Best Wild Places: Exploring the Outlaw Triangle, Day Three

Senior Editor Colin Kearns and photographer Kevin Cooley spent three days exploring what’s at stake in the battle for water … Continued

Senior Editor Colin Kearns and photographer Kevin Cooley spent three days exploring what’s at stake in the battle for water in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the consequences of irresponsible drilling for oil and gas in Wyoming’s Little Mountain region. Here’s what they found on day three.

httpswww.fieldandstream.comsitesfieldandstream.comfilesimport2014importBlogPostembedOUTLAW_DAY_03_MG_7211.jpg

The plan for day three is to fish. That’s about it. No plane tours. No Wyoming safaris. No sunset cruises around the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. And I’m OK with that. It’s been an amazing trip so far, but it’s been busy, and the prospect of spending the day on a drift boat fishing the B Section of the Green River followed by an evening with a hot meal, cold beers, and a few rounds of horseshoes, well, that’s sounds better than OK.

As good as the fishing on the A Section had been on day one, we’d been told to expect even better action on the B. This is where the guides have been seeing the type of dry-fly fishing the Green is famous for, and where some of the biggest brown trout below Flaming Gorge Dam gorge on terrestrials. I hop in a boat with Casey Snider and Kathy Lynch, both with Trout Unlimited, and Snider and I quickly start drilling the seams and banks.

Snider and I each land a trout early on, but the fishing is pretty slow for everyone. Fortunately, the company on the drift boat is great. Lynch is as passionate about her work and the outdoors as anyone I’ve ever met. And although Snider is just a couple of weeks into his job, you can just tell that TU made a smart move to recruit him to help fight the pipeline.

In the past couple of days, we’ve talked at length about the effects the pipeline would have on the fish and the river. But there’s another victim in this story, and one that stands to take a serious hit if and when the pipeline arrives: the community. “That’s the other part to all of this,” Lynch said. “Granted, these numbers are old, but in 2001 the government tried to figure out what the economic value of the area is, and of the reservoir and the river together–the greater Flaming Gorge recreational area–the government found it generated $125 million annually for the communities.” And in Wyoming, more than $10 million is spent annually on recreational fishing in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

Fishing not only brings money to the community, but plenty of jobs, too. According to the 2000 census, 47 percent of all jobs in Daggett County are attributed to tourism. “The number-two private employer in the country is Flaming Gorge Resort,” Snider said. That would be the same Flaming Gorge Resort that’s been guiding us on the river and providing our lunches.

When you add all of this together, you start to envision the disastrous chain of evente pipeline could create: First, the water levels and water quality in the river and reservoir decline. Next, the fish suffer. A decline in the fishery means anglers and tourists have less reason to travel to the area and spend money on things like lodging, food, tackle, and guide service.

Under these circumstances, how long could an outfitter stay afloat?

“For sure, we’d suffer right along with the fishing,” said Kevin Clegg, owner of Flaming Gorge Resort. “All of Daggett County, which is pretty small, is totally driven by the reservoir and the river–by tourism and visitation to the area. Pretty much everyone who comes to our resort is here to do something on the reservoir or the river.”

Or a marina?

“Well, all of our dock structure would have to be moved because the water levels would be so low,” said Jerry Taylor, owner of Lucerne Valley Marina. “And you can just imagine the cost involved in that.”

Or a lodge?

“That’s easy: We’d basically have to close our doors,” said George Stephen, co-manager of Spring Creek Guest Ranch where we’ve been staying the past few days. “They’re talking about lower flow rates and devastation to the habitat of the fishing, and 95 percent of our customers are fisherman on the Green River. The effects would be seen right away. The bed-and-breakfast might be able to remain, but I seriously doubt it.”

A decline in water quality, a devastated fishery, a drop in tourism, lost jobs, and millions of dollars in lost business: How can one honestly justify all of that loss just for some pipeline? How can there not be an alternative?

***

After we finish another amazing meal at the Spring Creek Guest Ranch–our last one sadly–we waste little time before rushing back to the horseshoe pit. We manage to finish the game with some sunlight leftover, so we start another. By the time this match ends it’s dark and the stakes are barely visible. Still, we keep tossing. Eventually it’s so dark–and the threat of a busted shin is so inevitable–that we park a pickup alongside the pit and turn on the headlights. It helps only slightly, but still enough to keep playing, which we do. We keep playing until around 11 p.m. It’s as if we don’t want the game–or this trip–to end. –Colin Kearns

Click here to see more photos from day three.