SUBLETTE COUNTY – The same board of directors serves both the Jonah Interagency Office and the Pinedale Anticline Project Office but the two have different funding priorities based on their respective Bureau of Land records of decision.
The board gathered Friday, May 27, in the Lovatt Room and via Zoom, first addressing its JIO “post sunset administrative meeting.”
The JIO’s mitigation and reclamation project funding began after the March 2006 signing of the Jonah Infill Drilling Project Record of Decision. It managed $24.6 million from Encana and BP America for wildlife habitat, fence modifications, water sources for greater sage-grouse and wildlife, recreation, vegetative treatments and cultural-property inventories. The fund also was used to purchase easements, replace wood stoves and reduce diesel emissions – but unlike the PAPO, it wasn’t replenished.
The Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust holds JIO and PAPO funds in escrow accounts that it pays to the separate offices.
In April 2021, the board of directors voted to “sunset” or phase out JIO activities to administrative status, while continuing committed projects. The interagency team would divide the rest – about $181,000 – between water sources and wildlife-friendly fence conversions.
As chair of both boards, Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Director Angi Bruce asked for the JIO’s post-sunset status at the May 27 meeting. JIO team member Mike Henn said funds allocated at the previous board meeting were released to pay for water repairs and development.
“The rest is for fencing,” Bruce said of the balance.
Board member and Wyoming DEQ Director Todd Parfitt asked if there are any conflicts between the board’s “executive decision” to sunset and requirements of the Jonah Infill ROD.
BLM Pinedale Field Office Manager Doug Linn said he reviewed the ROD “and found no conflict with the (JIO) sunset. We met all the conditions of the ROD; some remaining agreements are still circulating.”
BLM plans to create “an overarching reclamation database … (so) it is a natural sunset process for (JIO) reclamation as well,” Linn said.
JIO-PAPO coordinator Erica Husse updated the board on JIO projects’ status. Ten were moved to completion and some are “in the works” or longterm projects for “multiple years on out,” she said.
“If you want to wrap them up (early), that needs to be communicated. As of now we’re moving forward as previously planned.”
Bruce asked Husse about ramifications to close the ongoing projects early. Husse said those projects were brought before the JIO board and timelines okayed. New Fork River bank restoration and recreational access don’t start until 2023, Henn said.
“Closing it out could potentially hurt that project” and other timelines, he said.
Parfitt asked if the deadlines “were approved and on the books” – they are.
Linn clarified later that up to nine JIO projects “have some potential for carrying forward into future years” and each project proponent will be contacted. The board will then discuss them further.
With JIO positions and salaries ending, agency leaders for DEQ, Game and Fish, Wyoming Department of Agriculture and BLM asked to adjust the PAPO budget to move staff costs to that domain. Some had trouble filling positions but plan to have new people in place this year.
Parfitt said DEQ will keep its two Pinedale air-quality inspectors – “We had a very good year managing ozone,” with no ozone action days or exceedances.
Game and Fish’s Brandon Scurlock said Kerry Gold departed and her habitat mitigation position was offered to a highly qualified candidate. Pinedale BLM saw limited Anticline activity in the past year; Linn said that will change and asked for $90,000.
Department of Ag’s Chris Wichmann is still not fully staffed. He requested full 100-percent PAPO funding and a salary raise from $60,000 to $75,000 “to bring it up to what that person would cost.”
Linn said last week of the shifts: “As JIO has officially sunset, ongoing functions for staffing will be funded through board approved motions that allocate funds. The decisions were made at the last two board meetings. I will again wait for final board minutes to ensure we provide the most accurate information concerning official board decisions.”
Wyoming State BLM Deputy State Director for Resources Lori Armstrong suggested transferring both JIO and PAPO budget functions to the High Desert District Office; the board voted and agreed on the transfers for the start of the 2022-2023 fiscal year.