Signing off from the cockpit of the pilot office

Anya Tyson
Buffalo, WY

Buffalo has been good to me—an office full of friendly, helpful coworkers, a backdrop of Bighorn majesty, and a job that’s provided me with a myriad of skills. I have had hands-on experience with radio telemetry, rangeland health monitoring, 4WD, GIS, seed collection, office decoration, a cave survey, aquatic sampling, and I’m sure the list could stumble on. Because my time here has been pleasant I sometimes forget that other aspects of what I have learned at this office have been less comfortable. The Powder River Basin has tremendous natural gas and other energy resources, and the Buffalo Field Office has been charged with stream-lining the permitting of such development. My friendly coworkers are asked to permit development plans at slippery rate, face-off with industry reps., and generally make tough decisions on a daily basis. I do not like what is happening to the landscape of the Powder River Basin- thousands of miles of new roads are quietly, almost benignly fragmenting an expansive landscape to pieces. Not enough people care, or have seen, the cumulative effects of this development, and so it continues quickly and thoroughly from east to west across this basin. When I was conducting range monitoring, I noticed that much of this country can boast of a robust native grasses, forbs, and big sagebrush, that is, when one steps slightly away from the weedy corridor that almost inevitably surrounds every road and disturbance corridor. I am concerned that the prospect of reclamation of these lands, once disturbed by increasing amounts of infrastructure, is not as neat and assured as it is written down on paper and told to land owners. I am concerned that sage-grouse may face local extirpation in this area that bridges important population centers for the bird in central Wyoming to Montana and South Dakota. Wyoming’s ratio of people to antelope (the latter outnumber the former) is one of the reasons I am in love with the state. It may also be a reason, in my opinion, why places like the PRB are being sacrificed for national benefit; there are not enough backyards out there to defend. Domestic energy development has to happen somewhere, and economically speaking, may often need to happen at a good clip. This position has challenged me to understand how politics and biology interact and prescribe land management. The introduction to these realities will be invaluable as I continue to pursue conservation, land management, and science. Thanks again Krissa and Marian for placing me in a beautiful state, in a position where I have gained many new skills, and in this office that has provided so much food for thought.

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