 5 meeting. 


Quick look

The Fremont Lake “bottleneck” on the ungulates’ spring and fall migration route is a long-recognized pinch point. 

Private and agency efforts have eased their passages below the Wind River Range and past Fremont Lake, near Pinedale with a variety of projects such as fence replacements. 

For example, Wyoming Game and Fish officials worked with private landowners to ease the corridor’s narrow opening, resulting in the Luke Lynch Wildlife Habitat Management Area. 

In 2008, the Forest Service designated its own official Path of the Pronghorn, a 200-mile route between Rock Springs and Hoback Basin through the Bridger-Teton National Forest. 

The BTNF recently sought feedback on seasonal closures of nearby public walking trails at the Fremont Lake’s outlet at Pine Creek. 

And although Game and Fish received official designation for the Sublette Mule Deer Corridor in 2016, wildlife lovers are still awaiting release of its pronghorn corridor assessment – a designation that seems even more critical after last winter’s devastation of the once numerous herds. 

In 2020, Gordon released “Executive Order 2020-1, Wyoming Mule Deer and Antelope Migration Corridor Protection.”

If the state officially designated Lot 194 within the planned pronghorn migration corridor, no surface development would be allowed. 


Path to a corridor? 

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik told the Pinedale Roundup on Oct. 16 that the wildlife agency is working on the designation process and might have news “in the coming days.” He sees Lot 194’s mineral lease sale from a cup half full perspective. “It is important to note that development potential with surface disturbance in the next five years (length of the lease) is very low,” Nesvik said. “Also important is the fact that about half of the parcel has sage-grouse core protections, which are stronger than migration corridor stipulations. I feel strongly that if this parcel was to be developed, the proponent would be highly motivated to work closely with us on migration protections.” Game and Fish will not try to change the SLIB decision, he added. “We would not take legal action against the SLIB. Essentially, that would amount to the state suing itself.” The Parcel 194 decision “has no bearing on the identification and designation process for the Sublette Pronghorn corridor,” Nesvik said “Formal identification of the corridor happens through the Game and Fish Commission. If the commission recommends formal designation, that final decision is made by the governor.”

The Office of State Lands and Investments did not open a public hearing about Lot 194 because the action was not an actual sale of real estate as in the state-owned “Kelly Parcel” in Teton County, according to Cody Booth, assistant director of its Trust Land Management Division. 

“I would like to make a clarification that state lands associated with Parcel 194 were not sold,” he told the Roundup. “Instead, a mineral lease was issued on the parcel. Public meetings (and) hearings are not required to be held when issuing a mineral lease. The Office did take public comment prior to the Board of Land Commissioners’ meeting on Oct. 5, 2023. All comments were submitted to the Board of Land Commissioners prior to the meeting.” 

In August, Office of State Lands deputy director Jason Crowder told WyoFile: “What we would like to do is have a more in-depth conversation about what to do with the Game and Fish Department about that parcel. Specifically, about how pronghorn are utilizing it, and is there anything we can do moving forward about that knowing there’s not a migration corridor designated pursuant to the executive order right now.” 

Wildlife and conservation groups submitted comments before the meeting. Some also wrote letters to the editor and guest columns to the Roundup. 

“We write to object to the offering of parcel 194 in the most recent Office of State Lands and Investments Oil and Gas Lease Sale (July 5- 12) and ask you not to issue the lease to the high bidder,” said the Wyoming Outdoor Council in its comments to SLIB. “Parcel 194 is located squarely within a known bottleneck that the migratory Sublette pronghorn herd uses to reach crucial seasonal ranges.” 

Wyoming Wildlife Foundation also wrote: “Approval of development of this parcel was delayed until October pending concerns over migrating antelope. During this period, the (state) met with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to figure out a future for the parcel. They developed certain stipulations for the lessee to follow if it were to develop. Mainly, the lessee may not develop the area during critical times of the year for migration.” 

Further, the WOC said: “Notably, the EO singles out bottlenecks by affording them the highest degree of protection, stating ‘(n)o surface disturbance or seasonal human presence shall be permitted within bottlenecks, and state agencies shall restrict uses to those that do not impair migration corridor functionality.’ This provision recognizes that these narrow pinch points in the landscape are vital to animal movement and that severing connectivity at a bottleneck can result in the breakdown of an entire migration. 

“In the face of catastrophic losses the Sublette pronghorn herd suffered following this past winter’s snow, cold, and disease outbreak, we ask the State to do everything it can to minimize threats to this population.”


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