From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 49 - March 1, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

WLCI looks at the big picture
Proposal seeks to balance conservation, industry in southwestern Wyoming
by Gail Kimberling

Collaboration and partnership were the oft-repeated words during an open house held in Pinedale Thursday, Feb. 22 to unveil the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative, or WLCI.

But does this proposal to “conserve world-class wildlife resources (and) facilitate responsible energy development” just add another layer of bureaucratic red tape on top of myriad of government regulations and plans that already exist?

And will it trickle down to the local level?

That’s what audience members who filled the Sublette County Library wanted to know following a detailed presentation by representatives of numerous state and federal agencies.

“There is an opportunity to succeed, or to fail, if this is not done by the ground up,” Sublette County Commissioner Joel Bousman said. He urged those behind the WLCI to involve county residents, especially ranchers, in developing the far-reaching proposal – and at an early stage.

“We need to identify the tools we have at a local level,” Bousman said.

Landscape approach

As outlined by John Emrick of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the WLCI will take a large-scale approach to addressing the rapid changes taking place in southwest Wyoming, home to an estimated 100,000 deer and 100,000 pronghorn antelope; 40,000 elk; 8,000 moose; 1,400 big horn sheep; and 151 non-game species of greatest conservation needs. There are also 1,400 family farms and ranches in the area, supporting 119,000 cattle and 95,000 sheep annually.

Most of the changes referred to by Emrick are resulting from the exploration and drilling of natural gas in an area that encompasses 15 million acres. Currently, southwest Wyoming produces enough natural gas to heat four million homes for a year; experts predict there is 83 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas reserves in the area – maybe more.

In spite of, or alongside, this industry boom, “We want to try to maintain the traditional values and lifestyles we’ve taken for granted,” Emrick said, especially when it comes to preserving local habitats and livelihoods.

“We’ve been doing some things, but we felt we needed to take a different approach” in scale, efficiency and organization, Emrick explained.

The result is the WLCI, “a longterm science-based effort to assess and enhance aquatic and terrestrial habitats at a landscape scale, while facilitating responsible energy development.”

Involved with the proposal are the following agencies:

• Bureau of Land Management - lead agency, project authorization and oversight;

• U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) – science support, project planning;

• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – project proponent and landowner assurances, at-risk species conservation, ESA consultation;

• Wyoming Game and Fish – project planning, ensure compliance with state wildlife conservation goals;

• Wyoming Department of Agriculture – liaison between WLCI and agriculture community, project planning; and

U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service – technical support.

Additional support will come from the Wyoming State Land Board, Department of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), among others.

Emrick admitted the proposal “won’t fix everything,” but said the WLCI should benefit all those who want to preserve the landscape and provide responsible and efficient natural resource development.

He said the main task of the WLCI will be to “bring together all the different data” regarding wildlife, livestock, roads, urban development and gas drilling for a comprehensive analysis to determine potential areas of impact. The idea, Emrick said, is to find places that won’t be developed in the future where conservation resources can be concentrated.

“We know energy development will occur. We want to facilitate that with how much and were. We want to bring all the data together to do a ‘data atlas’ that would be available to everyone,” Emrick said.

Because of its unique landscape and multi-agency approach, Emrick said the proposal has the support of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior. “The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative is ranked the number-one conservation effort in the West,” Emrick told Thursday night’s crowd.

A total of $11.5 million in federal funds have been earmarked for the project under the Congressional “Healthy Landscape Initiative”: $4.5 million for BLM, $5.0 for U.S. Geological Survey, and $2 million for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, Emrick said, funding is contingent upon full Congressional approval and the President’s signature.

Unique methodology

Emrick said the WLCI is not “business as usual.” He explained the large-scale, multi-agency, science-based approach should help leverage additional resources and streamline conservation efforts: “We should be able to get work on the ground faster,” Emrick stated.

But he stressed a critical element involves partnering with local communities and local governments; WCLI agencies would like to see industry officials become involved, as well.

“We’ve put the wheels on the vehicle, but we haven’t built the chassis or put the engine in yet,” Emrick said.

He added the WLCI executive committee (BLM, USGS, USFWS, Wyoming Dept. of Agriculture and Wyoming Game and Fish) hopes this happens “over the next six, seven months with the collaboration of local communities.”

The WLCI, Emrick said, is also unique in that it focuses solely on resources – on habitat priority areas outside development areas - in four sites: sagebrush areas, riparian areas, aspen communities and mountain shrub communities. The proposal is also designed to complement the reclamation and mitigation efforts of the energy industry.

Not regulatory

In answer to a question from Sublette County Commissioner John Linn about the role of the WLCI, Emrick stressed the proposal “is not regulatory or prescriptive. We want to build partnerships and find people who want to do the work.”

Linn also wondered about the value of the data being used by the WLCI, and Emrick assured him that “we will put together the best data available for the starting point by next fall.” Marc Chesney of the USGS added his agency has dedicated up to $5 million a year to develop an up-to-date science plan for the project.

Other audience members wanted to know what portion of the $11.5 million dedicated to WLCI would be used for overhead and how much would be for on-the-ground projects. All of the agency representatives at Thursday’s meeting said part of their WLCI allocations would go for employees dedicated to the project and the rest to “getting things done.” But Chesney, of the USGS said, “In one way none will go on the ground; in one way it all will.”

Emrick added the $11.5 million would fund the WLCI for one and a half years, “but we need to look at a 10-year plan.” Ideally, he added, agency officials are looking at a 30-year footprint to be entirely successful.

He said officials are hoping federal funding will be sustained once the program is up and running. “What sold this to D.C.,” Emrick said, “is one, the landscape scale and two, the partnerships. It has the potential to be successful if we do it right.”

More information about the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative is available at

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