ROCK SPRINGS – While oil and gas production has benefited Wyoming, there has always been concern development is done responsibly and balanced. Recently, Citizens for the Wyoming Range met in Rock Springs to discuss parts of the Wyoming Range that are left unprotected from development.
In 2005, a lot of leases for oil and gas development were opened up. When residents noticed many of these would be in the Wyoming Range, they stood up and voiced their opinion that some places needed to be left alone.
This led to the passing of the Wyoming Range Legacy Act which took 1.2 million acres in the Wyoming Range off the table for oil and gas development.
However, there are still areas in the Wyoming Range where no decisions have been made. Recently, the Forest Service has came to the point where they must make a decision on these areas. They include approximately 41,000 acres from Horse Creek to Labarge Creek.
The meeting was a informational meeting while also urging residents who would like to see the Wyoming Range left alone to let officials know how they feel.
“We don’t want it to be a surprise to anyone,” Lance of Trout Unlimited said. “We know this land is important and it is our responsibility to strike a balance.”
The keynote speaker was Wal Gasson who has been a key figure in making sure the Wyoming Range is left alone. During his presentation, Gasson gave a different look at the importance of the Wyoming Range.
With Veteran’s Day on his mind, Gasson told the group two stories. While completely different, the message was exactly the same in both cases.
Gasson told the story of his father. He said his dad was born in Green River in 1913 and the family had a ranch locally. Gasson said his grandfather died of influenza in 1919 which left his dad with new responsibilities. His aunt picked up the slack after the death.
Gasson told how his dad went to the University of Wyoming where he majored in beer until his aunt told him she was going to cut him off if he did not straighten up.
It was at this time, Gasson said his father noticed the local National Guard and joined. Unfortunately, he joined at the wrong time and in 1941 was shipped to the South Pacific. He said his father would never speak of his war experiences and all he really knew of his father’s experience was a picture of his dad and on the back it said somewhere in the Philippines, 1944.
Gasson explained when his father came home from the war he was a total wreck. Gasson told of how he drank way too much and how his life was greatly affected by the war. He said down the road, his father went deer hunting on the east side of Wyoming peak.
“It is that piece of real estate that was his place. He fished there and hunted there and it was there he got his feet back on the ground,” Gasson said. “It was there he found the solitude and the peace he needed.”
Jumping ahead many years, Gasson told the story of Colton who grew up in Casper. Gasson said Colton went to Natrona High School and, after graduation, he enlisted and was deployed to Afghanistan.
Gasson said Colton’s unit was on the move when the vehicle they were in hit a massive IED. The blast killed most of the unit and left Colton in a coma for 15 days. He also lost his leg in the explosion.
When Colton came home, concerned friends sat and thought about things they could do to help him. They decided to go elk hunting. They were able to get Colton on a horse and headed up to a popular area in the Wyoming Range.
As they stopped, Colton got off the horse and walked to the edge of a draw and stood there. As his friends walked over to him they noticed tears running down Colton’s face and asked him what was wrong. Colton said he was alright he just never thought he would be able to do this again.
“That place, the Wyoming Range, was critical to these two men in getting their lives back,” Gasson said. “As long as there are evil men in the world there will be wars. And as long as there are wars there will be men and women in the Wyoming community who will fight. I pray the Wyoming Range will be there for them as well.”
Mike Burd gave attendees more of the numbers involved. He said when the Jonah Field started they were only going to drill 17 holes. It is now over 5,000 holes with 3,000 more to go. Burd said companies finally admitted that 72 percent of the deer which used the area perished.
Stanley Energy from Denver wants to drill 200 holes in the area between Horse Creek and Labarge creek. Not only is this area major for the deer and elk population but Burd said about 40 percent of the state’s moose population go through this area.
Burd said the Forest Service should come out with an environment impact study on the area in January and they are hoping to have three public meetings on the EIS. He urged people to contact elected officials, forest service officials and Bridger-Teton officials to let them know the Wyoming Range needs to be protected.
Also in attendance were Sen. Bernadine Craft and newly elected representative JoAnn Dayton. Craft said she is not against oil and gas development just not in the Wyoming Range, on Little Mountain or other places which need to be left alone. She said while oil and gas bring revenue into the state, tourism is the second-biggest money producer in Wyoming and it also needs to be protected.
Craft explained now she has an partner in Dayton who will help protect these areas and added the Wyoming Range needs to be forever wild and forever Wyoming.