Wildlife to benefit from governors’ cooperationWritten by Christy Hemken
Jackson – A journalist, citizen and “proud child of the American West,” former NBC News anchor and new host of Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw set the pace at a late-June meeting of the Western Governor’s Association in Jackson.
“I come as someone with an appreciation for the Western region, its people and the way we get things done out here,” said Brokaw, who owns a Montana ranch. “We get along because we have to get along.”
That last statement was a sentiment echoed throughout the meeting in discussions between the 11 governors and panelists, who addressed wildlife corridors, water management and transmission expansion.
“You come to the West on its terms, not yours,” noted Brokaw, reminiscing of his Montana ranch’s purchase in 1989. “The West will have to think regionally and in a bipartisan fashion while still keeping pride in our states. To survive and thrive, to protect and advance what’s unique and precious, will mean more cooperation and a greater shared vision.”
Brokaw concluded his remarks with a recitation of the creation account in Genesis 1. “…And God saw that it was good. All of God’s creatures are counting on us to make sure it stays ‘good,’” he stated.
Continuing with the discussion of “creatures” and wildlife, CEO Jack Dangermond of the Environmental Systems Research Institute, a mapping software developer, said growth and change is driven by human activity.
“Often what occurs with development is that wildlife is considered either last or incrementally. It’s not done at the right time or with the right process to ensure a sustainable future,” he said.
“What we need is a system that allows us to recognize resources and integrate them openly into public and private processes,” explained Dangermond, using the term “co-evolution” to describe a changing nature and the way humans live within it.
He encouraged the states to cooperate and coordinate because environmental systems don’t end at state and property boundaries. “These systems are continuous, and sustained by the continuous moving of species back and forth,” he said.
Using high-tech mapping software, Dangermond illustrated his point with a series of maps showing both current and projected urbanization, as well as energy development both present and projected within Wyoming.
“Geographic information can get us to understand what the future might be like,” he explained further. “Information systems could give direction toward development.”
Dangermond said the information could help avoid, minimize or mitigate when development is inevitable.
“The hardest question is the first question – should there be development at all?” said BP America Vice President Steve Elbert. “When you try to answer that question, facts and data and maps of environmental impacts and strategies don’t mean much. Even when people agree on the facts they disagree on what they mean.”
Elbert’s point was there are people passionate about developing energy resources in Wyoming, and there are people just as passionate about protecting the sage grouse.
“This debate is driven by values that people hold in their hearts, and the debates are hard to resolve because both sides are driven by values and compromise is viewed as a compromise of their values,” he said.
However, Elbert said once both sides move past the first question, “We’re good and getting better at dealing with the next step, which is operating fields in ways that are compatible with healthy wildlife populations.”
“We have lots of choices and we need to make sure we make wise decisions,” commented Brokaw following the presentation. “I think technology is certainly a good tool to solve the problem.”
Governor Freudenthal, along with other governors, agreed that data should be gathered and quantified in a way that’s considered scientific, and that all states need to be using the same data strategies and the same vocabulary to mesh it all together.
The governors drew their discussion to a close with much talk of cooperation and coordination when it comes to managing wildlife across the West and deciding what will be done about wildlife migration corridors.
“There has to be not just information, but information coupled with a relationship between the state, the operators and the stakeholders,” said Freudenthal.