Volume 2, Number 37 - December 12, 2002
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WG&F grouses about citizen-drafted plan
When the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's special report on the draft Wyoming sage grouse conservation plan came up for discussion at last Friday's WG&F Commission meeting in Lander, it was evident that the department had offended several of the members of the citizen group which had drafted the plan.
The draft grouse conservation plan, written by an 18-member statewide citizen group meeting over a two-year period, was the subject of a recent public comment period. According to the special report, a total of 107 comments on the draft grouse plan were received, including 82 from individuals and 25 from corporations, organizations and agencies. Sierra Club members sent in 43 pre-printed postcards.
The conflict with the working group arose from a WG&F Department letter that was included in the special report and the department's recommendation that the commission end the working group's involvement and let the department completely revamp the plan.
The special report issued by the department to the commission last week included an analysis of the public comments, and noted that this was "the first time ever that WG&F submitted its own set of comments on a draft planning document for a species management planning effort."
The special report concluded "private commodity interests, almost exclusively, either supported the conservation plan in its draft form or suggested only very minor modifications ... Conversely, the various conservation organizations and natural resource management agencies either expressed outright dissatisfaction with the plan in its draft from or suggested that extensive and dramatic changes be made."
The report also concluded that "it is clear that the majority of commentors have concerns related to the draft plan's extent, clarity, accuracy and veracity. As nearly every section of this document was the subject of multiple comments, it is also clear that this draft plan will require substantial modifications before it will be acceptable to the majority of commentors and the department."
Although generating widespread public support, the whole notion of using local working groups was subject to WG&F Department criticism and it was evident that the state wildlife commission had to make a decision on what had become a turf battle.
Even the special report noted, "The use and function of working groups in species management planning efforts requires clear expectations about their role and that of the department from the onset, especially the time when the role of one ends and the other begins."
The WG&F Wildlife Division's comment letter stated: "Considerable concern was expressed by WG&F reviewers that the local working groups will require more time and resources than the local WG&F personnel can afford to give to the process. There is a sense that local planning processes, similar to Coordinated Resource Management Plans, have not been particularly successful and are viewed, by many, as a waste of time for agency personnel ... It should be noted that there is a distinct lack of support for the proposed process (local working groups) at the field level within the agency at this time."
The WG&F Department comment letter was more than 20 pages long and included a large variety of criticism of the draft plan, but the letter also misrepresented what the plan calls for.
For example, WG&F claimed, "The plan calls for maintenance of livestock grazing on all public lands," when in reality, the plan has a livestock grazing objective to "maintain the opportunity to graze livestock on state, federal and private lands while maintaining and enhancing sage-grouse populations in Wyoming."
The fact that the objective supports livestock grazing was offensive to the department. "... this is a sage-grouse plan. Sage-grouse should come first and maintaining livestock grazing should be secondary."
To the objective "to develop the mineral resource in a manner compatible with maintenance and enhancement of sage-grouse populations and habitat," WG&F also took offense. The agency stated: "This objective makes sage-grouse secondary to mineral development.... It is unlikely that this objective can be met if gas production continues to expand at current rates. ... It is unlikely we can maximize the development of coalbed methane and natural gas while maintaining and enhancing sage-grouse habitat."
Rather than having the first sentence in the predation section state, "As should be expected, predation is a major cause of sage-grouse loss," WG&F wants the section reworked to open with "Humans have altered the landscape and influenced predator-prey relationships that evolved between sage-grouse and native predators."
Even the special report itself misrepresented aspects of the plan as well. The report recommended that the department be allowed to revise the goal of the plan to focus efforts on increasing the number of grouse "rather than working to maintain the population at current levels."
That statement implies the plan calls to maintain sage grouse populations at current levels, but what the plan calls for is "maintain, and increase where possible" grouse abundance and distribution.
Daniel rancher Albert Sommers was a grouse working group member who expressed his opposition to the commission allowing the department to completely revamp the plan and urged the commission to allow the working group the opportunity to incorporate and react to the comments on the draft plan.
Sommers told the commission: "I was dismayed and disappointed when I read the special report. My disappointment stems from the WG&F Wildlife Division Sage Grouse Working Group's venomous attack on the draft conservation plan. My dismay turned to anger when I read that the WG&F supported this attack, and was seeking to take control of the process and conduct a complete revision.
"The WG&F did not participate in this process in good faith, and probably had a basic plan already developed," Sommers continued.
"I believe the attack by WG&F on the draft conservation plan results from the department's inability to deal with compromise," Sommers said. "The tone of the attack was so angry in nature that it appeared to be a tactic to incite the general public to demand a withdrawal of the draft plan."
Working group member Dr. Larry Hayden-Wing spoke in support of Sommer's comments, stating his anger and resentment toward the department for it had "coarsely disregarded" the "blood, sweat and tears" of the last two years by working group members. He said the WG&F letter of comment consisted of "sarcastic, negative criticism" that was "not meant to help, but to discredit the plan."
Hayden-Wing said it's his belief that the department didn't like the groups' conclusions, so it attacked the plan.
Working group member Renee Taylor said she found WG&F's comments "condescending" and added that she felt the department doesn't like the plan because it doesn't meet the agency's preconceived goals for grouse conservation.
Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association supported the comments made by the working group members, as did Wyoming Wool Growers executive director Bryce Reece. All of these speakers urged the commission to reject the WG&F Department's recommendations and instead allow the working group to continue its role in addressing public comments and seeing the plan into its final form.
WG&F Department deputy director Bill Wichers briefly addressed the commission, noting that the department's letter contained "significant negative connotations" and suggested that this was because those in the department who contributed to the letter were not the department's representatives on the working group, but had been outside the process.
Commission Chairman Doyle Dorner said he felt it an "atrocity" that the department's representatives to the working group hadn't been included in developing the agency's comments.
Acting WG&F Director Tom Thorne was red-faced when he addressed the commission. He said: "I think we've had a train wreck here but I think we can fix it." Thorne said he supports continuing the working groups' effort.
Thorne also suggested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service be more aggressively involved in helping to finalize the plan. He told FWS Wyoming Director Mike Long, "Don't let the state go down the path to a plan the Fish and Wildlife Service will find inadequate." Long had told the commission that while his agency hadn't reviewed the draft plan that was available for public review, it had seen earlier versions. Long said while that document was a good starting point, it didn't have the specificity needed to be used by his agency in order to preclude a federal listing to protect grouse.
WG&F Commissioner Linda Fleming said she feels very positive about using local working groups, and Commissioner Hale Kreycik said there has "been too much effort put into this product to throw it away. It's too good. It's too important to not continue the process and finish it."
Thorne suggested revisions to the WG&F recommendations. Those revisions would have the department work cooperatively with the working group to revise the draft plan.
The commission was unanimous in its support for the revise recommendations.
The grouse working group will meet later this month to begin addressing the public comments received on the draft plan. The commission will get a progress update in January or February next year, with a final plan proposed for adoption later next spring.
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