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Many believe $24.5 million to improve habitat around the Jonah natural gas field outside Pinedale would be helpful, but some are questioning how much an improvement there will be.

Linda Baker with the Upper Green River Valley Coalition said EnCana Oil and Gas Inc.’s pledge of the millions in exchange for large-scale drilling may not go far, as the habitat outside Jonah appears to be

“in pretty good shape.”

“There’s place for some degree of success with off-site mitigation,”

Baker said. But she said habitat outside Jonah supports one of the country’s largest populations of mule deer and antelope and a cattle industry.

“There’s no indication of to what degree mitigation will occur, what they will do and how far beyond they will improve it,”

she said.

Off-site mitigation was voluntarily proposed by EnCana. The company offered varying amounts based on how much surface area it could disturb on the 31,000-acre Jonah Field. More on-site disturbance — like that proposed in the Bureau of Land Management’s preferred alternative — meant more off-site mitigation money. Less total disturbed acres on the field meant the company was engaging in on-site mitigation, coming at a price on site, according to EnCana.

The money would be donated and spent over the next 10 years, and would be managed by a group of wildlife and habitat agencies, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Possibilities for the mitigation include prescribed burns to rejuvenate habitat and restoration of native habitat.

Vern Stelter, habitat coordinator with the Game and Fish Department, said the agency does not know how effective the off-site mitigation will be, but, “we are assuming it will be effective.”

“This is something we’re going to learn more as we go, because this is the first time we’ve applied off-site mitigation in Wyoming,”

Stelter said.

As far as habitat, that area has just come out of several years of drought, and there are areas that could benefit from some work.”

Randy Teeuwen, community relations advisor for EnCana, said

the goal is to create a “net positive impact” on Jonah and surrounding areas.

We’re going to mitigate surface disturbance by our off-site funds so we can protect the environment and eventually bring the Jonah Field back to the way it was,”

he said.

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