Washington, D.C. - If the best interests of prairie dogs, endangered animal and plant species, landowners and the land itself are to be served, federal agencies must work closely with their land-owning neighbors. That was the consensus arrived at during a meeting Tuesday of Wyoming landowners and state and federal officials in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Senator Mike Enzi organized the meeting in order to help foster cooperation and understanding among agencies and landholders in and near northeastern Wyoming's Thunder Basin National Grassland.
Enzi brought members of the Thunder Basin Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association and officials from the Wyoming Public Lands Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service and the Department of Interior together to begin efforts to work out any possible conflicts between private and public concerns relating to prairie dog management on about 585,000 acres of federal and private lands within and bordering the Thunder Basin National Grassland.
"With the agencies and landowners working together we can put the checkerboard of public and private land together to see the whole picture rather than view it in isolated slices," said Enzi.
He praised landowners and expressed hope that the new Administration would listen to people on the local level.
"I commend the 23 private landowners who are willing to pool their resources to better manage their lands for a number of species," Enzi said. "I hope that the new Bush Administration will take from this meeting the commitment from the community to work with the federal agencies to use the limited resources to their best potential. I hope this is just the first of a long list of cooperative efforts that we in Wyoming will bring to the Administration for its help."
Landowners formed their association in 1999 in response to possible federal and state actions that would regulate black-tailed prairie dog populations and the possible reintroduction of the endangered black-footed ferret.
The landowner association favors an ecosystem approach to conservation rather than a species-specific approach. The Forest Service has agreed to consider the association's proposed multi-species approach to land management. Once an agreement has been made, the association will undertake conservation measures on its private land. Under a draft agreement association members would voluntarily make a long-term commitment to keep 150,000 acres of private lands in ongoing grasslands management while participating in the development of an ecosystem management plan that would cover private lands as well as intermixed and adjacent federal, state and other lands.
The need for swift action on the study of the ecosystem is underscored by the changing conditions of the grasslands, including confirmation of sylvatic plague among prairie dog colonies in the area, the association said.
Association members also asked meeting participants to consider the association's funding needs for their ecosystem assessment and an annual symposium that will be used to share information with the public. A five-year total of $2.3 million will be needed, according to the association's estimates.
The association and Forest Service have also been exploring ways to effectively share information.
Reaction from agency officials was favorable.
"Conceptually this is a good idea," said Dale Bosworth, Chief of the Forest Service. "I want decisions made as close to the ground as possible."
"Collaborative projects like this are the future," said David Smith, Department of Interior Special Assistant to the Secretary. "I applaud you for your efforts as a group. We want to see a Fish and Wildlife Service that does with people instead of an agency that does to people."
"I would like to study this and learn from this proposal," said Dave Tenny, the acting undersecretary for natural resources and environment at the US Department of Agriculture.
In addition to Enzi, Tenny, Bosworth and Smith, others attending the meeting were Art Reese, Director of Wyoming's Office of Federal Land Policy, Mary Peterson, Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest Supervisor, representatives from the offices of Sen. Craig Thomas and Rep. Cubin and association members and affiliates Frank and Leslie Eathorne, Betty Pellatz, Jerry McIlwain, Bill Wall, Nancy Geehan and Wanda Burgett.