Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): energy

From satellites to artificial intelligence, how tech will change conservation as we know it

Wyoming is known for its panoramic landscapes, jagged mountains, and herds of pronghorn and bison. This imagery is associated with parks like¬†Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. But not all of Wyoming’s landscapes are encapsulated in iconic national parks.

In southern Wyoming, the continental divide splits to form an enormous arid basin marked by vast sand dunes and grey, alkali lakes. The largest unfenced area in the lower 48, this region is known by Wyomingites as the Red Desert.

The Red Desert stretches across 4 million acres in south central Wyoming. It is home to the largest herd of pronghorn in the continental U.S., the largest desert elk herd, and the longest migrating mule deer herd in North America. Nearly three quarters of the area is covered by sagebrush grassland, and sage-grouse leks are present in much of the region. In the Red Desert’s northeastern corner, a series of alkali lakes known as the Chain Lakes provide critical wetland oasis for migrating shorebirds like ducks, trumpeter swans and white pelicans.

What differentiates the Red Desert from Wyoming’s other iconic landscapes is the rapidly increasing land use for energy development.

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We don’t have to pit wildlife against the economy

Greater sage grouse. Photo credit:  Steven Nehl

Greater sage grouse. Photo credit: Steven Nehl

This post was co-written by Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and executive director of Partners for Western Conservation.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A rancher, an environmentalist, and an oil company exec walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and asks, “Is this a joke?”

On the surface we may seem like an odd group, but ranchers, energy companies and environmentalists are finding each other willing partners in solving big conservation problems.

Colorado is one of 11 Western states where an iconic rangeland bird, the greater sage grouse, nests in high desert topography that’s also perfect ground for cattle ranching. And in recent years, Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry has encroached on the bird’s habitat.

That puts the bird’s future on a collision course with the state’s two largest economic drivers: agriculture and energy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faces a 2015 deadline to decide if the greater sage grouse should be protected by an Endangered Species Act listing. Listing could severely crimp both energy production and ranching across a vast territory.

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