From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 29 - October 14, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Nationwide approach to wildlife management

by Cat Urbigkit

Chris Burkett of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is half of a two-man team busy writing a document that could set the stage for wildlife management in Wyoming for years to come.

The document will be called the Wyoming Comprehensive Wildlife Management Strategy.

“I expect this will be the most comprehensive document that we’ve ever put together,” Burkett said.

It’s also part of a process that’s been called the first nationwide approach to wildlife management.

Under legislation passed by Congress in 2001, all states and six U.S. territories must complete comprehensive wildlife conservation strategies for species found within their borders in order to remain eligible for federal funding through the State Wildlife Grant program. The legislation directs states to gather input for their plans from federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, conservation groups and other state agencies. The Bureau of Land Management is working at both the national and state office levels to make recommendations on species and habitats that should be addressed in each plan, to identify threats to these species and habitats, and to recommend conservation actions.

“Cooperating with state wildlife managers as they create these plans will enable us to take a more proactive approach to protecting wildlife,” said Fran Cherry, BLM deputy director, in a release last week.

“Because the plans will give a statewide perspective,” Cherry added, “they will provide crucial up-to-date information on species and habitats at risk, regardless of ownership of the land containing the habitat and related species.”

Congress requires that each plan include eight elements and that completed plans be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by Oct. 1, 2005. Strategies will be reviewed every 10 years and updated as necessary.

According to the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, each state’s strategy will set a vision and a plan of action for state wildlife conservation and funding.

“While each strategy will reflect a different set of issues, management needs and priorities, the states are working together to ensure nationwide consistency and a common focus on targeting resources at preventing wildlife from declining to the point of endangerment,” IAFWA stated.

IAFWA continued: “What makes the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategies different from any other plans that have been drafted in the last decade? Two things: money and scale. The objectives and approaches defined by each strategy will receive millions of dollars of federal funds, matched with support from other sources, to ensure their implementation. Very few other plans have this clear program of support. In addition, the strategies are being produced by every state and territory to address the entire diversity of wildlife and habitats. Collectively, they will create – for the first time – a nationwide approach to wildlife conservation.”

Congress directed that the strategies must identify and be focused on the “species in greatest need of conservation,” yet address the “full array of wildlife” and wildlife-related issues.

Each state’s wildlife conservation strategy must contain the following eight elements:

• Information on the distribution and abundance of species of wildlife, including low and declining populations, as the state fish and wildlife agency deems appropriate, that are indicative of the diversity and health of the state’s wildlife;

• Descriptions of locations and relative condition of key habitats and community types essential to conservation of species identified;

• Descriptions of problems which may adversely affect identified species or their habitats, and priority research and survey efforts needed to identify factors which may assist in restoration and improved conservation of these species and habitats;

• Descriptions of conservation actions proposed to conserve the identified species and habitats and priorities for implementing such actions;

• Proposed plans for monitoring identified species and their habitats, for monitoring the effectiveness of the conservation actions proposed and for adapting these conservation actions to respond appropriately to new information or changing conditions;

• Descriptions of procedures to review the strategy at intervals not to exceed 10 years;

• Plans for coordinating the development, implementation, review, and revision of the plan with federal, state, and local agencies and Indian tribes that manage significant land and water areas within the State or administer programs that significantly affect the conservation of identified species and habitats.

• Congress also affirmed through this legislation that broad public participation is an essential element of developing and implementing these plans, the projects that are carried out while these plans are developed, and the Species in Greatest Need of Conservation that Congress has indicated such programs and projects are intended to emphasize.

Burkett said Monday that Wyoming’s plan is in the draft stage, with the first four elements compiled into a document that now consists of about 450 double-sided pages. That includes a species summary and map for each of the 215-250 species of concern in the document.

“This is a massive document,” Burkett said, but noted that in the end, the document could pave the way for massive benefits. It’s his hope that the outcome of this planning process will be to make the Endangered Species Act obsolete.

Burkett said the draft has been distributed to 26 potential partnering groups, ranging from federal and state agencies to individuals who may have specific information about certain species and their habitats. Between now and mid-December, WG&F will meet with these partners to obtain further information and refine the document.

There will be a formal public participation process, but that won’t come until a little later, Burkett said, possibly this winter or early spring. The document will be presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval, probably in June. FWS must approve the final document by Oct. 1, Burkett said. If FWS doesn’t approve the document, Wyoming will not only be precluded from getting any State Wildlife Grant money, but will also be required to pay back the SWG money it’s already received. That means WG&F would have to pay back $2 million.

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