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Hard-won Wisdom

The Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, where the governors would convene, sits a stone's throw from one of the most threatened migratory corridors in America. Every year for 600 centuries, a herd of 1,500 pronghorn has shuttled between its summer feeding grounds at the base of the Tetons and the winter high desert of the Upper Green River Valley, a path that leads up the Gros Ventre River and into the sagebrush country around Pinedale. But in the eight years since the Bush Administration relaxed the permitting process for natural gas drilling, Pinedale has been transformed by a gas bonanza. Nine hundred new wells now support an overnight boomtown, with some 3,500 more on the way, and generations-old ranches have been parceled into ranchettes—all blocking the path of the pronghorn.

The situation has united some unusual allies. Hunting groups, noting that the once excellent pronghorn and mule deer hunting around Pinedale and the Upper Green River Valley has been decimated, have joined with environmentalists in opposing the unchecked development. In June the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management to slow the expansion of drilling.

Ridgeway's proposals at the convention—replacing miles of fence with pronghorn-friendly, crawl-under barriers, constructing wildlife overpasses and underpasses on highways, and clustering housing to preserve more wild space—were comprehensive. But he feared they'd get buried under such soporific fare as "Transmission Expansion: When, Where, and How?" and "Jobs of the Future: Preparing the Western Workforce." So he hired the team behind Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth to produce his slide presentation, and, to deliver the keynote address, he recruited a close friend: Tom Brokaw.

With one of America's most recognizable citizens aboard, Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal, the conference host, a centrist and a friend to the natural gas industry, reshuffled the itinerary to make wildlife corridors the headline topic. Once again Ridgeway had maneuvered someone standing in his way over to his side.

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