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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