Wichmann joins WDA
Chris Wichmann of Cheyenne took on the role of Natural Resources and Policy Division Manager at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) after Leanne Stevenson left the post to take the position of Wyoming Livestock Board Director in early August.
Wichmann is a Cheyenne native who studied fish and wildlife biology at the University of Wyoming. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Wichmann worked for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department as a biologist for seven years.
“I worked for an environmental engineering consulting firm and Practice Center Leader for Natural Resources for about seven years after that,” says Wichmann.
Immediately prior to his current position, Wichmann served as senior policy analyst for the WDA’s Natural Resources and Policy division for four years.
“My areas of focus as a policy analyst were the south and west parts of the state for the BLM field offices in Rock Springs, Rawlins, Kemmerer and Pinedale and the associated forests,” said Wichmann.
In that position, Wichmann was responsible for a number of large projects, including over 25 large NEPA projects and oversight of the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative budget.
Wichmann now directs the staff of the division, including the two senior policy analysts and four program coordinators, as well as a contractor.
In the division’s quarterly newsletter The Corner Post, WDA Director Jason Fearneyhough said,
“We are incredibly happy and excited to have Chris as manager of our Natural Resources and Policy Division. Along with his strong natural resources and policy background, his experience in both the public and private sector and management expertise will be incredibly beneficial to the division.”
Wichmann said in the same publication, “I am very excited to have the opportunity to serve citizens in the state as manager of the Natural Resources and Policy Division. My goal is to make sure that the division’s priorities are in line with actions occurring on the ground.”
Though Wichmann has only been manager for a few weeks, he says the large amount of activity will keep both him and his staff busy.
The Natural Resources and Policy Division is responsible for mediation, conservation districts, the rangeland health program and the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative. The policy analysts are also responsible for all the Federal Register requests that come through the office from the entire state.
“The workload has been piling on our staff. I have an excellent staff,” said Wichmann, “but we have had to start prioritizing our efforts.”
The increasing number of requests for his division to handle has necessitated that they prioritize the cases to address the needs of the program.
“We have seen an increase in Federal Register notices to look at and analyze. In 2008 we received less than 400 Federal Register requests,” said Wichmann when addressing the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources committee on Sept. 26 in Afton. “In 2010 our office reviewed almost 700 Federal Register requests, and that is not including the projects we maintain on our own workload.”
Of that workload, Wichmann mentioned BLM and Forest Service projects aren’t complete after one year and require monitoring throughout the four to seven years of the project.
Along with the huge number of policy cases Wichmann and his staff are handling, they also have a number of other projects going. Among the major issues that the division has been working on, Wichmann mentioned two new large oil and gas developments in the state – the normalized, pressurized lands project, referred to as Jonah South, and the Moneta project in Fremont County.
Jonah South will introduce 3,500 new wells, while the Moneta project is looking at between 3,500 and 3,800 new wells.
Wichmann added that the oil and gas projects in the southwest portion of Wyoming are on hold because of air quality issues. These projects will be in a rush to be completed as soon as the air quality issues are solved.
The division is also working with black tailed prairie dogs in the Thunder Basin National Grassland. Because the forest plan references development of large areas to grow prairie dogs for the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets, local landowners have begun coordinating to address this issue.
“Currently, the policy analysts are working on five resource management plans for the BLM and 30 Environmental Assessments, along with the permittee issues and controversy issues that pop up,” added Wichmann.
Of the resource management plans (RMPs) that the Natural Resources and Policy Division is currently handling, the Lander and Big Horn Basin RMPs are nearing completion with their last environmental impact statements.
The Rock Springs RMP is now starting development. Under that plan, the wild horse issues will be considered for the first time.
“The new Rock Springs RMP will bring up the wild horses and managing those herds for the future,” said Wichmann.
Under the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI), Wichmann says they are pursuing two large projects in habitat term leasing and native plant propagation.
“Habitat term leasing means they are trying to work with landowners to address connectivity issues for wildlife and habitat for wildlife to move through private lands,” said Wichmann. “The other project is a native plant propagation program.”
Wichmann mentioned that WLCI is looking to protect areas utilized by wildlife, such as riparian areas, and provide some compensation to landowners for their efforts to mitigate the impacts of wildlife.
The native plant propagation program aims to collect native seeds from areas impacted by development for future reclamation programs. Such programs will be able to utilize native seeds in their projects.
WLCI is also in charge of funds from the Ruby Pipeline. One project that Wichmann mentioned is a raven predation study related to sage grouse, which will be publishing results soon.
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.