Mule deer migration

Hall Sawyer, of Western Ecosystems Technology, used this map to illustrate the 150-mile migration route undertaken by approximately 5,000 mule deer.

The oil and gas industry showed relatively slim interest in investing in hotly contested leases overlapping the celebrated Red Desert-to-Hoback mule deer migration corridor.

The Bureau of Land Management reported Friday the details of $61 million in third-quarter Wyoming lease sales, which were auctioned during the third week of September.

Thirty-two of the 394 parcels offered statewide infringed on Wyoming’s first-ever designated deer migration route.

That prompted hook-and-bullet and environmental advocacy groups to protest the sales due to fears that oil and gas drilling activity could ultimately deter migrating mule deer.

The energy industry proved lukewarm toward the disputed parcels, eschewing half of them by not even bidding and settling on prices far below the statewide average of $202 an acre.

Bids topped out at just $9 an acre, for a 1,000-acre parcel acquired by Baseline Minerals.

Casper-based Kirkwood Oil and Gas was the most interested in the disputed leases, acquiring the right to drill six parcels that overlap the Red Desert-to-Hoback migration. Together those leases cover over 8,000 acres both inside and outside the corridor and cost Kirkwood just over $21,000.

The News&Guide did not receive a response to a request for an interview on Tuesday.

The other 10 contested leases acquired went to five firms: Sitka Oil and Gas, of Sheridan; Bro Energy, of Salt Lake City; Baseline Minerals, of Lakewood, Colorado; Kare Energy, of Austin, Texas; and Liberty Petroleum Corporation, of New York.

The companies now possess the rights to drill within or adjacent to the migration route for 10 years, and afterward as long as the companies are producing oil and gas.

High-ranking BLM officials described the sale as a win for both wildlife and industry. The federal land agency took five parcels in the migration route off the table at Wyoming’s request and attached separate “special lease notices” requiring consultation with wildlife specialists to the remaining 32 overlapping tracts.

“Wildlife like mule deer travel hundreds of miles through this migration corridor each year,” BLM Deputy Director Brian Steed said in a statement, “and it is our priority to protect this important area while still promoting development and economic opportunities on public lands.”

Advocacy groups continue to condemn the possibility of drilling in the 150-mile migration route, which wasn’t discovered until 2013 and lands deer in the Wyoming and Gros Ventre mountain ranges, where they spend their summers.

Two days before the sale, activists implored the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to request a deferral of all intersecting leases.

But the decision-making board did not accept the recommendation, instead going with agency staff’s advice to ask for deferrals only of parcels that were 90-plus percent within the corridor.

Industry, BLM and Wyoming Game and Fish say they will to work together to diminish the chances that migratory mule deer will be displaced within the overlapping parcels.

But some wildlife activists say that’s not enough. Instead, legally binding stipulations or a deferral of the leases until an in-review management plan for the area is completed would be the best way to protect the deer, activists contend.

“There is zero evidence to suggest we can mitigate impacts to a corridor or its stopover habitats once they are impacted from oil and gas development,” Joy Bannon, policy director for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.

An “application to drill” process precedes any development and will determine precisely where well pads, roads and associated infrastructure will be located.

Documents related to drilling applications, and their outcomes, are public, but are not posted online by BLM.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067, or @JHNGenviro.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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