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Deer Collaring Study

Holly Copeland, left, a landscape ecologist with the Nature Conservancy in Lander, and Brian Lamont, a graduate student with the University of Wyoming, release a GPS-collared mule deer in 2016 in western Wyoming. A new poll shows a majority of Wyomingites say the state's energy industry can be developed without harming migration corridors and wildlife habitats. 

A majority of Wyomingites believe that energy can be developed responsibly in the state without being a detriment to wildlife habitats and migration corridors, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

About 91 percent of Republicans polled, as well as 89 percent of independents and 80 percent of Democrats, say industry demands and conservation values can coexist.

The survey included 500 voters and was conducted in early November by Public Opinion Strategies. Questions ranged from those gauging general perception of public land use, energy and wildlife conservation to those aimed at particular policies like regulations on natural gas development and sage grouse management plans that are currently under revision by the Interior Department.

The survey also asked participants to offer advice to Gov.-elect Mark Gordon, who will take Gov. Matt Mead’s post in January, and other new lawmakers on public land and wildlife issues.

“I would tell them to do no harm,” a woman in her 60s said.

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Though sage grouse conservation and methane rules are broad Western issues, both have deep roots in Wyoming. The state often drove the conversation on how to balance energy development in sage grouse habitat, crafting strategies that were eventually mirrored in federal rules.

Both sage grouse and methane regulations have shared significant limelight over the last year and a half. The Trump administration and Congress have aimed to reduce restrictions on energy development in the West, targeting a number of Obama-era regulations and policies including the Bureau of Land Management’s methane restrictions and the bird’s management.

The methane rules, which include forcing operators to regularly check pipelines and monitor infrastructure for leaks, were first implemented as Wyoming standards to address a pollution crisis in the Upper Green River Basin. With the federal rules being replaced by the Trump administration, many conservationists have pressured Wyoming regulators to expand the Upper Green practices to other areas in Wyoming. The state is now doing so with a number of the practices once required in the federal rules and currently required in the Upper Green.

About two thirds of those polled said the methane rules that apply in the Upper Green should be extended across the state. Support for methane rules was stronger among Democrats, 92 percent, than Republicans, 67 percent.

In regard to the sage grouse, one out of three Wyomingites polled believe the management plans should be changed.

In its explanation of those plans, the poll stated “Here in Wyoming, the U.S. government, the governor and local communities created plans to protect habitats for the threatened sage-grouse and other wildlife like mule deer. The Interior Department now says these plans should be changed to allow more oil and gas production on public lands.”

About 58 percent of those polled said the plans should remain as they are. A final decision on the sage grouse plans is expected this winter. There has been a split among some sage grouse leaders in Wyoming about whether the suggested changes will unleash oil and gas in protected habitats or not.

Sage grouse management in the state was largely shepherded during Mead’s tenure. The governor-elect has noted sage grouse management as a priority as well, approaching the topic from a landowner and rancher’s perspective.

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The federal Farm Bill, which provides cost shares for farmers and ranchers conserving wildlife habitat, had high support among Wyomingites, with 79 percent of participants supporting continued funding.

All in all, protection of Wyoming’s natural resources scored high on civic responsibility for those polled, with 94 percent agreeing that conserving “natural areas, water, and wildlife” for future generations was a matter of obligation.

“It is no surprise Wyoming voters support a balanced, commonsense approach to conservation,” said Dwayne Meadows, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “Wildlife, western lands, and clean air are a huge part of our economy and heritage.”

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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