Today in New West news: tug-of-war in Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act debate, Texas gas co. shuts down thousands of wells after fatal Colorado explosion, and Wyoming wolves.
Earlier this year, we reported U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) would introduce legislation to expand northern Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex by approximately 79,000 acres while establishing new mountain biking and snowmobiling areas in the Blackfoot-Clearwater region. The bill has been a perennial concern for Tester, who has stumped for it since entering the U.S. Senate in 2009.
The bill limns a deep rift, however, between advocates who want protection for the region. Speaking to the Montana Standard, horse-packer Smoke Elser speaks about his hopes that this is the last compromise he and likeminded organizations make in securing more protection for the region:
“I will support what we’ve done,” Elser said. “I’m the only one who voted against it. But everyone else agreed. And I want Grizzly Basin. I want that Monture drainage. So I had to compromise. But I’m not going to compromise anymore.”
What the dean of Montana’s horse-packing heritage did was concede to a deal that unified an unprecedented coalition of supporters around an expansion of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. In return for endorsing full federal protection of 80,000 acres, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and two Montana mountain biking groups laid claim to about 3,800 acres for future cycling trails. That’s next to a proposed 2,200-acre recreation management area designated for snowmobile use.
In Smoke Elser’s cobblestone office, a tangle of elk antlers in the corner holds an even more jumbled collection of hats, bugle tubes, bear spray cans and fishing pole cases. The prickly array mirrors the uneasy pack string of collaborators pulling for the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act. The latest list of supporters contains 80 signers, ranging from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Blue Ribbon Coalition to Paws Up Resort and Zoo Town Surfers. Pyramid Mountain Lumber and the Seeley-Swan ATV Club share space with The Wilderness Society and the Associated Students of the University of Montana.
Standing against are coalitions like Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, which also includes the Montana Sierra Club, Wilderness Watch and Swan View Coalition. Members of those groups also opposed the earlier Tester bill. Elser feels hemmed in, much the same way his century-old ranch in the upper Rattlesnake Valley has been surrounded by suburban houses.
“I’m opposed to having mountain bikes in wilderness,” he said. “I don’t think they belong there. But I know our biggest challenge is Congress is looking at allowing mountain bikes in all wilderness. Some members of the steering committee felt we could not get any more wilderness on the south end of the Bob without including the snowmobilers and mountain bikes.
“IMBA came to me,” he went on. “I have their book right up there, with all kinds of red lines through it. The steering committee – I talk to them eyeball to eyeball. Mountain bikers and snowmobilers are going after a different sort of recreational benefit than what I’m going after or hikers are going after. We’re seeking the hush of the land. Solitude. Every turn of the trail is a new experience to enjoy at our own pace.
“Mountain bikers are out to challenge the resource. It’s about how fast you can go and how many miles you can put on. Snowmobilers are after the highest mark on the hillside, the highest speed across the meadow.
“I won’t step over the line again. But we’ve got to get that piece through. To get 80,000 acres of additional wilderness, we’re going to have to compromise some.”
The Standard notes that, in Tester’s tenure in the Senate, the bill has never made it to a vote.
Looking at Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, Woodlands, Texax-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has temporary shut down over 3,000 vertical gas wells across northeastern Colorado following a fatal home explosion in Firestone. The explosion killed two men and injured their relatives; the well was drilled in 1993 by Kerr-McGee and acquired by Anadarko in 2006. From the DBJ:
Due to the proximity of the well to the home, Anadarko said it’s been working with fire officials and the state’s regulatory agencies as they conduct their investigations.
Anadarko said it temporarily shut down more than 3,000 older, vertical wells — which collectively produce about 13,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day — “in an abundance of caution” and as a “proactive” measure.
Authorities have not announced a cause of the blast, and nothing has been disclosed linking Anadarko’s operations to the tragedy.
However, “officials have determined there is no threat to surrounding homes,” Theodore Poszywak, the chief of the Frederick-Firestone fire Protection District said late Wednesday in response to Anadarko’s announcement.
Fire officials did not explain what they meant by that.
Poszywak said the oil and gas well near the home “is one aspect” of a “complex investigation.”
County authorities identified two men killed in the disaster: Mark Joseph Martinez, 42, and his brother-in-law, Joseph William Irwin III, also 42, both of Frederick.
Martinez’s wife, Erin Martinez — who also is Irwin’s sister — was critically injured in the blast, and her 11-year-old son was treated and released from a hospital. The Martinezes lived in the house.
The cause of the fire has been under investigation by the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District, Firestone Police Department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
In a statement, Anadarko said “the wells will remain shut in until the company’s field personnel can conduct additional inspections and testing of the associated equipment.”
Finally, down in Wyoming, according to the Casper Star Tribune, residents will soon be allowed to shoot wolves on sight in roughly 85-percent of the state:
The Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., entered its final order in favor of Wyoming in a lawsuit that landed wolves back on the endangered species list in 2014. The court announced in early March that it had upheld the state’s plan but had not issued its final order.
Tuesday’s decision is what Wyoming wolf managers hope is the last legal battle in a roller-coaster legal process.
“All indications are that this decision shows once again that Wyoming’s plan is a sound management plan,” said Brian Nesvik, chief of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division. “They will remain in the hands of state management. For Wyoming this is, again, this is a time for us to celebrate. This is a good thing for Wyoming to be able to take on another wildlife resource.”
No changes were made to Wyoming’s wolf management plan from when the state oversaw the carnivores between 2012 and 2014, Nesvik said.
That means Wyoming will manage the 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation.
Wolves in 85 percent of the state are considered a predator and can be shot on sight, similar to coyotes. They are classified as a trophy animal in the northwest corner of the state and subject to fall hunting seasons. Those seasons have not yet been set, Nesvik said, adding that wolves in those areas cannot be hunted right now. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will set those seasons after a public comment period.