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Great Divide Plan Sparks Wyoming Uproar

January 20, 2009

Laramie, WY – Wyomingites who spent the past year urging the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to balance oil and gas drilling with other public land values are disappointed at the agency's latest long-term land use plan. The new Rawlins Field Office plan, which covers public lands along the Great Divide including the eastern half of the Red Desert and Adobe Town, opens more than 98 percent of the 4.5 million acres to oil, gas and mineral development.

Wildlife biologist and Eastern Shoshone Tribe member Dick Baldes says more than 80,000 people, including Wyoming's governor, had requested that unprotected areas of Adobe Town be off-limits. He says putting the area up for industrial development is an affront to those who treasure sacred landscapes.

"I'm particularly concerned about the cultural sites, and there are thousands of them down in the Red Desert and Adobe Town area. They're important to many native people, even today."

The area's history reaches farther back than even Native Americans, according to Baldes. He says all resources are at risk of being lost when roads and drilling equipment start rolling through.

"There are fossils from turtle shells and dinosaur bones and all kinds of stuff down there. I'm just so disappointed in BLM."

The area is home to sage grouse, big game animals, birds of prey and the rare pygmy rabbit. Federal biologists have said these species will be negatively affected by development and associated roads.

However, BLM spokespeople contend that the plan contains strict rules for development and rehabilitation to address those concerns, while putting public land to work to help meet the nation's energy demands. Unions, conservation groups and churches are protesting the BLM plan.

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - WY