From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 9 - March 1, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Partnership, with pocket of federal dollars, to help Wyoming’s wildlife
After feds’ injunction for more drilling, funding given for habitat projects
by Julia Stuble

“You’re going to hear partnership over and over again tonight, because that’s what this thing is about,” said John Emmerich, deputy director for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, as he surveyed a room packed almost equally with citizens as with state and federal officials.

Emmerich was in Pinedale last week, along with other government representatives, to explain the inauguration of a new state initiative to protect wildlife while facilitating oil and gas development.

The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative is an interagency approach, combining the Bureau of Land Management, the Game and Fish Department, the United States Geological Survey, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in an attempt to address habitat enhancement work in southwest Wyoming.

Peripheral agencies include the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The WLCI addresses land bordered by Wyoming’s western and southern boundaries, as well as the Continental Divide. This area encompasses 15 million acres, just over eight million of which is BLM land. Private lands make up 4,275,537 acres, while the state owns 562,630. The Wyoming Department of Agricultural was brought in “because anything we do on the ground will affect a private landowner or a lessee,” explained a representative.

“Things are changing fast. The landscape is changing rapidly and all the agencies have been doing everything they can to maintain these traditional values, but we’re running behind, trying to keep up with what’s going on,” Emmerich explained, noting that the initiative is aimed at conserving the lifestyle that Wyoming residents have traditionally enjoyed, along with open spaces and large herds of wildlife.

Emmerich noted that oil and gas development across southwest Wyoming will only increase in densities and quantities of fields, and that the State’s “world-class resource” in wildlife will need to be addressed as gas fields encroach seasonally critical habitats. The WLCI will focus its habitat enhancement projects on lands that will not see development in the foreseeable future, nor have been developed. In this sense, all of the projects will be off-site mitigation-oriented, while developed fields will be largely ignored. Emmerich noted proudly that the WLCI is taking “a different approach in terms of scale” to wildlife habitat projects than diverse agencies have done in the past, because the WLCI’s approach will be on a landscape scale.

“We’re looking to put more on the ground,” Emmerich stated of the initiative, which is “focused on assessing and enhancing the condition of the land.”

The WLCI’s partner agencies will take a three-pronged approach to habitat improvement projects. Emmerich explained that the first step will be to assess the habitat condition, then conduct the enhancement project. After the enhancement has been complete, the WLCI will monitor the effects of the project on local wildlife.

Of the wildlife studies that have been completed, and for those that will be, Emmerich said the WLCI wants to create a “clearinghouse” of data, in an easy format that the public can access.

This is where the USGS comes in, with its technical and mapping expertise, said Emmerich. The WLCI will be mainly federally funded. It has been appropriated $11.2 million in President Bush’s 2008 budget, and awaits approval.

This means that the initiative’s budget will be renewed on a circular basis, and thus, lack in stability from year to year. However, Emmerich was optimistic that once the WLCI “shows results” from its projects, garnering federal dollars each year will be a small problem.

Citizens respond

“You’re basing habitat improvements on places not to be developed, but how do you know that?” County Commissioner John Linn questioned the viability of the data the government will be using to determine lands that will see projects, and not oil and gas development. Representatives responded that the government will base projects on information available. It was noted that the USGS, which refers to southwest Wyoming as “the Saudi Arabia of the U.S.,” will use its geological expertise to identify “important plays.” These plays would then be avoided, as they could potentially be developed in the future.

Albert Sommers asked the government representatives “How are you going to bring a big bureaucracy down to the local level?” to which Emmerich answered that “That’s up to you.”

Emmerich said the WLCI wanted local input, such as that garnered from the meeting. Emmerich answered Darryl Walker’s question about Environmental Assessments (EA) versus Environmental Impact Statements, with the hope that projects would just need EAs, unless the scope of the project was too large.

County Commissioner Joel Bousman told the representatives that for any chance of success, the WLCI would have to be oriented “bottom-up” instead of “top-down.” Bousman also questioned the lack of a range scientist on the implementing board of the WLCI, as well as the ability of the understaffed local BLM office to handle projects along with their other duties. “Will the BLM have the resources for projects at the local level? I can’t say we do. We will have to figure that out,” Steve Laster answered Bousman.

Of Bousman’s concerns for range specialists and a bottom-up approach, Pinedale Field Office manager Dennis Stenger told Bousman “Either you stole my notes or I stole yours. We’re on the same line.” “A cynical view is that this allows a repeat of what happened in Jonah, where a company pays into a fund and goes away happy,” Rollin Sparrowe warned the assembled government reps, adding that it’s important to specify where the money goes, and what will happen with it.

WOC response

“In some ways we’re supportive of this, and in some ways we have some criticisms,” noted Wyoming Outdoor Council representative Bruce Pendery. “We appreciate that they are looking at it from a range perspective,” Pendery explained, adding that WOC supports the WLCI’s aim to look at wildlife issues in southwest Wyoming “as a whole.”

Pendery explained that WOC has two criticisms of WLCI, however. The first, he said, is philosophical. This concern centers on the fact that these wildlife projects are being conducted “to facilitate” energy development, while Pendery and WOC say that their point should be “to conserve wildlife in the face of development.”

The group’s second concern is pragmatic, said Pendery. “It appears that a lot of these efforts will focus on habitat improvements, such as burning sagebrush, and water developments. Frankly, we don’t think habitat improvements work. Generally speaking, they are not that efficient,” he explained.

“If you want to protect wildlife, you protect habitats,” Pendery added, noting that this can be accomplished by placing lands with important habitats offlimits to developments, and maximizing wildlife protection stipulations in areas that are being developed.

WLCI projects

Emmerich’s list of anticipated habitat improvements include:
Riparian restoration
Water developments
Weed control
Prescribed fire
Raptor platforms
Wildlife friendly fences
Physical improvements (using mechanical
means to create disturbance)
Conservation easements

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