In recent years, scientific research has identified numerous migration corridors in Wyoming for deer, antelope, elk, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goat. Unfortunately, only three of those corridors have been officially designated.
Official designation is important. It raises identified corridors to a special level of protection that is more likely to be recognized by federal and state land management agencies.
Due largely to pressure from economic interests, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission have been unable to officially designate additional corridors. This delay has likely resulted in obstructive development activities in identified corridors, before they could be officially designated, thereby creating a long term negative impact on our big game herds.
It was hoped the recent involvement of the Governor’s Office in the designation process, including the appointment of a citizen task force and the recent release of a draft Executive Order, would expedite the process so more migration corridors could be designated in the near future. Unfortunately, the draft Executive Order (E.O.) falls short in the following areas.
First: The E.O. appears to be limited to mule deer and antelope. All migratory big game species need to be included.
Second: The E.O. provides an overly restrictive definition of the science needed to designate a corridor. Other forms of information should be acceptable. Perhaps most objectionable is that any definition imposed by the E.O. removes the discretion of the WGFD to exercise judgment on what constituents adequate information to justify a designation. That is interfering with the core of the WGFD mission.
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Third: The E.O. does not clearly define the composition and working procedures of the Area Working Groups. While the E.O. specifically says the Area Working Group shall include industry, it does not mention sportsmen. This suggests a bias in favor of industry. Sportsmen representation should be required. Also, the E.O. does not say how Area Working Group decisions will be made. To assure that no interest group will be able dominate decision making, all recommendations coming out of the Area Working Group should be by consensus. And of course, all meetings must be open to the public.
Fourth: The E.O. needs to be more specific regarding statewide input. The E.O. says that the Commission shall seek feedback on risk assessments but is not clear feedback will be sought on the proposed designation itself. The E.O. also says Area Working Groups should seek public input, but that probably would emphasize local input. Because Wyoming’s big game animals belong to all residents, statewide input at all levels of the process needs to be assured.
Fifth: While the E.O. should be given high marks for requiring risk assessments, it does not provide strong enough protections for the high use areas that are revealed by the assessments. More restrictions need to be applied to high priority stopover areas and to high priority corridors in general.
Sixth: Overall, the E.O. has a tone that may discourage future designations. For example, it says: “Not every migration corridor requires designation to ensure the health of the animals and/or the herd that uses it.” That, combined with the highly restrictive definition of science required, suggests that the new designation process may continue to find reasons not to move forward with designations. The E.O. should encourage designations.
Seventh: Admirably, the E.O. attempts to balance the preservation of migration corridors with the need for economic development. But that balance is best reached not by setting high hurdles for the definition of acceptable science or by perpetuating the heretofore slow progress toward designations. Instead, the E.O. should encourage the WGFD and the Commission to promulgate policies for acceptable levels of oil and gas development, wind turbines, solar farms, etc. within each risk category. Those policies should be carefully designed to provide maximum protection to high risk areas while allowing maximum flexibility to economic interests in lower risk areas. Thoughtful risk assessment and careful policy development based on science are the keys to protecting our most important corridors while allowing maximum economic opportunity in other areas.
Understandably, there are those in the state who are concerned that a proliferation of corridor designations could negatively impact economics. But the answer to that concern is not to impede designations. Instead, the answer is to do them smartly, which requires us to use science to protect our big game populations AND our economy. Wyoming leads the nation in migration research. Let’s use that science to our advantage!
Public comments on the E.O. end this week.
Earl DeGroot, from Cheyenne, is a sportsman and a retired management consultant. He has a master’s degree in natural resource management and a master’s degree in public administration.