WWF seeks common ground
Cheyenne — “It comes down to a simple truth — the landowner community and the conservation community have more things in common than they have things that divide them,” says Wyoming Wildlife Federation Executive Director Walt Gasson.
“My point is,” says Gasson, “that the open spaces, clean air and clean water that sustain wildlife also sustain family farming and ranching operations. That provides common ground, not just figuratively, but literally. Without the contribution of Wyoming’s private land and the landowners’ responsibility for the stewardship of those lands, we wouldn’t enjoy the wildlife abundance and variety that we enjoy in Wyoming today.”
Earlier this summer Gasson, on behalf of the WWF, issued an opinion piece to Wyoming newspapers expressing the value of private lands to wildlife. He also spoke of the need for stronger partnerships between Wyoming’s private landowner community and groups like his. The Roundup recently spent some time visiting with Gasson about his organization’s positions on issues of great importance to Wyoming agriculture. His editorial appears as a letter to the editor on Page 15 of this edition.
First of all, who is the Wyoming Wildlife Federation? “We are predominantly hunter and angler based,” says Gasson of the roughly 5,000 members he describes as the “Carhartt and camo group.” A large board of directors, including representatives from affiliate members, guides the WWF’s policy decisions. With an annual meeting each spring, Gasson says policy can also be presented at that gathering.
The WWF board officers are President Lonnie Allred, Vice President Dave Moody, Secretary Armond Acri and Treasurer Richard Oblak. The remainder of the board is Gwyn McKee, Mark Winland, Bill Allredge, Lance Harmon and Dick Kroger. Affiliate members on the board are Harold Schultz representing the National Wildlife Federation, Mac Black, Marty Casey and Steve Martin. The group has a seven-member staff led by Gasson.
WWF is among the groups who support statewide trophy game classification of wolves in the state. Over the years Gasson says the Wyoming Game and Fish has proven their ability to manage trophy game animals when it comes to both wildlife and livestock conflicts.
“It would not be fair to call us pro-wolf,” says Gasson. “I think it would be fair to call us pro-wolf management. The time has long gone by to delist wolves in Wyoming. We don’t believe delisting is going to happen under any other regulatory framework than trophy game status statewide.”
Of WWF and the agriculture community, Gasson says, “While we may disagree on the regulatory framework, I think we can both agree that wolves need to be managed. The bottom line is, if you can manage black bears and lions, two species that are more difficult to manage than wolves, then we ought to be able to manage wolves as trophy game.”
While the legislation has varied over the years, Gasson says WWF is a long-time supporter of efforts to implement and expand instream flow. “We were the organization that led to the initiative process back in the 1980s,” he says. “Our position on a given bill may be pro or con, but in general we believe that hunters, anglers and landowners benefit from live, healthy streams.”
When it comes to sage grouse, Gasson says WWF has been involved in recent discussions and activities including service on the Governor’s sage grouse team. “I think it’s fair to say that we all recognize that a sage grouse listing is not something that would be food for Wyoming.” In addition, Gasson says WWF members are participating in sage grouse working groups at the community level across the state.
Agree or disagree on any given topic, Gasson says he looks at the agricultural community as a friend and realizes that friends don’t always have to agree. “The paternal side of my family was in the sheep business in southwestern Wyoming,” he says. “I came up as a wildlife biologist in an area predominantly comprised of private land.” Early on in his Game and Fish career, which lasted over 30 years, he says he realized the paramount importance of strong relationships with the landowner community.
“I don’t expect us to always agree, but I don’t think it necessarily follows that we have to view the world from the standpoint that you’re either with us or against us. I don’t think that’s real and that’s not a Wyoming way of doing business.”
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.