Sen. Craig Thomas (R-WY) plans to introduce legislation possibly as early as next month to halt future oil and natural gas leasing in the forested areas of the Wyoming Range, a spokesman said.

The measure, which is in the earliest draft stages, would bar any future leasing in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in the western part of Wyoming, but would not affect existing leases, said Thomas spokesman Cameron Hardy. More than 100,000 acres in the Wyoming Range have been leased to energy development already, he noted.

Hardy said that while a number of conservation and sportsmen groups are interested in buying back existing oil and gas leases, the senator's legislation is not expected to address the issue of buy-backs.

He said Thomas' staff met this week with some of the energy companies that hold leases on the Wyoming Range to discuss his proposed legislation.

Thomas, who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, continues to support energy development, Hardy said. He just believes there are "appropriate places for energy development, while other [areas] should be set aside."

Thomas' opposition to exploration in the Wyoming Range is shared by state Gov. David Freudenthal, along with environmental, conservation and hunting and fishing groups.

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