Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee gathers comment on future actionWritten by Saige Albert
On Oct. 28, the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) met in Bozeman, Mont. to receive updates from subcommittees and look toward the future.
After a morning of agency updates and reviews from each of a host of subcommittees, the public was asked to provide input and comments to the committee. Over 40 participants joined in the conversation, ranging from private citizens and interest groups to state legislators, agency staff and congressional representatives.
“The GYCC wants to more strategically address ecosystem-scale issues, to improve collaboration with nonfederal entities and to increase capacity through partnerships,” explained GYCC Chairman Joe Alexander, who also works as the Shoshone National Forest Supervisor, during the meeting. “The GYCC has limited capacity to implement big changes in its operation. It can reorient its focus and work in different ways with each other and the public.”
The meeting was the second in a series of three public meetings designed to provide input to the committee. At the conclusion of the three meetings, in April 2015, the group will discuss how to move forward.
Public discussion was widespread and included topics such as ecosystem management, natural resources, recreational opportunities, visitor use, land and resource use, transportation, GYCC priorities, GYCC membership and partnering opportunities.
“The most prevalent theme emerging from the meeting was a request for more communication from GYCC,” said Alexander in a meeting summary.
Participants of the meeting suggested increased frequency of meetings, use of social media and increased one-on-one engagement. At the same time, members of the public present at the meetings noted that partnerships should be emphasized.
“Better communication is needed so members of the community who are working on a topic know who to be in touch with,” commented one person. “GYCC needs to do a better job of communicating the structure of public engagement with the GYCC member agencies and how decisions are made.”
She continued, “The decision-making process differs across agencies, so members of the public don’t understand what the decision-making process is in each of the units, and the role of the GYCC should be to help with this.”
The use of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, was also promoted at the meeting to tap into greater networks of citizens and influence greater conversations.
“GYCC needs to be more strategic about communication. We need to be cautious about assuming the public understands the differences among agencies,” said members of the public. “GYCC needs to better inform the public about the differences amongst the agencies, otherwise it creates a conflict and misunderstanding – ‘intellectually light-weight spitball conversations’ that create conflict,” she explained.
“What is the agenda of the GYCC?” asked one participant. “Is it to serve the agencies, or to make the ‘world a better place’ and to serve the larger ecosystem? If it is the latter, then the GYCC needs more involvement. The focus might be somewhat narrow.”
Dick Loper of the Wyoming State Grazing Board attended the meeting and said, “It looks like the GYCC is trying to find a way to include more public input and involve the public in a more meaningful way.”
“There was no doubt that there is a complete disparity between the management goals, objectives, procedures and policies of the agencies,” he added.
Partnerships between agencies would help to accomplish larger issues, added other participants.
“We need to look at work that is across boundaries,” one man noted. “The number one purpose of the GYCC should be an ecosystem approach.”
Multiple members of the public noted that by focusing on the whole, rather than just the area managed by a single agency, more progress could be made.
“The need for coordination at the large scale is very clear,” added another participant. “The Greater Yellowstone is the headwaters of the U.S. and is an example of the need for increased coordination at a large scale, especially with limited water resources.”
Beyond coordination, implementing consistency across agencies is important, said another participant.
“Stress should be made on consistency across state and agency lines, and even within sub-districts of agencies,” one man said. “Science should direct management decisions.”
As an example, he continued, “Sheep grazing is allowed on some units while others don’t allow sheep grazing. We need more consistency.”
To achieve increased coordination and consistency, many folks noted that the input of outside groups could be helpful, saying, “Outside entities add capacity and can help foster coordination between federal, state, county and private groups.”
“Non-federal participation in the GYCC process could help to enhance effectiveness of the group,” said another participant. “If there are priorities that the GYCC identifies, there are probably projects that partners could find funding for.”
After four hours of public comment, Alexander said, “The GYCC members are discussing the many ideas heard at the meeting.”
“We will hold the final public conversation in Cody in spring 2015,” Alexander added. “At the conclusion of the Cody meeting, we will evaluate all of the comments from all three meetings and consider how to move forward.”
The Cody meeting is currently scheduled for April 29 and will include a public conversation segment. An agenda will be posted at fedgycc.org when it is available.
The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee was formed in 1964 to allow various agencies of the federal government to work together toward managing lands in the Greater Yellowstone region.
At the time, a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) brought the agencies together. The MOU was revised in 2002 to add the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to the group and again revised in 2012 to incorporate Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
As of 2014, participating agencies included the U.S. Department of the Interior, NPS, FWS, BLM, U.S. Department of Agriculture and USFS.
Each of those agencies is represented by employees from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
On their website, the committee notes that ecosystem health, sustainable operations, Greater Yellowstone Area habitat integrity, connecting people to the land and climate change are their priorities.