Paradox in the Winds
By Jen Lamb, NOLS Public Policy Director
Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2003, Vol. 18,
Upper Green River Basin
© Jon Catton/GYC
Nowhere is the effect of the post-election shift in Capitol Hill’s
political tide more clear than it is today on public land in Wyoming;
specifically, in the presumably resource-rich Powder River and
Green River Basins and now in parts of the Bridger-Teton National
Forest. At last count, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is
analyzing permit requests for more than 35,000 new coalbed methane
(CBM) wells in the Powder River Basin alone.
Estimated CBM potential for the lesser-known Green River Basin,
an area that’s home to NOLS’ Three Peaks Ranch, makes
the resources in Powder River look like pocket change. With the
increasing national focus on the development of Wyoming’s
energy-rich public lands, NOLS faces a challenging philosophical
quandary. How do we balance our desire for a healthy Wyoming economy
— currently based largely on energy and minerals extraction
— with our commitment to protecting wild places?
At first glance, NOLS’ position on energy exploration
and development, particularly in or near our classrooms, should
be clear – we are committed advocates for the preservation
and careful management of public lands. We support the efforts
of many national and grass-roots organizations that seek to minimize
industrial development and ensure adherence to environmental protection
measures. There is no question that wilderness — one of
NOLS’ six core values — and its proper management
are critically important to the future of our programs and to
our personal lives. Many of us live here, work here, teach here,
raise families here and play here.
We also run a a non-profit educational institution here and
are a key part of the economic and political mix of Wyoming. Our
economic presence in Fremont County is significant and, most of
the time, widely recognized. We are also, all of us, consumers
of energy in numerous facets of our lives, both at NOLS and at
home. As a school, we have a keen interest in seeing continual
improvement in the health of Wyoming’s economy. If history
and institutional momentum dictate, that improvement will come
from growth almost solely in Wyoming’s energy and minerals
How do we come to terms with this paradox?
Many of us are heartened and excited by the recent election
of Wyoming’s new Governor, Dave Freudenthal, who envisions
a thoughtful program of community-based in-cremental change to
diversify Wyoming’s economy, making us less reliant on the
things we have always done. This will be slow change, however.
The Governor recently likened it to shifting the direction of
a very large boat — a few degrees at a time.
Meanwhile, NOLS will continue to support local efforts to stem
the political tide and strive for balance between appropriate,
thoughtful, responsible energy development and protection of the
vital wild lands that surround us and feed our souls.