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Pronghorn pathways

Nov 14, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Highway overpasses and underpasses for critters may well be needed in Fremont County

The construction of man-made pathways to accommodate the migration of wild animals in Wyoming is a captivating and creative approach to a problem that probably is going to crop up more frequently in Wyoming and the West -- including in Fremont County.

Attention on the issue frequently has been focused just over the Wind River Mountains from us, in Sublette County, home to one of the great natural gas production areas in North America. In the understandable urgency to set up the rigs, drill the wells, lay the pipes and build the roads to and from the field, the effect of migratory wildlife was, if not necessarily ignored, at least not fully appreciated and accounted for.

Now, however, things are improving. We published a story a few days ago about a new highway overpass -- not for cars, but for antelope. The pronghorns have been using the same migration route since before the time of Christ, and the appearance of cars and trucks speeding by on a strip of pavement interrupted this ancient way of life.

We've noted before that while activist organizations get headlines and grant money for raising awareness and filing lawsuits on environmental controversies, in Wyoming it's often the energy industry that actually practices cutting-edge environmental science and engineering. They have to. There is no choice. If these industries want to continue to operate, then these problems must be acknowledged, confronted and mediated.

So now there is a new overpass. The antelope have discovered it and are using it. The structure joins other migration routes -- typically underpasses -- that enable wildlife to cross man-made roads safely. There's a benefit to human drivers as well in the form of fewer collisions with large animals on the highways.

As the crow flies, the big gas fields of Sublette County aren't far from the Wind River Basin at all. It's far from inconceivable that such structures soon will be required in our county as well. We have lots of natural gas and lots of antelope, and developers are talking about a big increase in gas production in Fremont County in the years ahead. Similar issues might well arise as uranium mining resumes.

There is a lot of good for Wyoming and the nation that can come from that as the United States works to end dependence on foreign oil. Wyoming will be in the forefront, as usual, in expanding and diversifying energy development. That is an exciting prospect.

But just as this is energy country, it also is antelope country, and you can bet that advocates for the fleet-footed creatures will be watching everywhere, not just in Sublette County. The more we can stay ahead of the environmental challenges through proactivity and cooperative response, the better off the county, the state and the pronghorns will be.

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