Legislators hear report on implementation of management plans across WyoWritten by Saige Albert
Casper – With the signing of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service land use plans in late September, the agencies are now focused on implementation, and Wyoming legislators looked at successes behind implementation of similar plans currently in place, including the Lander Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Casper RMP.
During a Sept. 29 meeting of the Wyoming Legislature's Select Federal Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Tim Stubson, Casper legislator and chairman of the committee, said, “We have heard a lot of discussion. We have a good model, with implementation out of the Casper office. We want insight from people who have gone through implementation.”
When the Greater sage grouse was determined not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, revisions for the Buffalo and Big Horn Basin field offices, as well as amendments for the Casper, Green River, Kemmerer, Newcastle, Pinedale and Rawlins RMPs, were also released.
“It is important to note that Lander completed their RMP back in June 2014, and the Record of Decision (ROD) provides a similar balance for Greater sage grouse conservation. Since that time, our staff has been coordinating with cooperating agencies to initiate implementation,” said Buddy Green, BLM state director for resources. “We look forward to working with our state and local partners as we enter into the implementation realms.”
Green further asserted that implementation of conservation plans is not new for Wyoming’s state and federal agencies and private citizens.
“We have analyzed the resources in the department,” he said. “We strove to address the demand in energy development and in habitat. To that end, BLM Wyoming-approved plans are consistent with the core area strategy and Executive Order.”
The measures implemented in core areas are largely familiar, Green continued, including a limit of five percent disturbance in core area habitat, with one disturbance per square mile, no surface occupancy within 0.6 miles of an occupied lek and no road within 1.9 miles of an occupied lek, among others.
With a focus on working with cooperating agencies, Stubson asked Green to clarify what working together looks like on a practical level.
“We plan to continue with our establishing working relationships with all of our stakeholders, counties and states, as we have for some time,” Green noted.
However, he also continued that, as a plan with a national implementation scope, there is a focus on consistency while also recognizing existing relationships.
“Here in Wyoming, we are fortunate that we have that structure in place,” he commented, mentioning the Governor’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team and the Greater Sage Grouse Implementation Working Group. “These groups are Wyoming-specific, and frankly, a lot of other states are working toward that format for their states.”
With representation from state agencies, statewide conservation and agriculture organizations and local working groups, Green noted that public comment and input has been positive.
A county perspective
In Fremont County, where the Lander RMP has been approved and implementation has been in place for several years, County Commissioner Doug Thompson noted that continued involvement is important.
“We have dealt with the Lander RMP for what seems like eons,” Thompson said. “It has been signed, and as a local government representative, we have continued to engage.”
A provision in the RMP provides for implementation with continued involvement from cooperating agencies, and Thompson noted he has followed up on those obligations. However, continued engagement of stakeholders can be challenging to achieve.
“We have created coalitions of conservation groups and producers to clarify various gray areas in the plan,” he continued. “We are trying, on a local level, to engage, clarify what the plans mean and work cooperatively to make sure we are all playing by the same set of rules.”
With over 1.5 years of implementation thus far, Thompson also noted that they are focusing on other species, including mule deer, antelope and others.
“One of the messages I try to preach is flexibility in implementation,” Thompson noted.
He further mentioned that implementation includes focusing on historic trails, wildlife needs, livestock use and other resource concerns.
“Flexibility will be a big part in implementation of the strategy,” he said.
Natrona County Commissioner Forrest Chadwick mentioned that he spent time visiting with ranchers, oil and gas producers and BLM personnel on the implementation of the Casper RMP, which was signed in 2007, and the general consensus he was able to glean from their remarks is that successes are being seen.
“At the BLM level, I hear that there are very few problems and conflicts,” Chadwick explained. “Conflicts are almost non-existent.”
He also noted that working relationships differ based on the personalities and field offices involved, but the vast majority of interactions between BLM and ranchers have been positive.
“Oil and gas people are still concerned about the 12-plus months is takes to get an Application for Permit to Drill (APD), but they also understand the sage grouse issue and the importance of it,” Chadwick added. “They are willing to work with it.”
In continuing to implement the latest RODs, Green also noted that staffing changes at BLM have resulted in other challenges.
“Since the beginning of fiscal year 2015, which was Oct. 1, 2014, we have had 39 employees around the state retire,” he commented. “Specifically, we have two-thirds of the district manager positions vacant, filled by acting district managers right now.”
“We are working diligently to fill those gaps,” Green added. “I’m comfortable with the remaining employees, and there will be a large remnant of folks in the office to create continuity there. I think we will have consistency, but it will take some work.”
As implementation moves forward, all parties agreed that continuing to work together will be paramount.
Thompson concluded, “I think we have good communication between state and local government.”