No aerial tour in a Cessna this morning. Instead, we kick things off with a wildlife tour of the Little Mountain region, south of Rock Springs, Wyo. Kevin Cooley
As you can tell, there’s not a bad view wherever you stand. According to the Greater Little Mountain Coalition, the Little Mountain’s unique high-desert habitat is considered by biologists and resource managers to be some of the most sensitive wildlife habitat in the state. In the last decade, the area has benefited from more than $2 million in habitat restoration and enhancement projects. Kevin Cooley
Much of the land here has been leased for energy development, including natural gas. The mission here isn’t to shut down any and every effort to develop these domestic resources. That’s neither responsible nor possible. But what TU and Field & Stream are pushing for is a plan that would allow for responsible drilling while still protecting the landscape and wildlife. Kevin Cooley
Here’s one of many instances when we climbed out of the trucks to admire the landscape. Since you can’t see what we’re seeing here, I’ll fill you in: At the bottom of this slope there are maybe 20 elk, mostly cows and calves, and at least 30 antelope moving across the valley. I watch them until they’re almost too small to see. Kevin Cooley
Dwayne Meadows, of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, glances at a map of the region. That checkerboard pattern? All of those colored blocks indicated leases for energy development. Kevin Cooley
Meadows (left) and Pat Newell, of TU’s Flaming Gorge/Lower Green River chapter, walk as far as they can for the best possible view. Kevin Cooley
Now, it’s time to fish. Eager to cast to the native Colorado cutthroats in Trout Creek, a group of us hike down this slope to reach the water sooner. Fortunately no bones or rod blanks were broken during the process. Kevin Cooley
Yes, that slim, winding vein of a stream is Trout Creek. It’s probably no more than 10 feet at its widest point. Kevin Cooley
We saw more fish the farther we walked downstream. Here, Dwayne Meadows casts to a Colorado cutthroat. Kevin Cooley
My second fish of the day, which I caught on a small yellow hopper. I’ve landed cutthroats before–in Montana and Arkansas–but I don’t remember any having orange cut marks as bright as these fish. Kevin Cooley
On water this narrow and with fish this small, most of your fly line never really leaves your reel. As Brett Prettyman demonstrates here, you only want the leader and fly to hit the water. Kevin Cooley
There’s not much to protect these fish. The creek is very shallow, making the trout somewhat easy targets for birds. Much more serious, however, are the consequences that irresponsible drilling could have on Trout Creek. It would not take much to ruin a stream this small and sensitive. Kevin Cooley
One of the last fish I caught that day. I fished my way down to Meadows (left) and then we walked back to the rest of the group. I’ll never forget Trout Creek, and I can’t wait to get back. Kevin Cooley
After Trout Creek, we traveled to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir for a pontoon boat tour of the lake. As a bonus to all of the wildlife we’d already seen in the morning, we could now add bighorn sheep to the mix after we spotted these ewes and rams along the shore. Kevin Cooley
The fishing in the reservoir is outstanding. The lake boasts trophy bass (largemouth and smallmouth), lake trout, rainbow and brown trout, kokanee, and more. The largest lake trout caught on the Utah side is a whopping 51 pounds 8 ounces. Kevin Cooley
Nothing about the reservoir would stay the same if the pipeline were built. The rate at which the water level would drop would be disastrous: The habitat for the fish would collapse. Boat ramps would be stranded. The revenue generated from water recreation–revenue the towns rely on–would shrivel. As for the look of the reservoir, Kathy Lynch, counsel for TU’s Wyoming Water Project, described it as having a huge “bathtub ring” all the way round the lake where the water level was before the pipeline. Not exactly as scenic as it is here. Kevin Cooley
Granted, the red sandstone isn’t exactly “flaming” during a sunset, but Flaming Gorge, shown here, is still an inspiring sight to end an epic day. Kevin Cooley

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 one.