Considering purpose Wyo Weed and Pest discusses objectives, purpose
Sheridan – With the goal of influencing open conversations, the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council (WWPC) facilitated three roundtable discussions during their 73rd annual meeting, held in Sheridan from Nov. 14-16. One of their big questions hinged around the objectives and purpose of weed and pest districts and the WWPC.
“It’s important that everyone shares their opinion, so we can hear from everybody,” said WWPC Executive Director Slade Franklin.
“Defining the overall objectives and purpose of WWPC is a big question,” said Aaron Foster of Fremont County Weed and Pest during a roundtable panel on the question.
Foster referenced Wyoming Statute, saying “We are meant to pursue an effective program to control weeds and pests.”
While the definitions of “effective” and “control” are left out of statute, Foster believes both are covered using an integrated pest management approach.
He also marked education, public outreach, an early detection rapid response approach, a focused commitment on containment to limit expansion of weeds and a focus on asset improvement.
Education was identified as a particularly important part of WWPC’s role, according to several attendees in the meeting.
However, there are challenges associated with the ability to educate landowners, including lack of attendance at meetings and training events.
“I question whether our purpose is clearly defined in WWPC,” Foster said. “There are a lot of good things going on, but I believe, with the transition we have seen in WWPC in the last couple years, it wouldn’t hurt to re-align ourselves.”
To ensure WWPC doesn’t cheat their objectives, Foster said a renewed focus should be taken to ensure positive work is able to continue collaboratively in the state.
“The question is always, what are we doing?” Park County Weed and Pest’s Josh Shorb said. “Right now, we have a list of 26 plants and six designated pests. Is that what we should be working on? Is that what we strictly should be working on? Are we only working on them because they’re on a list?”
He noted that operating with an approach of “kill this, save that” is akin to putting on blinders by ignoring other potential problems.
“Should we view ourselves as large, landscape level invasive species managers?” he asked, noting that WWPC may be better poised to take a larger role.
“We need to work from a landscape perspective,” added Bob Finley of FCWP. “We’re preventing the spread of weeds, controlling what’s there, mitigating and more. Everything we do is a part of prevention and control.”
“We have to look at ourselves as overall land managers or else we end up being just reactive,” he said. “We’re about much more than just spraying weeds.”
While invasive species is a focus of many weed and pest districts, Foster emphasized, “We have to also expend some of our resources on range improvement projects.”
“Should we be focusing on that? Or should invasive species be our primary focus?” he asked. “This is something we need to decide.”
Audience members suggested developing strategies or priorities on a state-wide level to allow districts to work toward a common goal or focus, since the action in one district affects neighboring counties and states.
Rod Litzel of Buffalo noted WWPC should also be cognizant to avoid narrowing a focus too much.
“We are invasive species managers, but we are also resource managers,” Litzel said. “We have to pay attention and not lose sight of one species that may take over.”
Managers in the state are also concerned about budgets.
“We have to focus our priorities to be able to leverage our resources,” said Uinta County Weed and Pest’s Chris Aimone.
Working for stakeholders
“The other thing that is important for districts to think about when we consider our purpose is to make sure we are actually considering all the stakeholders in our districts,” Foster said.
Hale Redding of Weston County Weed and Pest noted that WWPC is one of the few government entities that has a largely positive rapport with landowners.
“We’re here to help people with their problems, and we strive to do that every day,” he said. “The majority of our work is on private ground. Our local taxpayers fund us, so I try to focus on helping them take care of their problems and educating them on how to minimize the impacts of weeds and pests.”
While many think of agriculture as the primary stakeholder for WWPC, Foster noted that recreationists, small acreage landowners and business people are important.
“Many people use lands that we do work on, and they deserve a seat at the table, too,” he said.
“The purpose of WWPC is for collaboration and a voice for all districts on weed and pest activities,” Foster said, noting several objectives in WWPC’s by-laws include information exchange, information sharing, cooperation and promotion of uniformity and coordination of activities, among others. “We could work on promoting uniformity and coordination of activities. There might be room for improvement there.”
“As a council, I think our strategic plan needs to involve working on a story for the state – not just for us, but for the people we are working for,” Franklin said.
He also noted a narrative should also be developed to work across state boundaries, and WWPC should be working to tell a unified story.
“The more we try to manage invasive species, the more we realize what we don’t know,” commented Brian Connelly of Natrona County Weed and Pest. “It’s a constantly changing landscape, and it’s going to be different next year and the year after. Our focus changes from year to year, so the important thing and beauty of our weed and pest law is we do have the freedom to make on-the-ground decisions for our micro-conditions.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.