From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 51 - March 15, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Initiative prepares to address land and wildlife issues
WLCI speaks to Sublette County commissioners.
by Trey Wilkinson

As Sublette County and the rest of western Wyoming continue to face changes due to growth; housing, roads and other uses of the land are being addressed.

Representatives from the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) were present at Friday’s Sublette County Commissioners meeting looking for feedback from area landowners and others who will be dealing with the impacts on area land in the future.

John Emmerich, deputy director of the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, started the presentation by giving a brief summary of what WLCI is about.

WLCI is a long-term science based initiative to enhance world-class wildlife habitat, he said.

According to Emmerich, $22 million has been budgeted for the Healthy Landscape Initiative, $11.5 million of which is line itemed for the WLCI.

“This is just money that is in the President’s budget request,” Emmerich said. “We don’t have it yet.”

“Our group grew out of the concern that there is little federal money for habitat enhancement work for wildlife,” Emmerich added. “Wyoming is getting the bulk of the money if Congress approves it. We need everyone to be aware that for this to work we need the voices and help of landowners throughout Wyoming.”

Terry Cleveland, director of the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, informed the commissioners and meeting attendees that the WLCI has no regulatory authority.

“This is simply an attempt to get various groups together to address impacts coming to Wyoming and assure, as the future moves forward, that we have a way to maintain wildlife and livestock,” Cleveland said. “This is our best opportunity (having federal agencies and statewide agencies on the board) to address this issue.”

According to Emmerich, nothing has been finalized for the WLCI at this point, however, a decision has been made to get certain committees in place in order to initiate the program.

According the WLCI Web site, the WLCI is an interagency working group of partners that is beginning the process of establishing a much larger coalition of government and non-government organizations. Current partners include the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey Bureau of Reclamation. These partners will help form an executive committee and advisory committee. The advisory committee, which will work directly with the executive committee, will also include county commissioners from the southwest part of the state, landowners, board members from the conservations district among others.

A coordinating team of five individuals will be put in place under the advisory committee to set up local advisory groups who will work with the WLCI to set goals, use available resources and come up with ways to achieve those goals.

John Etchepare, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, spoke on the Department of Agriculture’s job to be the facilitator of the program, saying the program is strictly in it’s birth right now.

“I can assure you this is about the landowners,” he said. “We need to find out where the critical areas are that we need to protect, not just wildlife, but livestock as well.”

County Commissioner Joel Bousman re-emphasized the importance of having landowners present at the table when decisions are made.

“I think this is a chance for ag to really get recognition for there contribution to wildlife,” county commissioner John Linn said. “It is in our best interest to keep ag viable in order to keep wildlife viable.”

Renee Dana with the BLM Rock Springs office informed the commissioners that four BLM offices are involved in the initiative, including the Pinedale office.

Like members of the other organizations, Dana told the board the BLM has little structure relating the WLCI at this point.

“We don’t have anything on paper yet,” she said. “However, we’re looking long-term with this (initiative). It isn’t just going to be a flash in the pan.”

Steve Laster with the BLM Pinedale office raised questions on the time frame and plans for getting the program going.

“I see this developing like a totem pole, except from the top down,” Laster said. “I see organizational action and still have the perception we want to getting things rolling on the ground, but I’m wondering about the time frame for getting the project going. It’s going to be a lengthy process. I guess I have more questions than answers.”

Emmerich addressed Laster’s concern.

“We want to do things in a strategic way before we just go out and start projects,” Emmerich said. “That’s why we want to get these teams going. The only structure we have right now is to get things started. We want people to understand that we aren’t going to do all of this at once. There are going to be growing pains. However, if we can get local support and get common goals we can accomplish a lot.”

The commissioners then turned the presentation over to the audience in search of feedback.

Local rancher Cotton Bousman voiced his opinion about getting projects going as soon as possible.

“In listening to Steve Laster and dealing with time frames, if you’re looking long-term there is going to be a lot of impact ongoing,” he said. “I think the faster we can get some of the common sense projects moving the faster we can start alleviating some of the problems.”

Cotton also said he and others would be putting a lot of faith into the agencies to get good field people on board to represent the departments.

One local man called attention to keeping industries, the government and especially private landowners involved.

“I believe private land owners need to have a bigger seat at the table,” he said.

Etchepare reminded the room of people that no money has been granted for the initiative to this point and stressed contacting necessary delegation.

“We’re really dependent on Congress to get us money in a timely manner,” he said. “Get a hold of our Congressional delegation.”

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