Thunder Basin plan under fire - Ranchers join oil and gas industry in opposing a new management plan

Associated Press
Billings Gazette


GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Normally on opposite sides of the fence, ranchers have joined the oil and gas industry in opposing a new management plan for northeastern Wyoming's Thunder Basin National Grassland.

Approved in August, the plan banned off-roading on the grassland's 553,000 acres between Douglas and Gillette, set aside more land for big-game grazing and spelled out new oil and gas drilling restrictions.

It also set aside 26,000 acres for high-use recreation, established smaller management areas and placed more emphasis on providing habitat for threatened, endangered and other species.

Ranchers argue the plan too severely limits grazing and puts the grassland in danger of an overabundance of grass caused by undergrazing. Drillers say rules capping surface damage and creating buffers for birds and prey are unnecessarily expanded under the plan, prohibiting efficient and cost-effective coalbed methane gas production.

Joined by Campbell County, the groups have filed an appeal against the plan asking the U.S. Forest Service to reconsider the plan.

Thunder Basin supervisor Mary Peterson said the Forest Service tried to create a "middle of the road" plan but realized it could never meet all interests and that appeals were likely.

The Forest Service said it received 70,000 public comments on the plan and gave the appellants several opportunities to share their values and desires.

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