WLCI and CSI: 2 acronyms you should know
Southwest Wyoming energy development area for WLCI. BLM graphic.
Wyoming described as the ‘Saudi Arabia of the United States’
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online! Reporter's Notes
February 24, 2007
WLCI, CSI, PAPA, JIO, RMP, SDEIS, BLM…. The list of acronyms flying around western Wyoming’s energy boom can make one feel like the live in a bowl of alphabet soup. Two new ones have appeared on the scene recently: WLCI and CSI. If these are unfamiliar to you, please take the time to read the notes below that came out of the WLCI meeting in Pinedale this past week. These two initiatives, WLCI and CSI, will have major impacts on how government agencies and industry deal with the habitat and wildlife impacts of the energy boom in western Wyoming.
WLCI stands for the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative. CSI is the Cooperative Sagebrush Initiative. CSI wasn’t the focus of Thursday’s meeting, but came out in conversation. We touch on it briefly at the end of this WLCI article.
Representatives from nine federal government agencies were at the Pinedale Library Thursday evening, February 22, for an open house to bring the WLCI concept to the public. It was one of a series of meetings being held across western Wyoming to present the idea to communities being impacted by the energy development boom in the state. Open house meetings were scheduled for Rawlins, Kemmerer, Rock Springs and Pinedale during February. Many citizens attended the two-hour meeting and asked questions, including Sublette County Commissioners Joel Bousman and John Linn. K2TV News out of Casper sent a camera man/reporter to cover the meeting.
Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI)
The quick summary version of what WLCI appears to mean is this: The federal government has made the decision to put full priority to energy resource exploration and development on federal public land where energy resources exist. It is a high priority for involved federal agencies to process the paperwork on leases and deal with mitigating impacts. “Wyoming will continue to account for one of the largest sources of natural gas in the United States,” says the WLCI information brochure.
The federal government is opting to shift management and enhancement of wildlife and habitat values from hotspot areas of energy resource development areas to doing wildlife habitat enhancement and improvement projects in other, off-site, trade-off areas where energy development is not occurring. WLCI proposes to conduct wildlife enhancement and conservation at a landscape scale, with a collaboration with all state, federal and private landowners.
Federal land and wildlife managers want to focus habitat enhancement on sagebrush, mountain shrub, aspen and riparian communities using efficient science-based species monitoring and habitat enhancement. Land management practices will also be designed to ensure support for a viable livestock industry and associated open spaces.
The natural gas energy resources in our area of Western Wyoming were described as “the largest play in the United States.” Sublette County, and southwest Wyoming, are looking at long-term energy resource development lasting up to 30 years. For our natural gas field development south of Pinedale, the government will allow the filling in of natural gas well spacing to a density of 5-10 surface acres per well in the hot spot zones.
Our Upper Green River Valley will become “the Saudi Arabia of the United States,” said John Emerich of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department.
What is the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative?
The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative is a long-term, science-based effort to identify, evaluate and implement on-the-ground conservation projects “to conserve world-class wildlife resources while facilitating responsible energy development.”
The WLCI is a cooperative effort of the DOI, BLM, USFS, NPS, WDOA, WGF, USFWS, USGS, USDOIBR. That’s the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, National Park Service, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Game & Fish, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, United States Geological Survey, and the United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation.
The funding for the WLCI has not yet been fully identified. The Department of the Interior had proposed a 2008 budget of $11.5 million dollars for the project as part of the Healthy Lands Initiative, to be spread out among the USFWS, BLM and USGS, government agencies that deal most with issues and management of on-going energy boom on federal land. Funding sources are expected to be state and federal appropriations, special mitigation accounts, trust funds, non-governmental organization and industry contributions, other independent donations, and an endowment to aggregate and administer funds.
It is worthwhile to note that while the federal government is tentatively earmarking $11.5 million dollars for this cause, they pull out billions of dollars in royalty payments and taxes as owner of these natural resources that are being extracted. Energy companies working in Sublette County have donated many times more this amount of money from their own coffers to assist causes in Sublette County. Concerns loom that the $11.5 million dollars haven't been officially allocated as of yet. Federal government funding for WLCI will need to be re-approved each year to stay in the federal budget for these agencies, making funding for the WLCI an ongoing uncertainty over the life of the boom.
Pinedale Meeting Comments from government agency representatives:
- The country needs the energy resources. “It is going to be developed.”
- Goal is to maintain wildlife resources and minimize impact to lifestyles and resources.
- We’re only about half way there on predicted energy development of 20-25 years.
- Jonah Field will ultimately get down to 5-10 acre well spacing.
- Goal is to put together a pot of money to improve habitat off-site in areas that won’t be developed by energy extraction.
- Goal is to pinpoint areas where we don’t anticipate development in the next 5 to 20 years.
- Goal is to bring current known data into a single data atlas clearinghouse where everyone can access it. Will also have a website for public access.
- Intensive on-site surface development will require off-site mitigation.
- Take a “Landscape” approach to look at the diversity of habitats and species.
- This is a partnership effort that will involve the partnership of the local communities and working with local interests, counties and governments.
- This is the #1 landscape conservation initiative in the Western United States right now with the US government.
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be the lead agency. There will be a project office in Rock Springs with staffing for WLCI. This office will be staffed by a 5-person team with representatives from five of the participating government entities (BLM, USGS, Dept of Ag, US Fish & Wildlife Service, WY Game & Fish). The WLCI also wants to have one elected county commissioner working with this group.
- Partnerships are the key to success. Partners include energy companies, utility companies, sportsmen’s groups, private landowners, ranchers, state and federal agencies, interested parties, unrelated organizations and individuals.
- Agencies will do as much as possible to maintain resources on places that are being developed onsite.
- Will look at supporting the livestock industry, maintaining riparian areas, water development, weed control, use of prescribed fire to improve sagebrush habitat, study raptor issues, encourage wildlife-friendly fences, do mechanical land treatments to improve certain areas.
- Look at Conservation Easements as a tool. Areas cited include Trapper’s Point west of Pinedale as a place where a conservation easement might be possible to buy development rights to prevent activity from occurring.
- Timeframe: Phase I (next year and a half) Hope to have the five staff people on board in the Rock Springs office by June/July of this summer (2007) doing data mining. Field project work would start next spring. Phase II: Expand and put on extra people. The BLM is expected to get three more full-time employees for support (archaeologist, NEPA coordinator and a natural resource specialist).
WLCI Questions from the audience:
- Sublette County Commissioner John Linn questioned how the WLCI would be able to get an honest look at mineral potential when the data is so old, and the speed the government wants to do projects. The response was the government will just have to work with the data that is available. Linn also questioned the lack of available information about places that aren’t being developed for land managers to be able to make good decisions.
- Darryl Walker, Sublette County Conservation District, questioned how the WLCI will fit in with the current Resource Management Plans and Environmental Impact Statements? Government representatives thought this would fit in well and they did not see going outside those documents. Walker also asked if these projects would require Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) documents? Response: It depends on the project. They hope to just have to do EAs, which are faster to do and would allow them to cover more acres over shorter periods of time.
- Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bouseman asked if the BLM has the rangeland ecology expertise they need on staff to deal with the livestock issues? Response: They will find people they need with expertise needed.
- How much of the money will go to on-the-ground projects and how much siphoned off for administration? “The majority” of the money will go to on-the-ground projects. The agencies will need to give reports showing acres and streams done. None of the USGS money will actually go to on-the ground projects because they don’t do that. The USGS contribution will be in the way of scientific reports and data, which will be used by the people doing the on-the-ground projects.
- Linda Baker, representative of the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, asked how WLCI planned to ensure sustainability of the project over the long term? Response: Details of that are still being worked out. Funding is at the mercy of annual budgets, so there are no guarantees for the future. “Once this is started, it will be hard for the government to cut it out as we demonstrate progress,” John Emerich (WYGF) said.
Cooperative Sagebrush Initiative (CSI)
This was just touched on during the meeting as a short side discussion. The Cooperative Sagebrush Initiative is a new, region-wide program to do conservation on private and public lands to improve the sagebrush steppe biome. It is a “market-driven” approach to provide incentives to landowners, local communities and private industry to invest in habitat restoration and other conservation actions to try and gain long-term recovery of the greater sage grouse and other species of concern in the sagebrush range.
The CSI is still in its formative stages. The effort began in response to the potential listing of the greater sage grouse as an endangered species, bringing together interested federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, oil & gas interests, and grazing interests. Organizers hope CSI will provide the mechanism to provide funding for the Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Strategy, and eliminate the need to have any sagebrush-associated species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Two ideas have come out of CSI which are attracting particular interest:
1. Industry Assurances
2. Credit Trading
Industry assurances are incentives to entice industry to do work that isn’t required. Credits are gained by doing habitat improvement elsewhere to make up for onsite impact acres. Credit trading would provide incentives for privately initiated conservation efforts to attract investment in conservation efforts from non-traditional sources. There was minimal discussion about this concept, so it was not explained further during this meeting.