Cheyenne — Members of the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners voted Aug. 7 to withdraw state lands within the state’s sage grouse core areas from those available for wind energy development leases. Just over a million acres of state trust land fall within the core area boundaries.
“We’ve been to the board twice in the last year on how to handle uses of state lands within the sage grouse core areas subject to the governor’s executive order establishing this core areas policy,” said Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) Director Lynne Boomgaarden.
The Governor’s executive order addressing sage grouse core areas was issued August 2008. More recently, in July, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said wind energy development within those core areas could compromise their ability to keep the sage grouse from being listed as threatened or endangered in the state. FWS is expected to make a decision on the petition to list the grouse within the next year to 18 months.
Boomgaarden explained, “As we worked through the stipulations that would apply to oil and gas leases and other surface use activities on state lands we worked closely with the State Sage Grouse Implementation Team, including the Wyoming Game and Fish, to identify stipulations that would be supported by scientific research that would permit some level of surface use of state land within the core areas without negatively impacting the sage grouse.”
When it came to the discussion on wind energy development, Boomgaarden said, “The FWS recently took the position that there is no scientific research that would support stipulations that could be put on state wind leases in core areas that would mitigate the anticipated negative impact on the sage grouse.” Until more data and research can be compiled, Boomgaarden recommended that the state withdraw from leasing its properties within the core areas.
Governor Dave Freudenthal supported Boomgaarden’s recommendation, as did the other two board members —Superintendent of Public Instruction Jim McBride and State Auditor Rita Meyer — in attendance at the meeting. The Director’s recommendation reads as follows: “The Director recommends that the Board withdraw from consideration Special Use Lease applications for wind energy development that occur within Core Sage Grouse Areas until such time as research establishes compatibility of the development with sage grouse populations or identifies Best Management Practices that would mitigate negative impacts.” According to OSLI, the office is currently in receipt of 32 special use lease applications. Of those, 18 occur within the core areas.
Freudenthal underscored the research aspect of the recommendation stating, “If we can arrive at modifications of the FWS decision, then we can proceed.” He said sage grouse is one aspect of numerous decisions to be made when it comes to wind energy development in the state. As it stands, he said lacking financial investments and transmission capacity are limiting activity.
“The course isn’t one anyone particularly likes,” said Freudenthal. “It’s something the oil and gas people have been living with.”
“The board, in the last several months,” explained Boomgaarden, “approved some wind leases on state lands within core areas. This action today would not affect the validity of those leases. Those companies can still work with the Game and Fish. Whether or not they’ll ever be able to come up with a mitigation plan is not our call to make. If the companies so choose, they could relinquish those leases. Otherwise they’d have the opportunity to hold those and pay the rentals that would be due for the initial term of that lease.”
“In total,” said Freudenthal, “what this affects is somewhere between 14 and 18 percent of the valuable wind resource in the state.”
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.