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The Red Desert

The Red Desert is an area of south central Wyoming, that is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, that covers approximately six million acres. It is also the highest desert in North America. Inside of this area, are smaller areas of concern for those who watch wildlife and habitat issues. The Jack Morrow Hills, and Adobe Town are among the better known of these areas.

There is a large array of animals that call it home. The desert is occupied by the largest migratory game herd in the lower 48 states – pronghorn antelope - and the largest desert elk herd in the world. They  are accompanied by a large number of wild horses and sage grouse. But like much of the rest of the state, the Red Desert is over one of the largest deposits of natural gas and coal bed methane in the world.

It is estimated that there is well over 300 trillion cubic feet of coal bed methane here. Development of wells and pipelines has grown almost exponentially since 2002. The BLM's own studies estimate that it would require 891 producing wells to use the resources in this area. The Wyoming State Geological Survey believes that it would support 543 methane wells, and 322 conventional oil and gas wells.

There have been attempts to protect the Red Desert as far back as 1898, when an attempt was made to designate much of the area as a Winter Game Reserve. There have also been attempts to designate the Jack Morrow Hills area as a National Park, a National Wildlife Refuge, as well as for wild horses, and a North American Antelope Range.

Adobe Town is an area of badlands that is largely unknown to any development. It is similar to canyons and rock structures in the badland areas of Montana and Utah. The Adobe Town area is also know for trophy mule deer and antelope. At one time, there was an effort to make this area a national park, as well as the Jack Morrow Hills area.

The other side of the issue is that this is not an area that is easily accessible to development. Although developers have parceled off some of the land, and there are land owners, there are no homes, power lines, water sources, or any other indication of human habitation. People buy land thinking that they can build a house there, but they soon find out that building is a practical impossibility. Once they see the land, no one really wants to live there, anyway. There are plenty of gravel and two-track roads, and you can still bring out your truck and photograph or hunt, but it is otherwise unappealing as a vacation destination.


Study shows dramatic declines in mule deer, pronghorn antelope herds along Wyoming, Colorado border: Decrease blamed on increase in oil and gas drilling - By Troy Hooper, RealVail News and Community Content Feed, July 21, 2011

Report: Deer, pronghorn numbers decline in Colorado, Wyoming as demands on public lands rise - April 2011

The Red Zone: Wyoming's Red Desert - by: Michael Behar, Backpacker Magazine, September 2008

Protecting the Jack Morrow Hills - Biodiversity Conservation Alliance

Places to Explore: The Red Desert - Wyoming Outdoor Council

The Pinedale Anticline

Pinedale AnticlineThe western half of Wyoming has one of the richest deposits of natural gas ever to be found. Between gas companies competing for drilling contracts and the need/desire to grow the number of gas wells, and the need for housing for the workers, wildlife migration routes are a concern.

This area also happens to be part of the migration route for not only pronghorn, but a number of species, that travel between Yellowstone National Park, the Green River Valley, and beyond. It is one of the longest known migration routes. other than migration routes of caribou further north in Alaska and Canada.

In June of 2008 an easment was created by the US Forest Service for the migration route. Several hunting and conservations groups have combined efforts to preserve a corridor 45 miles long, by only one mile wide, which lies on Forest Service land. The remaining 30 miles is located on private lands, and areas maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. Inside of these boundaries, they hope to create a zone that is free from development of housing or commercial building and development and gas well development. It is hoped that the designation becomes permanent.

The migration route has been studied by the Wildlife Conservation Service, in cooperation with Ultra Resources, Shell Exploration & Production, and Questar Market Resources. The study has found that the oil fields haven't really effected the pronghorn migration, or feeding areas, with the possible exception that the pronghorn are tending to travel closer to the New Fork River. They are also avoiding the more heavily commercialized areas.

 


 

As Natural Gas Fields Grow, Pronghorn Habitat Shrinks - May 3, 2012

Path of the Pronghorn Leading to New Passages - November 2, 2011

The Wild West: A Pronghorn's Incredible Journey - September 22, 2010

Antelope free to roam - By Jeff Gearino, Casper Star-Tribune, Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Long Distance Migration Route for Pronghorn Found in Idaho by WCS and Lava Lake Institute - October 29, 2009

Protecting the Pronghorn Path - June 18, 2008

 

For more information on the Pinedale Anticline, see:

Upper Green River Alliance

Wyoming Wildlife Federation

 

 

A sizeable herd of pronghorns under the shadow of Elk Mountain,
near Saratoga, Wyoming.
Photo by Adriene Wheeler

Gardening and Pronghorn

Every time I complain about not being able to get a deer, most of my neighbors tell me that they are in their yards, eating their trees/bushes/plants/gardens...... This is a normal occurrence during most Falls and Winters, but the years that the weather gets worse the deer and pronghorns are more likely to forage in cities and towns. The point being that some of the plants that we put in the ground for enjoyment – whether to look at or eat – are considered to be food by animals like deer and pronghorn. It doesn't seem to matter if they are familiar with that particular plant type, or not, either.

When planting a garden, it might be wise to take into consideration the local wildlife. Some plants that we enjoy are poisonous and/or toxic to wildlife. This problem seems to have come to light in the area around Cheyenne, not long ago (December 2009-January 2010). Wyoming had received more snows than usual, and more pronghorn had been seen foraging around Cheyenne neighborhoods. Because the pronghorn were eating non-native (decorative) plants, they are ingesting toxins in the plants. (The plant in the linked article is the yew bush, which is non-native to Wyoming.) No one is faulting people for planting decorative plants in their garden, but it might be a good idea to do a little research and see which of your favorite plants might be harmful to local wildlife.

For more information see: The antelope and the yew - By Shauna Stephenson, Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Monday, January 4, 2010