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Guest Opinions

Year-Round Partnerships Important for Wildlife, Agriculture

Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to address more than 300 attendees at a Today’s Ag dinner in Laramie sponsored by a number of local, Albany County and statewide agriculture, livestock, business and commerce organizations, as well as the Laramie Area Chamber of Commerce.

Being among agriculture folks is like coming home. I grew up on a ranch in southeast Wyoming. At an early age, I learned to appreciate how even the most subtle change in land, water and weather could affect whether our family experienced a lean year, a fat year or a year that was just good enough to get by, again. 

Like all ranch kids, I learned an appreciation for domestic animals and an ethic for their care early in life. By their example, my parents instilled in their children a respect for the sheep and cattle that formed the basis of our family’s livelihood.  

My understanding of the value of livestock began to develop into a true appreciation of wildlife, enhanced by my wonderment and amazement at wild things in wild places. I explored the edges of the ranch, delighting in the discovery of a badger or the occasional trout in the irrigation canal. Like many Wyoming ranch kids, I tried to keep as “pets” most of the species I could find some manner of capturing. Fortunately, they always escaped or returned to the wild at opportune times. 

But I was most happy when I pursued activities that combined family, a good horse and wildlife. Hunting trips with my dad and brothers didn’t always result in a harvest but always resulted in some awe-inspiring wildlife moment. I’m grateful that my father passed along his deep understanding of the importance of wildlife to my brothers and me. These formative moments, combined with an inner nature of curiosity regarding the natural world, inspired me to pursue a career in wildlife.

In nearly 30 years with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), I’ve had numerous opportunities to build strong working relationships with our partners in agriculture. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed many times over how a single positive interaction with a landowner can have ripple-effect benefits to both wildlife in the region and countless hunters and anglers. 

Throughout the seasons, the WGFD recognizes the importance of strong relationships with our partners in agriculture. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, it’s clear that what’s good for wildlife is good for agriculture and vice versa. Neither agriculture nor wildlife management can happen in isolation. Both are improved by constant communication, cooperation and coordination by interested parties. Private landowners are essential participants, along with scientists, hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts, in coming to decisions regarding wildlife management strategies and practices. When livestock producers invite the WGFD to collaborate on issues related to habitat and wildlife forage on their lands, we can find mutually satisfactory solutions that support both successful agricultural operations and wildlife populations.

In July, the WGFD recognized landowners from across the state for their efforts to preserve habitat, conserve wildlife, provide access for sportsmen and sportswomen and to cooperate on research benefiting wildlife. They received Landowner of the Year recognition at a banquet that Wyoming Game and Fish Commission President Michael Healy and I had the honor of addressing.

Each of the landowners we recognized had made a singular contribution to our mission of conserving wildlife and serving people. The scale of what we have accomplished together is astounding. We’ve initiated comprehensive research on the state’s largest moose herd that simply would not have been possible without cooperation from private landowners. We’ve made improvements to the land around streams and rivers to minimize erosion and enable forage and shelter for wildlife. We’ve collaborated on fencing solutions, keeping wildlife out of crops and minimizing fence-related injuries to deer and pronghorn. We’ve provided for healthy fish populations and safeguarded a key fishery supporting Colorado River cutthroat, one of Wyoming’s native trout species. 

In the Cody area, landowners who cooperated with the WGFD provided hunters access to nearly 94,000 acres of land. Those hunters not only filled their freezers, but they also contributed to bringing elk numbers in line with herd management objectives and provided more than 350 brucellosis samples, a critical tool in monitoring the disease’s prevalence and a key area where livestock growers and wildlife managers share a common objective.

Although your individual interactions with WGFD personnel may be seasonal to discuss wildlife management activities, provide suggestions regarding season setting, facilitate access, discuss habitat improvement, work with a hunter to retrieve a wounded animal or work together to mitigate wildlife damage, we appreciate our partnership with you year-round. None of the progress we’ve made in partnership is a one-time event. Rather, it’s our ongoing work together to manage wildlife that proves successful.

Through strong relationships, none of us bears the entire burden. When an individual landowner, rancher or WGFD employee makes a commitment to make conditions just a little bit better for a particular species, the benefits compound.

Talbott is director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. This is the first of quarterly columns in which he’ll discuss areas of mutual interest to the department and livestock producers.