Translocation policy seeks landowner consent
Following a Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting on Jan. 26, an updated policy, titled “Translocation of Prairie Dogs in Wyoming,” was issued to provide for increased involvement of all interested parties and more extensive reporting in translocating prairie dogs.
“There are more reporting requirements,” says Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Deputy Director John Emmerich. “There is also specific language making it clear that coordination with affected landowners, county commissioners and weed and pest districts requires meeting with those individuals, not just letters of notification.”
Translocation of prairie dogs has been a contentious issue for landowners, particularly in the Thunder Basin National Grasslands, and the improvements to the policy were made to address issues with translocating prairie dogs
“A new permitting process was approved at the last Game and Fish Commission meeting in Cheyenne, and I think all parties were agreeable to the language in the permit,” adds Wyoming Weed and Pest Coordinator Slade Franklin.
“We always said that you need to coordinate with affected parties,” says Emmerich, “but we made it very specific that permitees ‘attempt to meet with and secure a response from potentially affected private landowners and livestock grazing permittees within five miles of the release site, in addition to weed and pest control district boards, county commissioners, tribal interests, the Department and state and federal land management agencies.’”
The language was included to minimize conflict with other land uses, including grazing, that may occur following a translocation event, as well as to mitigate potential negative consequences.
“The biggest emphasis from the Weed and Pest is that we thought they needed clarification, or stronger coordination, with the landowners in issuing translocation permits,” says Franklin, adding that the new policy accomplishes that goal. “Landowners should be aware that the WGFD is putting a lot of emphasis on that part of the process.”
“We wanted to make sure that there was good coordination and good face time with the landowners,” Emmerich clarifies, “and there are a lot more reporting requirements relative to the old policy.”
One requirement obligates the permittee to notify potentially affected parties not less than 20 days before a translocation event occurs regarding the approval of a permit. Essentially, those groups that will translocate prairie dogs must let landowners know the event will occur.
Along with reporting to landowners, grazing permittees and other affected parties, groups holding translocation permits must also make an annual report to the Game and Fish Commission.
Each year, permit holders are required to submit a report that includes the number of prairie dogs captured and released, the date and location of capture and release, as well as the injury or loss of prairie dogs or non-target species.
“There is much more reporting than in the original draft,” says Emmerich.
Emmerich also notes that some constraints were removed from the translocation policy, including the requirement that prairie dogs could not be moved to within 4.35 miles of private lands.
“The current policy says that it needs to be worked out with landowners, county commissioners, etc.,” explains Emmerich. “It says they need to find an agreeable distance when they coordinate with everyone. There is no prescribed distance.”
The inclusion language requiring the species be moved to not closer than 4.35 miles from private lands was based on research suggesting that the average dispersal of prairie dogs is approximately 4.35 miles. However, Emmerich comments that there are a number of factors involved in prairie dog dispersal, and prescribing the range doesn’t make sense.
“Also, there are very few places that you can move prairie dogs that far from private lands, especially in Thunder Basin,” he adds. “It makes translocations almost impossible.”
Landowners are still protected from prairie dogs that invade their private property, despite the exclusion of a prescribed translocation distance from private lands.
“They have to have a contingency plan for managing prairie dog dispersal in reestablished colonies,” Emmerich adds. “The contingency plan spells out what they would do in terms of removing the animals that might move onto private lands.”
“Another big change is that groups have to apply every year for a translocation,” says Emmerich, noting that, in the past, after obtaining a permit organizations could continue to translocate prairie dogs as long as the process didn’t drastically change.
The new policy makes it necessary for groups applying for a permit to translocate prairie dogs to apply each year that a translocation event occurs.
“Every year, these groups have to get permission via a Chapter 33 permit,” he notes.
“The whole goal is that those who want to do translocation need to reach out to the affected parties and try to get consensus so that the commission knows everyone is on board,” explains Emmerich. “You may not get 100 percent, but you need to have most people on board.”
Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at wylr.net.
Permits require extensive application
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission policy titled “Translocation of Prairie Dogs in Wyoming” lays out a number of requirements for obtaining a permit to relocate prairie dogs as a management strategy.
According to the policy, translocation events require a Chapter 33 permit, which is a Governing Issuance of Scientific Research, Education or Special Purpose Permit, and, if applicable, an additional permit for the Importation, Possession, Confinement, Transportation Sale and Disposition of Live Wildlife, or Chapter 10, permit.
Applicants are required to have a specific plan for translocation, including the purpose of the event and clearly identified donor and recipient colonies.
To enforce increased coordination requirements, permit applicants are expected to provide a map of all surface owners within five miles of the release site, as well as a list of all contact information and a summary of comments concerning the plan proposal.
“There is definitely a stronger emphasis on landowners who are impacted in translocation,” says Wyoming Weed and Pest Coordinator Slade Franklin. “I wouldn’t say that the Weed and Pest or landowners are approving translocation as a control mechanism, but if someone is going to use the permits, this is what we think the commission should require.”