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The Leader

Paradox in the Winds

By Jen Lamb, NOLS Public Policy Director

Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2003, Vol. 18, No. 2

Wyoming's 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 industry.

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.


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