County seeks multiple use unity
by Sublette County Commission
August 31, 2010
Natural resource users of public lands should unite to ensure that all multiple use activities on public lands are maintained, according to a resolution enacted by Sublette County Commissioners this week. The resolution is part of the continued fall-out from El Paso Corporation’s Ruby Pipleline LLC’s $15 million agreement with Western Watersheds Project, the group intent on ridding the West’s public lands of domestic livestock grazing.
"The deal pits one public land use against another, to the detriment of all public lands users," said Sublette County Commissioner John Linn.
Sublette County is one of the local governments active and vocal in its opposition to the agreement, in which El Paso agreed to establish a "conservation fund" in exchange for WWP’s consent to the 680-mile pipeline from Opal, Wyoming to Oregon without engaging in litigation. Money from the deal could be used to buy out grazing permits on public land. Although the Ruby Pipeline will not traverse Sublette County, much of the natural gas it will transport will originate in Sublette County, entering at the Opal Hub, in nearby Lincoln County.
Sublette County’s federal land use policy notes that the prioritizing of any one multiple use should only occur after impacts to other multiple uses are fully quantified and mitigated. In addition, Sublette County’s policy opposes the "relinquishment, transfer or retirement of livestock grazing animal unit months in favor of conservation, wildlife or other uses besides livestock grazing."
"This agreement, if carried out, has tremendous impacts," Sublette County Commission Chairman Bill Cramer said. "The public needs to know what’s in the agreement, and the impacts of implementing the agreement need to be fully disclosed beforehand."
Sublette County is one of the local governments in the Coalition of Local Governments that has requested a full disclosure of the terms of the agreement, noting that the impacts from implementing such an agreement should have been examined in the federal planning process prior to the Bureau of Land Management’s issuance of a record of decision favoring the pipeline.
Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman said, "This whole agreement is based on the false premise that removing livestock grazing is good for the environment."
The removal of public lands livestock grazing would cause tremendous negative impacts on the custom and culture of the affected region, the commission notes, and would result in the loss of open space due to development of private lands, loss of winter wildlife habitat and wildlife migration corridors, and the loss of return flows to fisheries if agricultural lands were no longer irrigated.
Western Wyoming’s Coalition of Local Governments has filed a Petition for Review with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking the court’s review of the authorization of the pipeline, noting that three days after the pipeline was approved, El Paso announced the deal to buy and retire grazing permits – an action not analyzed in the environmental impact statement process. In fact, the EIS assumed that existing livestock grazing would continue and even considered continued livestock grazing as part of the ecological regime and baseline condition. The elimination of grazing would have both ecological and economic impacts, as well as impacts to the custom and culture of local communities in the region, yet this was not disclosed in the EIS process. If the agreement is to stand, then a supplemental EIS must be prepared to examine its impact, according to the petition for review.
The Sublette County Commission’s resolution notes that while the commission is generally supportive of the Ruby Pipeline, the commission requests that El Paso not conclude its deal with WWP, and instead join with Sublette County, other western counties, livestock grazing interests, energy developers and other multiple users of natural resources to promote and maintain all multiple use activities on public lands based on facts and sound science.
Bousman said, "El Paso’s agreement with WWP drives a dagger in the heart of the level of trust we have developed between the public, energy operators, and other multiple users of public lands."