Implementation, monitoring are next steps with sage grouseWritten by Christy Hemken
“There are a lot of positive things, and a lot of challenges,” he said. “The needs of the sage grouse cross land ownerships and aren’t something a single type of habitat will conserve. Needs vary, and this presents challenges and opportunities.”
“I think with the support we’ve experienced we can be successful,” said Deputy Director of External Operations John Emmerich of the Wyoming Game and Fish Dept. (WGFD). “If Wyoming can’t be successful with all the things we’re doing, we’re not going to get anything done throughout the range in the West.”
Emmerich said the next two steps in sage grouse conservation are important: effectively putting management practices on the ground through working with the ag community and then monitoring the results – both successes and failures. “Those are the two activities that are going to determine if we’re successful in managing sage grouse in this state.”
“There’s been a lot of concern over whether or not the Governor is trying to supplant the local working groups, and I’ll tell you, ‘No,’” said Gov. Freudenthal’s Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Lance of the interplay between the local working groups, the Governor’s summit and the resulting sage grouse implementation team.
“The Summit was brought about because in Wyoming we do things differently across the landscape from corner to corner, and we needed to knit together the local working group plans with an overarching strategy,” explained Lance. “We did that with the initial statewide working group, but a lot of things have changed so the thought was to hold the Summit to see where we’re at.”
“The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) came up with a conservation strategy written for the 11 western states, but if we’re going to do this the right way in Wyoming we need to do it our way,” said Lance. “FWS instructed us to talk about what our state-specific conservation strategy would be.”
“The course forward is for us to take that strategy, implement it through the local working groups and come forward with a statewide framework we can use to tell FWS we have a plan to conserve sage grouse and that, whatever happens in the other 10 states, Wyoming doesn’t need to be listed,” said Lance.
“Many folks are talking about CCAA’s (Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances), but I tell the ag community to be patient,” said Lance. “The thought is we’ll set a statewide strategy and, from that, the state will sit down and talk with FWS to navigate a programmatic CCAA so landowners don’t have to individually navigate them. The state can navigate the generalities and individual landowners can tier from that.”
In regard to CCAA’s, Hicks said, “We don’t have the ability to do individual agreements across the range, but we’re behind the efforts by the state for a statewide plan.”
In addition, Lance said it’s the obligation of the FWS and the state to compile the programmatic document for CCAA’s, regardless of the cost. “It’s a service for the government to deliver – to sit in as buffer,” he said, explaining that landowners don’t need to pay contractors to compile their CCAA.
Executive Director Bob Budd of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT) said the CCAA’s come down to a question of who’s going to deal with FWS. “One option is every single landowner can deal with FWS individually and have their CCAA published in the Federal Register and have it subject to appeal, or for the state to publish once and then use the local working groups to implement the agreements. That leaves the state in the position of working with FWS, and to me that makes good sense.”
“We’ve never had the resources we have today, and that’s important for people to understand. That $8 million appropriated by the Legislature this year is more than we had three years ago, and as we work forward, for every dollar we spend we can pick up six more from other sources,” said Budd of the matching opportunities presented through groups like the WWNRT
Of the implementation team, which Budd leads, he said, “This is not an attempt to go in and say, ‘Everyone do something different,’ but rather, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, and do it well to preclude any kind of an action that might take place.’”