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An Open Letter to the BLM

I decided to publish my letter to the Bureau of Land Management regarding its draft resource management plan.  This is the plan that will determine use for the next 20 YEARS!  Twenty years these days is a very long time, and so many changes will happen that are unforseeable.

The Basin is huge, extending from the Shoshone Forest of the Absarokas on the west side to the base of the Big Horn Mountains on the eastern edge, north to the Montana border and south to Thermopolis.  Predictably, the commissioners of the surrounding counties of the basin are only interested in $$, what they can put in their coffers right now to grow and develop and that means oil and gas leases. They envision Wyoming as the Saudi Arabia of coal, gas, and oil, with cowboy sheiks.  But as Jack Turner so eloquently puts it in ‘Travels in the Greater Yellowstone’:  

Well, I reply, go to Saudi Arabia and take a good look.  Saudi Arabia is butt-ugly from energy development.  Do you want the Yellowstone country to look that way?  I don’t.  And I’m not so sure about those cowboy sheiks, either. The energy companies stand accused of bilking the U.S. Treasury out of billions of dollars–that’s our money for developing our resources on our land, and many of those companies are subsidiaries of foreign corporations whose headquarters are in places like Canada and the Barbados.” 

Weatherman's draw is a beautiful place. Shall we drill here?

The Bighorn Basin, as part of the Greater Yellowstone, belongs to all of us and our voices need to be heard.  We need to preserve the few places left for solitude and natural enjoyments.

Pronghorn migrate and live in the basin. Should we disturb more of their habitat?

 I urge everyone, everywhere in the U.S. to give your comments on this plan at this website.  Your few minutes could make a difference for the next 20 years.

Tipi rings, as well as other Indian signs, are all over the basin from 10,000 years of habitation

Below is my letter to the BLM:

Bighorn Basin RMP and EIS

Bureau of Land Management

Worland Field Office

P.O. Box 119

Worland, WY 82401

Dear Mr. Hiner,

The Big Horn Basin is one of the most unique and special areas in the lower 48.  A traveler can walk the landscape and observe ancient seabed fossils or fossilized bones from extinct animals.  A few steps away are arrowheads or petroglyphs from the earliest Americans 10,000 years ago.  And within view are herds of pronghorn, elk, and maybe a coyote or wolf or a golden eagle.

The Basin is essential to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  It provides migration routes, calving grounds, and a necesssary corridor for resident species to maintain contact with their own kind, ensuring genetic diversity.  The Absaroka-Beartooth Front in particular is a critical component of the GYE.  This portion of the Ecosystem is predicted to be among the most resilient to climate change given the intact nature of the landscape and its topographic variability.

The future of these lands is at risk in so many ways.  Between habitat fragmentation and climate change, real estate development on adjacent lands and overpopulation, we need to ensure that our public lands serve the preservation of the limited amounts of wildlife that are left, most of which are squeezed into the GYE and its corridors.

I have been lucky enough to live in this area and view its abundance, even though, as we all know, so much has been lost over these last 200 years.  And that is really the point: What will we do, as a generation, to ensure that no more is lost?   What we will do so that our children’s children do not say “You once could see sage grouse mating here, but they are now extinct”?

The Big Horn Basin and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem face great challenges ahead, Climate change is a large Unknown and an unpredictable monkey wrench.  Add to that the known factors of endangered or threatened species, plants and animals.  With this in mind, Alternative C is a very dangerous and short-sighted plan.   Alternative C is all about money.  Alternative C values only profit, and what can line someone’s pocket.  One cannot put in the bank the emotional and spiritual value of Land, the sense of awe and wonder, and how much it feeds the soul.  Oil and gas development over the entire basin will compromise not only our water and air, but fragment habitat through roads and intensive use.   We will lose, even if so incrementally that people just forget as a new generation grows up, what we have today.  Memory is short, and what scientists call a shifting baseline has already happened in the Basin.  We need to return our lands to a previous, more healthy baseline, not degrade it further with an open hand to oil/gas development.

In light of these concerns it seems obvious that Alternative B would provide the best safety factor for the future of the Big Horn Basin.  We really do not know what our earth, or this area, will look like in twenty years’ time.  We cannot take into account all the rapid changes we’ll encounter.  We are losing species at an alarming rate that nobody could have predicted thirty years ago.

In terms of specifics of what is most important to me in the Basin:  I spend a lot of time in the winter hiking in the basin, particularly around Oregon Basin and the Badlands of Polecat Bench.  In the spring when the area opens up, I love to hike the Absaroka-Beartooth Front, Chapman Bench and the Clark’s Fork.  I relish observing the fossils and finding tipi rings.  In my day hikes, its now easy to avoid oil/gas development areas.  The Absaroka-Beartooth Front MUST be protected as a Management Area (AFMA).  Its abundance of wildlife, habitat quality, and scenery are unrivaled.  The oil and gas leasing restrictions for this area laid out in Alternative D appear to be impossible to manage given their checker boarded nature.  I feel that the best way the BLM can protect the world-class biological and scenic values of the Absaroka-Beartooth Front is by designating the area as unavailable for oil and gas leasing (Record #4080 alternative B).  I support the creation of the Clarks Fork Canyon ACEC, as well as the creation of the Chapman Bench ACEC (Record #s 7105-113 and #’s 7084-83 alternative B).  These areas are special to me.  Alternative B also provides the most protection for sage grouse leks, something the BLM should implement if they are serious about keeping the bird from becoming listed as endangered. (Record #4120 alternative B).

Additionally, Alternative B is the ONLY proposal that restricts grazing on portions of the Basin.  This is very important.  Cattle are extremely hard on the land, the riparian areas and the plant resources our native wildlife depend on.  We don’t need to allow cattle on all of the Basin as suggested in the other alternatives.  That is management out of the early 1900’s when cattle barons ruled Wyoming.  It’s time we think of the future of our land and begin to create a new paradigm.  It also makes no sense the amount of AUM’s it takes in this desert landscape to support a cow compared with more fertile areas in the eastern U.S where the majority of the beef is produced.  In addition, it’s not fiscally sound. Grazing fees do not cover BLM expenditures for operating the program, and they also fall far short of paying for all the environmental problems this kind of land use causes.  I also find it disturbing that the BLM is actually proposing to weaken grazing regulations for areas previously covered in the Grass Creek RMP—I find this unacceptable.  At the very least I feel that BLM should continue to follow the provisions set forth in the Grass Creek RMP for the Bighorn RMP.  This includes prohibiting livestock grazing in elk parturition habitat during the birthing season. (Record #’s 6275-6282 alternative B).

Recently I went for the first time to Fifteenmile Basin.  I was amazed.  As far as the eye could see was unobstructed wilderness.  No cattle, no oil wells.  A window into the past, I could view a landscape as people did thousands of years ago.  This special place deserves special protections.  Alternative B would create a Badlands special recreation management area and impose a NSO restriction on oil and gas development within the management area.  I feel that this would protect the Fifteenmile Basin so that generations to come can experience the same awe upon viewing this unique landscape (Record #’s 6094-114 alternative B).

May we have the wisdom to protect the last of this Specialness for generations to come.   We have an opportunity to do the best we can for our lands, our wildlife, our grandchildren.


Thank you,



Leslie Patten


Tipi Rings

I thought I’d do a short post on a few teepee rings I’ve seen.  The other day I was in Cody with some time to kill.  I’d heard there were tipi rings on the north side of the Shoshone river by Trail Creek.  A friend told me the historical wisdom-lore was that many tribes gathered there during the winter months to camp by the hot springs.  Most of those springs are now either extinct, buried under the damn, or on private lands.  In fact, the bulk of the rings, apparently 100’s of them, are on private lands going up the traditional passage of Trail Creek.

Walking along the shores of the Shoshone River (called the Stinking Water River before it was changed due to popular [and probably economic] demand)  you can still occasionally smell sulfur .  The rings are obvious, easy to pick out.  They’re incredibly close together; some even still have fire rings in the center.  Compared to the rings in other places, these looked fairly recent, maybe 150 years old.  Why?  Because the rocks are not very buried.

Cody tipi ring with fire ring in middle

Another view of several rings outside Cody

This is an excerpt from Plain Feather about the death of Crow Chief Sits in the Middle of the Land while Plain Feather was camped outside of Cody:

“About a year after the big battle on the Little Bighorn (1876), a small band of Crows went hunting from the Yellowstone to the Stinking River…The band reached the Stinking River a short distance below where the city of Cody now is located.  Here Chief Sits in the Middle announced that he was going south to a valley where there were still some buffalo left.  The other group decided to follow up the Stinking River to the big mountains where there were plenty of deer and bighorn sheep.

My family was with this latter group.  That evening we made camp at the forks of the river just above the narrow canyon where a dam is now located.  Towards evening we sighted two horseback riders galloping in our direction.  They were messengers from the other group.  They announced that the great chief and his wife suddenly became ill and soon died. They said we were to hasten over there.  It is believed that they died of pneumonia.

Immediately teepees came down and we were soon on our way.  We arrived early the next morning, just in time for the burial.  The bodies, strapped in robes, were taken to the rimrocks of the valley and put into a ledge and then covered up with slabs of rocks.  The burial mourning followed, with men and women wailing.  They recounted the many great things that the chief did for his people for many years.  At that time he was the Chief of All Chiefs, reigning over the two main bands of the Crow Nation.”**

(**Note:  In the late 1960’s, the Chiefs’ remains were relocated from nearby Meeteetsie to the Crow Agency in Montana.)

Now compare those rocks with the rocks in the rings below.  These rings were along the Bighorn River in Bighorn Canyon.  The rings are right beside the main road, which follows the ancient travel route of the Crows.

Another view along Bighorn canyon

Big Horn Canyon rings

Here are some much older rings near the town of Clark.

Clarks fork tipi rings, much older

I spent a few hours walking along the plateau near the mouth of the Clark’s Fork Canyon, an area where tribes traveled for the fall Buffalo hunt.  There are rocks galore there, and although I could pick out some rings, they couldn’t be photographed as they were very obscure and some of it might have even been my vivid imagination.  Most of the rings seemed much smaller, probably no more than 6′ in diameter compared to these larger rings.  But the setting was right–on the table above the river with a wide view of the surroundings.

I love finding these rings.  They spur my imagination and kindle a sleeping spirit.  The very soil emits stories I’m awaiting to hear.