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GROUP FLAYS OIL-GAS PLAN FOR YELLOWSTONE

Federal plans for oil and gas leasing around Yellowstone National Park would turn the nation's oldest park into a "jungle gym of pipelines," Sierra Club officials said Wednesday.

In a report entitled "Yellowstone Under Siege," the environmental group listed the effects of mineral development on the outskirts of Yellowstone."The Forest Service has opened the door for oil and gas producers to turn our recreational national forests into a jungle gym of pipelines," said Kirk Koepsel, A Sierra Club associate representative based in Sheridan. "If the Yellowstone region is to be protected . . . the Forest Service must prohibit leasing in recreation and wildlife areas."

But Forest Service spokesman Lynn Young said the group was misleading the public and using scare tactics to suggest that the forests were a jungle gym of pipelines.

"We don't kind of willy-nilly say, `hey, let's poke a hole here,' " Young said in a telephone interview from his Denver-based Rocky Mountain region office. "There is oil and gas leasing, but that doesn't mean we're going in and ripping out (park) grounds and those kind of things."

Young added that the forests aren't just for recreational use as Koepsel suggests. "To him it's recreation. I would suspect that to communities that would depend on oil and gas, on grazing and cattle, on cutting of timber . . . they may not look on them as strictly recreation."

The agency already has begun leasing vast land tracts in the Bridger-Teton National Forest south of Yellowstone, the Sierra Club report said. A plan currently under public review would open land in the Shoshone National Forest to the east, the group said. And over the next three years the agency will prepare lease plans for Custer, Gallatin, Targhee and Caribou national forests that surround Yellowstone.

The proposals will affect areas rich in prime grizzly bear habitat, heavily used recreation spots and important roadless stretches, the report said.

Merideth Taylor, who conducts backcountry tours and is a former head of the Wyoming Sierra Club chapter, said the impact of development would hurt her business. "We never have had a client who wanted to visit an oil field rather than a pristine area," she said in the release.