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On Aug. 12 and 13, Governor Mark Gordon’s Big Game Migration Advisory Group will meet in Pinedale to determine how to manage wildlife migration corridors on public land. This group, working collaboratively, is supposed to make recommendations to the governor, who may throw his weight behind them with federal land managers. In general, I support collaboration in regards to decision-making. Collaborative processes identify issues and look for solutions. Unfortunately, there are many reasons for not supporting such a process as well, depending upon who oversees the committee and selects the collaborative group, the knowledge base of those selected and how the facilitation is run. I hope this group can decide what’s best for wildlife and overcome some of the issues that poorly-run or poorly-designed collaborations can have.

I’ve been involved with a few of these types of efforts targeted at making decisions involving wildlife and usually they also involve federal lands. Unfortunately I’ve been extremely disappointed for numerous reasons. Usually it starts with how the committee was selected and why the individuals were selected. Typically those individuals selected are those in favor of extractive practices in regards to public lands. Few participants are chosen who favor practices primarily to enhance wildlife and wildlife habitat. This is often because it’s the governor, legislature, county commissioners or city officials who choose who sits on these multi-stakeholder groups. It’s difficult for these politicians to be unbiased with who they choose to sit on the group.

Then there is the case of the knowledge base. In most cases, none of the citizens selected, including those who represent sportsmen or wildlife interests, have a science background. The outcome of many of these efforts is to identify solutions to problems that perhaps take a middle road and allow some level of the targeted practices to go forward. In the case of the big game migration group, the question is: Should oil and gas leases be sold and developed in the middle of vital migration corridors?

Usually there is not much of a regard for how much impact wildlife will face from the activities, or even to report the anticipated impacts or losses to the public. Instead, solutions are identified, compromises are made and everyone walks away congratulating themselves on finding “balance.” And wildlife loses. In collaborative policy-making groups, we compromise away what’s best for wildlife.

Another part of the process I tend to find distasteful in regards to many collaborations that I’ve been involved with or witnessed is the facilitator.

A facilitator has a wide range of tasks to perform in order to “make things easier” for people who participate in a facilitated discussion. With any of the efforts I’ve been exposed to, the facilitator has the floor and has been “hired” to lead the group to the pre-identified objective. Unfortunately with many of these efforts, that may add pressure to those who think differently than the rest of the group so they end up conceding. If you have a passion for a resource and want it to either stay the same or to be improved you may be identified ahead as a “troublemaker,” and with help from the facilitator, be identified by the group as someone who doesn’t want to play the game, primarily due to what I mentioned early on … most of the group favors “use of the public lands” that includes more than recreation and providing habitat for our big game.

Ultimately, in about every one of these efforts, wildlife ends up losing. If we started by asking these facilitated groups “what’s best for our declining mule deer populations?” we would develop policy where wildlife come out ahead instead of behind. But when we begin a collaboration asking “how can we balance big game and development?” and the collaborative process lacks integrity, the group is unbalanced or a political motive is at play, we’ll likely end up with what’s best for the oil and gas industry instead. I hope that this doesn’t happen with this migration corridor advisory group.

Perhaps as an end product, we should take the final outcome of this group’s efforts and send them to the professionals with the question: “How will this affect the mule deer population?” Groups such as the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies or The Wildlife Society would most likely give us their professional opinion as to how the final decision will affect Wyoming’s public resource. I, for one, would be most interested in this opinion and would love for our state’s citizenry to know the effects of the outcome in relation to our declining mule deer population.

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Dan Stroud is a lifelong resident of Wyoming and worked 32 years for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as a habitat biologist.

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