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Special Values of the Great Divide: Pressures From Energy Development on the Public Lands of the Great Divide

  • Biodiversity Conservation Alliance
  • Mar 15, 2005

The Great Divide planning area in south-central and southeastern Wyoming, managed by the Rawlins Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is a huge expanse of public land home to numerous outstanding natural values. These lands are owned in common by all Americans and managed for the public by the BLM, an agency within the Department of Interior. Natural values within the Great Divide range from world-class big game populations to scenic vistas of national park caliber, from Wyoming’s only wild population of the globally rare black-footed ferret to strongholds of disappearing birds like the sage grouse and mountain plover. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness-quality lands where citizens can find refuge from the noise and bustle of the city. Some of these wildlands are afforded protection as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and others are completely unprotected.

The Great Divide area is under extreme pressure from industrial development, primarily for natural gas, coalbed methane (CBM), oil, and coal deposits. One example of this pressure is the Atlantic Rim CBM project, which could result in up to 3,880 production wells on the eastern edge of the Red Desert (Bureau of Land Management 2001). Accompanying these wells would be numerous wastewater ponds and hundreds or thousands of miles of new roads, pipelines and powerlines.

BLM is in the process of revising its long-term management plan for the area, known as a Resource Management Plan (RMP). The revision process, which BLM will complete in the next few years, will determine which areas will be open to industrial development and which areas will be given special protection. Equally important, the new plan will also determine the environmental safeguards for those development activities that are permitted. The BLM’s stated goal is to “obtain a balance of allowable activities and management strategies that meet all legal mandates” (BLM 2003a). To a large extent, the BLM land management planning process will determine the future of the natural values within the Great Divide planning area.

Our goal in creating this report is to demonstrate the outstanding natural and cultural values present on the BLM lands of the Great Divide, and the major threats to those values, in a concise and easy-to-read format. Where possible, maps are used to show the location and extent of these values and threats. The report distills the huge amount of reliable information available about the natural wonders found in the Great Divide so that concerned citizens and decision-makers can give full consideration to protecting those values.

Special Values of the Great Divide

The goal of this report is to demonstrate the outstanding natural and cultural values present on the public lands of the Great Divide, and the major threats to those values, in a concise and easy-to-read format. Where possible, maps are used to show the location and extent of these values and threats. The report distills the huge amount of reliable information available about the natural wonders found in the Great Divide so that concerned citizens and decision-makers can give full consideration to protecting those values.

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