The landscape has been southwest Wyoming. An initiative that extensive has involved 10 core government entities, plus many ranches, teaming up not only to improve wildlife habitat but also make it easier for big game to move between seasonal ranges.
The initiative is headquartered in Rock Springs with full-time Game and Fish and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) coordinators and some interesting history. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture also provide members to the initiative’s coordination team. Four project development teams direct the on-the-ground activity by county: Sublette, Carbon, Uinta/Lincoln and Sweetwater.
“The initiative is a unique, comprehensive approach to conservation,” said Jim Wasseen, the Game and Fish’s WLCI initiative coordinator. “We feel like we’ve accomplished quite a bit in 10 years.”
Those accomplishments cover myriad projects including rejuvenating aspen, exterminating exotic invasive plants and making fences and highways easier for big game to negotiate. The team of federal, state and county entities has also been removing juniper from sagebrush steppe, promoting conservation easements, replacing culverts with trout-friendly structures that don’t constrict the stream and implementing many other projects.
The initiative grew from a simple question posed in 2005 by former Game and Fish Commissioner Clark Allan of Jackson: “The BLM gets considerable wildlife habitat money in Utah, but doesn’t in Wyoming—why not?” Then Game and Fish Director Terry Cleveland approached the Wyoming BLM state director to get an answer. From there, the question was elevated to the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national offices. Washington replied back: “OK, offer a plan.” So past Game and Fish deputy director John Emmerich and BLM’s then state direction, Don Simpson, worked on just that for a year.
“Our focus was a comprehensive coordinated effort to engage all agencies to work on the same goals – basically improving wildlife habitat,” Emmerich said. “We chose the Green River Basin as kind of a pilot project, because it’s the home range for several high profile big game herds.”
Emmerich and Simpson took the plan on the road. Other agencies and groups hopped onboard. The initiative set sail in 2007.
Initially, the funding flowed well from Washington, but unfortunately federal conservation budgets tightened up. Some of the slack has been picked up by the Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition and Wyoming Wildlife – The Foundation. But overall less funding has forced the coalition to be more selective in its projects in recent years.
Wasseen reports the initiative has served to connect players in the natural resources field. “The initiative has brought key parties to the same table, sometimes for the first time,” he said. “That has served to be a very healthy development.”