Natural Gas Pipeline Corridor Threatens Imperiled Species and Inventoried Roadless Areas

Wolverine. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Since time immemorial native wildlife, including grizzly bears, lynx, and wolverine have inhabited and traveled the higher elevation connections between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Uinta Mountains, linking the Northern and Southern Rocky Mountains.  Over a decade ago the Forest Service published a map of this regional and nationally significant Yellowstone to Uintas corridor.  While some Inventoried Roadless Areas remain, today this historic corridor is heavily fragmented with roads, phosphate mining, clearcuts, off-highway vehicles and livestock grazing.

Adding to the already extensive habitat fragmentation, last November the Forest Service authorized Lower Valley Energy to clear-cut a 50-foot wide, 18.2-mile-long right-of-way through National Forest lands –including six Inventoried Roadless Areas — for construction of the Crow Creek natural gas pipeline in southeastern Idaho.  The Forest Service decision provides the private company with a 50-foot right-of-way during construction and a permanent 20-foot right-of-way to maintain the pipeline.   In addition to the underground pipeline and the utility right-of-way, there will also be above-ground facilities such as valves and staging areas.

The pipeline utility route will be, in actual effect, a permanent 18.2-mile road through National Forest lands despite the fact that these public lands have been classified and protected as federal Inventoried Roadless Areas under the Roadless Rule.  That means motorized vehicles will use this corridor in perpetuity to maintain and inspect the pipeline and permanently remove vegetation.  The pipeline corridor will also increase sight-lines for poaching, increase noxious weed introductions, and allow abundant new opportunities for illegal motor vehicle use in perpetuity.

There are exactly zero benefits to public lands or wildlife from this project. Just the opposite, in fact, as the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service stated that lynx, grizzly bears, Ute ladies’ tresses orchid, and yellow-billed cuckoo — all of which are on the Endangered Species List — may be present in the project area. The agency also found that wolverines, which are currently warranted and proposed for Endangered Species listing, may be present in the area.  The pipeline is also adjacent to federally designated Lynx Critical Habitat.  Additionally, there are greater sage grouse in the area; the greater sage grouse is another imperiled species that merits protection under the Endangered Species Act.  Six Inventoried Roadless Areas will also be impacted – most of these roadless areas would be designated as Wilderness under the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act currently before the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

This project is so inconsistent with the governing “Forest Plan” for these public lands that the Forest Service had to change the management plan for the entire National Forest for the benefit of one private natural gas company.  This egregious “spot zoning” means one corporation gets special treatment while everyone else has to follow the rules. In essence, the federal taxpayers who own these public lands are subsidizing the profit margin of a private natural gas company at the expense of the ecological integrity of their public lands and wildlife.

To stop this unethical give-away of public lands, which increases threats to already-imperiled wildlife species and allows a permanent intrusion into currently roadless areas, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection have filed a 60-day Notice Of Intent to sue the Forest Service over this project.

We are giving the Forest Service the opportunity to address the serious legal problems with this decision before actually filing a lawsuit.  For the sake of our public lands and wildlife – especially the imperiled species that will be harmed by this project – we truly hope the Forest Service reconsiders its decision and either cancels the project or takes the steps necessary to bring the project in compliance with federal law.

Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Jason Christensen is the Director of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.

Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  Jason Christensen is the Director of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.