1Frame4Nature | Dave Showalter
What YOU Can Do:
Engage with conservation groups, share images and advocate, write letters to public officials and land managers.
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iLCP Fellow Dave Showalter’s 1Frame4Nature: Standing Up For The Upper Hoback
In the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) just west of Bondurant, Wyoming at the base of the Wyoming Range sits a mountain basin with beaver ponds and creeks, mixed sagebrush and aspen, and conifer forest rimming the edges. It’s a wildlife superhighway; a stronghold for moose; summer range for calving and fawning elk, deer and pronghorn; home to all of the toothy predators of Greater Yellowstone – grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, mountain lions. Called the Upper Hoback, for the headwaters of the Snake River tributary, Noble Basin is a montane stronghold for mule deer that migrate up to 150 miles from the Red Desert to spend fawning season in the Upper Hoback, only the Upper Hoback.
The Upper Hoback was almost lost when it was leased to become an industrial scale natural gas field in 2006.
The plan was to drill 136 natural gas wells, with a network of to roads to be traveled thousands of times by heavy trucks in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. If it could happen here, in the GYE, it could happen anywhere on our public lands.
While working on a multi-year conservation project in the sagebrush ecosystem that would lead to my book Sage Spirit, The American West At A Crossroads, I learned of the Upper Hoback. LightHawk, a volunteer pilot conservation group flew me over the landscape and one single image made a visual connection of nearly roadless lands stretching north to the Grand Teton. I visited on foot, and from 10,344’ Lookout Peak, tried to imagine endless heavy truck trips, billowing dust, sounds of industry piercing the wilderness, a landscape that’s never dark or quiet, migrations blocked.
An assignment in 2010 to write an article titled “Too Wild To Drill” for Wilderness Magazine led me to locals opposed to the gas field. Dave Willoughby, a Daniel, WY environmental logger guided me over rough forest service two-track roads, mucked up enough near the Upper Hoback that we walked the last mile in shoe-sucking mud through an aspen forest avenue of blooming balsamroot wildflowers. From the middle rim overlook, called “Davy’s Hill” for my guide, Dave reminisced of great hunting expeditions, his granddaughter’s first elk, and what this place means to him and his family.
Local outfitter Dan Smitherman, about six-five in a Stetson, met with a fellow outfitter who told him in 2010 “you’re wasting your time; they’re going to drill there.” Smitherman, a former marine replied, “I’m going to fight this”, later telling me “I don’t know the meaning of the word can’t.” Dan Smitherman led Citizens For The Wyoming Range”, a coalition of folks from all walks of life, who raised their collective voices at public meetings, and wrote letters –more than 60,000 real letters – and the process dragged out without drilling.
Ultimately, The Trust For Public Land bought the leases in the Upper Hoback for close to $10 million and returned the land to the American People in 2013. Intact. Mule deer, already impacted by drilling on critical winter range, still migrate to the Upper Hoback, where wildlife of Greater Yellowstone congregate at the base of Wyoming’s namesake range, refuge for wildlife and people.
Yellowstone National Park, however extraordinary, is not self-sustaining. The ecosystem depends on surrounding “buffer lands” that give wildlife a place to migrate to for fawning season and when Yellowstone is locked in deep snow. Some of those places, like the Upper Hoback, aren’t well known outside of the region, yet as critical to sustainability as Yellowstone itself.
Images, letters, public meetings, reaching out via social media all make a difference; and as long as there is a process, there is hope. With gratitude to all the folks who stood up for the Upper Hoback and don’t know the meaning of the word can’t.
This article is brought to you by the 1Frame4Nature Campaign. Share a picture and story on Instagram with the hashtag #1Frame4Nature, of your personal connection to nature and tell us what action you’ve taken on behalf of our planet.