PAPO directors, team step close to the ‘line’
SUBLETTE COUNTY – The Pinedale Anticline Project Area’s board met in person in Pinedale for its now once-yearly meeting to review its budget, approve some project-funding applications and vote in a new board chair.
The board consists of state agency representatives from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Wyoming Game and Fish, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA).
They met at the Pinedale Library on May 31.
DEQ’s Air Quality Division director Nancy Vehr attended on behalf of director Todd Parfitt and PAPO team member Darla Potter. Chris Wichmann from WDA also sat with the board, along with BLM High Desert District manager Jason Gay and Sublette County Commissioner Sam White.
The PAPO is outlined in the Pinedale Anticline’s 2008 Record of Decision, with operators – now one, PureWest – contributing money per spudded well to help fund onsite wildlife monitoring and mitigation. The board accepts project applications after reviews by the PAPO multi-agency team and votes whether to approve or not.
Current PAPO chair Angi Bruce, assistant director of Wyoming Game and Fish, did not attend and past chair Doug Miyamoto, WDA director, presided over the meeting.
One of her duties would have been to preside over nomination and election of a new PAPO chair, which Miyamoto tackled. He noted that Bruce was selected previously in her absence. Gay volunteered to step into the role.
Although the PAPO (and sunsetted Jonah Interagency Office) board meetings used to be well attended, PAPO manager Tracy Hoover noted a lower level of public interest. The board voted at its last meeting in December to meet just once a year, in May and in Pinedale.
Vehr informed directors that the AQD’s Upper Green River Basin winter ozone, which is created from weather and human-caused emissions, was forecasted daily in a season that was extended from March to April 21, a first.
Unrelenting snow fields contributed to 2023’s late-winter ozone alerts of nine “ozone outlooks” and nine “ozone action days,” Vehr said.
Six days measured elevated 8-hour ozone levels higher than the EPA’s federal standard of 70 parts per billion – two days in February, one in March and three in April, she said.
None were at the previous Boulder “problem” monitoring site, where PureWest (formerly Ultra) has worked diligently to reduce leaks and emissions, they say. None were reported at Big Piney, either.
However, Juel Springs reported five ozone exceedances, three in Daniel South and two in Pinedale, which is monitored near American Legion Park.
Pinedale biologist Brandon Scurlock stood in for supervisor John Lund, reporting the very cold and snow-filled winter brought about very large winter kills of mule and pronghorn, which also suffered from a pneumonia-like fatal disease. Mortalities are high so far for collared wildlife, he said.
Greater sage-grouse numbers had “a little uptick,” he added.
WDA’s Wichmann said more staff was getting out in the field and working on a very large project with the BLM. Gay said the BLM just announced one example, Pinedale-LaBarge landscape restoration.
BLM’s Wyletta Sheldon broke down the PAPO funds available for new projects; some money is committed to long-term projects such as Game and Fish habitat improvements and DEQ’s air-quality monitoring.
On April 30, the PAPO account held a little over $3.9 million with $1.2 million committed, leaving $2.7 million to work with, Sheldon said.
“So 2.7 million is our magic number,” Miyamoto noted.
Gay brought a BLM budget-tracking request and proposed moving from a fiscal year to calendar year.
Beaver Creek Ranch
The first application from Beaver Creek Ranch requested $70,000 from PAPO for Sublette Mule Deer Corridor Fence Conversions of 10 miles of private fencing.
Game and Fish and “the local Upper Green River Wildlife-Friendly Fence Initiative” identified this private property as “a high-priority fence-conversion property” in the Sublette Mule Deer Migration Corridor.
The project’s total cost would be $187,930, according to the application, with two grants secured and one pending, plus PAPO’s funding. Game and Fish would provide in-kind labor. This project would take three years in its first phase. If the PAPO board wanted to grant more than $70,000, the money could be used elsewhere on the Hoback Rim’s migration corridor.
To convert all 70 miles of the ranch’s fencing would cost about $1.66 million.
Miyamoto said this application had the second-highest team rating. Vehr said team member Potter was supportive and voted “aye,” as did the others.
Team member Luke Schulz and Game and Fish applied for $40,000 of PAPO funds for an anticipated $800,000-project to “enhance riparian and aquatic habitats … while enhancing working lands” along 4 miles of the Green River.
“Working lands are 90 percent of the project area” where the Sommers Ranch and Grindstone Cattle Company are next to the river.
The Green River Huston to Sommers Habitat Restoration Project would restore streambank stability and include mechanical means to rebuild the banks, it says. Conifers cut and removed from the Hoback Rim could be used whole or as slash along banks. Aspen treatments will include removing 75 acres of conifers along the Green and 40 acres near the Hoback Rim.
Also, this project will reduce sediment loadings by an estimated 90 percent,” it says.
Miyamoto acknowledged the PAPO team’s stream restoration application fell a little outside the usual parameters.
“We want to just make note that streambank restoration … is a little outside our area,” he said. “There’s a line there – we haven’t crossed it yet – but there’s a line there.”
Directors approved the team’s $40,000 request, with numerous other sponsors to be approached.
On behalf of Dogwood Ranch and the Wilson Cattle Co., project manager Clearwater Restoration applied for $19,280 toward an estimated $640,000 project to restore Willow Creek and the New Fork River and riparian habitat. Willows will be transplanted and a concrete diversion structure will be removed to promote fish passage. Stream channels will be fenced part of the year “to facilitate targeted livestock grazing within the riparian corridor.” Vegetation trends will be monitored for benefit to greater sage-grouse and other riparian species.
The landowners are contributing $262,000 to the project with other grant applications pending.
The directors unanimously approved the PAPO request.
PureWest vice president Kelly Bott submitted an application requesting $150,000 from PAPO for the purchase of 20 sage-grouse conservation credits.
The need for these resulted from PureWest’s approved requests for two sage-grouse seasonal exceptions in 2023 development sites that came with conditions that PureWest buy 10 credits per location.
The Boulder 4-33 pad is within 2 miles of a lek and planned for 28 wells; the Stewart Point 7-33 with 16 wells planned is on the boundary of a 2-mile sage-grouse buffer and for them PureWest paid $7,500 per well or $330,000 into the PAPO fund.
Credits can only be purchased from the Pathfinder Ranch conservation bank, Bott said.
“The extensive sage grouse mitigation already conducted through the (PAPO fund) or the opportunity for sage-grouse mitigation provided by the $330,000 paid by PureWest into the fund via spud fees was not factored into this decision per conversations with Wyoming Game and Fish staff. As Sage Grouse Compensatory Conservation Credits have emerged as the preferred mechanism for sage-grouse mitigation, PureWest is requesting $150,000 for the purchase of 20 conservation credits.”
Directors agreed that the request “doesn’t clearly align with PAPO.”
PureWest’s Jasmine Allison addressed the board, saying the operator has already submitted mitigation funds by way of its $330,000 payment of spud fees for the two sites alone. “We paid into that for mitigation.”
PureWest’s application failed for lack of a motion.
Michael Curran of Abnova Ecological Solutions submitted the final application for $50,000 for a data management “bridge” from the plagued Pinedale Anticline Data Management System (PADMS) to the BLM’s development of the national Surface Disturbance and Reclamation Tracking Tool (SDARTT).
Curran said BLM higher-ups encouraged him to apply to develop his onetime UW project into a Wyoming model with the U.S. Geological Survey for other states to follow.
With the BLM’s very new announcement of multi-agency landscape-scale projects, Operators and agencies need to be able to accurately and efficiently advise restoration projects. Curran would “populate” the bridge system data and have the Anticline and Wyoming prepared to sign on.
“It’s very difficult to improve restoration and reclamation in this (Pinedale) area,” Curran said. In his application he called the PADMS system “untenable.” At past meetings, Allison and others have related serious problems and data missing from PADMS, which was developed just for the Anticline.
She said PureWest was unable to load data into PADMS and this model would help show operators what is really happening with restoration and reclamation.
Miyamoto asked if a board director could outline the Anticline ROD’s purposes of PAPO funding.
Teammate Mike Henn said that it’s for onsite mitigation for sage-grouse and mule deer due to effects of drilling. Over the years, he said, it has extended to allow for mule deer corridor mitigation to the Mesa.
Curran said the system he proposes would allow for “more informed decisions” and better sage-grouse habitat restoration.
Miyamoto asked if another agency might invest in the $100,000 project. Gay said the BLM might have funds becoming available.
“I believe PADMS is still works,” Vehr said.
Allison said companies like hers “need really good formulas. Based off PADMS? No way. Based off SDARTT? Yes.”
It failed for a lack of motion.
Although they previously voted out a second annual meeting, directors decided they might need “a virtual ad hoc meeting” to deal with changing from a fiscal-year to calendar-year budget and receive wildlife monitoring updates.
They and the PAPO team settled on November and will have the annual meeting in May in Pinedale.