Extension Education: Increased Cooperation for Effective Ecosystems Management
The old saying that good fences make good neighbors holds some truth, but unfortunately some natural resource management issues are not easily confined to one’s own pastures, allotments or ranch.
Water quality, wildlife habitat, invasive weeds and other management concerns do not always function within the convenient confines that are represented by boundaries on a map, but rather operate at landscape-scales. The actions of neighbors upstream affect water users downstream, habitat improvements on one ranch may lead to improved game populations on a neighboring ranch and management, or lack of management, of invasive weeds in one portion of a watershed may decrease, or increase, the potential spread of those same weed species to neighboring properties.
I often hear unfortunate stories of landowners who have worked diligently to reduce weed populations on their property while adjacent properties leave their weeds unchecked to serve as a continual source of seed leading to constant reinvasion. Although some landowners working individually make excellent improvements to their natural resource base, might a more landscape-based approach lead to even greater improvement? Because issues such as invasive weeds do not respect geopolitical boundaries, a group of landowners working together may be able to increase the likelihood of successful weed control over a larger area. There are several existing models for how multiple individuals can work together to address shared management challenges.
Coordinated Resource Management
Wyoming has a relatively long-standing history in Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) programs, now led by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA). Although the WDA serves as the agency lead for facilitating the CRM process, one of the primary tenets of CRM is that it is landowner-driven. If multiple landowners see a need for increased cooperation in managing a natural resource issue, then CRM may be an appropriate tool.
Although CRM has historically been associated with multiple use issues often involving a federal-private land interface, the ability to identify shared resource management goals among various stakeholders makes the process well-suited for issues like invasive weeds. Participation in the CRM planning process is voluntary, but by including neighbors, agency representatives and others, the management of natural resources can not only take on a broader perspective across the landscape, but expertise from different areas may be available to the team that were not previously included in the management process.
Several CRM groups in Wyoming are implementing integrated, strategic invasive weed management at a landscape scale using a watershed approach. Because weed populations upstream may serve as source populations to areas downstream via seed dispersal, reducing the seed source addresses a fundamental cause of invasion throughout the watershed. The ability for a single landowner to work at such a large scale is often limited, but it may be possible for several landowners working together. For more information about Coordinate Resource Management contact the Wyoming Department of Agriculture or visit wyagric.state.wy.us/divisions/nrp/resource-management/crm.
Cooperative weed management
Somewhat similar to a weed-focused CRM is a Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA). Although specifically driven by the management of invasive weeds, the CWMA concept has a lot in common with the CRM approach. CWMAs are comprised of a group of neighboring landowners or managers who agree to manage invasive weed populations across landownership boundaries using a strategic landscape-scale approach. Increased accessibility to resources, a greater understanding of the extent and severity of weed infestations and enhanced coordination of weed management efforts are often associated with the formation of a CWMA. Some CWMAs form specific weed prevention areas within their boundaries and focus on preventing the introduction of new weeds into high-quality rangelands through the use of certified weed-free hay, diligent monitoring to catch new infestations early and educational programs. More information on CWMAs can be found at weedcenter.org.
Successfully reaching our natural resource management goals can be challenging for a number of reasons. If you and your neighbors are facing the shared challenge of expanding invasive weeds, it may be worth considering joining together to form a cooperative group. When dealing with invasive weeds does misery love company – or is there safety in numbers?
Brian A. Mealor is an Assistant Professor and Weed Extension Specialist at the University of Wyoming and can be reached at email@example.com. More information about ongoing weed science research at the University of Wyoming can be found at weedcontrolfreaks.com.