Collaboration and wildlife management


On Aug. 12 and 13, Gov. Gordon’s Big

Game Migration Advisory Group meets 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/

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. The definition of “facilitation”

by the Cambridge Dictionary is: “Facilitation

is the art of leading people through processes

towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner

that encourages participation, ownership and

creativity by all of those involved.”

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, or 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 Western Association of

Fish and Wildlife Agencies and/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.

Dan Stroud, of Pinedale, worked for the

Wyoming Game and Fish for 31 years as a

habitat mitigation boilogist.

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