Journey into Wyoming’s Red Desert, a little known wilderness the size of Denali National Park that brings the steppes of Mongolia to America’s backyard. Here, energy companies vie for the desert’s riches in a world of 50,000 pronghorn, herds of wild horses and some of the most unforgiving landscapes of the West. Come learn of this place and the struggles to protect it as you travel Into the Big Empty.
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Nearly a third of the Red Desert, about 2 million acres, is virtually off-limits for management by the Bureau of Land Management, due to a federal land deal from the 1800s, says Lorraine Keith, public affairs officer for the Rock Springs BLM field office. This corridor of land, stretching from Greater Red and Current Creeks to Adobe Town and Rawlins, was gifted to Union Pacific in the late 1800s as a means to help pay for the transcontinental railroad. The federal government gave Union Pacific every other square mile of land along the corridor, creating a widely stretching checkerboard of federal and private land in the Red Desert and across the rest of Wyoming.
Union Pacific sold the majority of that land, including its mineral rights, to Anadarko Petroleum Corporation in 2000, says Keith, making Anadarko the single largest private landowner in Wyoming. (Click here for the announcement of the sale.) The BLM can’t manage the private land she says, and the checkerboard pattern makes it difficult to manage parcels of public land scattered along this corridor. This 2 million acre stretch of desert includes small sections that the BLM considers Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, meaning the land meets criteria of relevance and importance, examples of which include areas of cultural or historical value, wildlife resources, and areas considered to be fragile, rare or irreplacable.
The article, Hostile Beauty, from a 2002 issue of National Wildlife Magazine is a good one for more information about the checkerboard of private land stretching across the Red Desert, as well as good source of general information about the area.
For more information about some of the deals between Union Pacific and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, click here.