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Otter Creek: Cautionary tale from Wyoming

2009-12-20T00:00:00Z Otter Creek: Cautionary tale from Wyoming The Billings Gazette
December 20, 2009 12:00 am

I see some in Montana want to improve the “Last Best Place” by opening the Otter Creek coal tracts. The decision is ultimately up to the people of Montana. Be careful what you wish for.

Our family ranch, homesteaded in 1918, in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin was in two parcels. One consisted of Forest Service leases.

When coal mining began we noticed loss of spring water. The Bureau of Land Management acknowledges that our ranch is in a “five feet drawdown area” around the mines. The springs and surface water have dropped five feet. In addition, Wyoming Geological Survey has monitored Powder River Basin wells and reports aquifers in virtually every well have gone down, some by over 600 feet.

When mining began, officials informed us land would be restored better than it was before with “good grasses.” After 40 years we have not received one acre of restored ground and have never had a cow get a mouthful of “reclaimed grass.”

There is constant air pollution. Our ranch is upwind from the mines and we can see a hundred miles to the northwest and south. In contrast, we can usually see only five miles across the mines.

We have lost thousands of acres of Forest Service leases. Current mine expansions will take the rest. We now have to close out our commercial cow herd and cut the number of sheep we run. We have to pasture replacement heifers in Nebraska, feed our bulls in Colorado, and run cows in the Black Hills.

Leland “L.J.” Turner

Gillette, Wyo.

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