Wildlife associations identify regional concerns at California meetingWritten by Christy Hemken
“Both our staff here at the agency and our commissioners have been very active in WAFWA for a long time,” says Larry Kruckenberg of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), who is also on the WAFWA Executive Committee. “They see it as a great opportunity to network and get a lot of our priorities and issues on the regional radar screen.”
The purpose of WAFWA’s committees is to address some of the issues that apply to everybody in a coordinated effort, and to make sure each state isn’t jumping through the same hoops.
He says the western association is a key player in advancing western priorities for national debate and policy. He says Wyoming has been instrumental in creating committees to address Wyoming concerns that are also applicable to others, like human-wildlife conflicts and hunter/angler participation.
“Certainly we have more sage grouse than any other state, and things we’re doing on that front are important and we’re heavily engaged with energy issues,” says Kruckenberg, noting that other members of WAFWA rely on Wyoming’s expertise and experience in those arenas.
“Sage grouse are still very much at the forefront of the agency directors’ minds,” he says. “They’re ensuring that all the western states have submitted and updated all our sage grouse information. They’re staying engaged with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make certain they have the best available information.”
He acknowledges this year wind energy has come to the front in discussion, particularly its impacts to sage grouse. “We’re working with a number of interests including wind industry to see if we can get a coordinated approach in the research involving wind turbines and sage grouse.”
He says agency directors lent their support for a cooperative composed of multi-disciplinary people to develop and fund research that could be used broadly across the range of sage grouse.
Kruckenberg says climate change continued to be a discussion point at this year’s meeting. “At last winter’s meeting the directors established a climate change committee that met for the first time in California this summer. The bottom line is the attention to climate change by Congress and the new administration. There’s a whole suite of federal legislation that’s either introduced or is under initial work on Capitol Hill.”
He says the two focuses of the climate change committee include making sure the states aren’t left behind and ensuring funding is available to deal with climate change impacts to wildlife across the West.
The hunter/angler/shooting sports participation committee, he says, is working on recruitment and retention. “At Wyoming’s behest WAFWA established a committee to become more directly involved and stay engaged,” he says, noting that WGFD Director Steve Ferrell chairs the group. “The focus will be on carrying out programs addressing participation and the effects of an aging populous and changing demographics.”
WAFWA’s grasslands coordinator works not only on prairie dogs but also the whole suite of grassland species. “The states did a tremendous amount of work with the black-tailed prairie dog over the last several years and we dodged a bullet. The information the states have gathered and the plans they’ve put forth demonstrate we’re serious, and that we have more dogs than were originally thought,” says Kruckenberg.
Regarding the Endangered Species Act, Kruckenberg says WAFWA doesn’t expect much to change this year, as Congress is dealing with other topics including health insurance and the economy.
Although the Farm Bill has historically been an issue largely driven by midwestern states, Kruckenberg says the reality is the Farm Bill has a lot of programs with great applicability and utility for western states. “The western states are starting to weigh in more heavily, but we’re still not as effective in providing information to producers and landowners about some programs that could be mutually beneficial to them and to wildlife.”
At the meeting two former WGFD Commissioners, Bill Williams of Thermopolis and Ron Lovercheck of Lagrange, were awarded Honorary Lifetime Member awards. “Those awards are given to the people who are the pistons that help run the WAFWA engine,” says Kruckenberg.
“At every meeting there’s more going on, and this one had a strong attendance with over 300 people from 19 states and one province,” he says. “A lot of work was accomplished in 30 committees and working groups.”
“We all come with a problem we think no one’s ever had, but then we start talking about it and find this isn’t the first time,” says Kruckenberg of the leadership represented from wildlife commissions and agencies from across the western breadth of North America. “We find someone else has already dealt with the problem, and for us learning is critically important.”
“The association gives a means by which the individual states can recognize issues of common concern and bring them national attention,” says Kruckenberg, adding they can also establish regional priorities and things that can be worked on collectively. “Identifying a broad geographic area for a single species or problem is a much more powerful strategy to get something accomplished.”