Operations manager highlights the WYldlife Fund and gives migration funding update
The annual Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days, held Feb. 8-9 in Riverton, hosted The WYldlife Fund (Fund) Operations Manager Nate Brown to discuss wildlife migration and the rancher’s role.
The WYldlife Fund
According to the Fund’s webpage, the organization specializes in grant agreements with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), and ensures precise and efficient allocation of resources on the ground to advance wildlife projects across Wyoming.
“The Fund unites people to advance Wyoming wildlife habitat research and education,” said Brown. “We were created by the Game and Fish Commission and the WGFD to fill a niche as a nonprofit partner to ensure seamless and targeted funding of projects.”
The Fund, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is comprised of 11 volunteer board members and has several programs focusing on wildlife crossings, conservation education and habitat improvements. Programs include WYldlife for Tomorrow (WFT), the Western Conservation Leadership Development Program and offers strong support for the WY Game and Fish’s Inspire a Kid program through the Maury Brown Kids Fishing Day and the Inspire a Kid camp.
WYldlife for Tomorrow
The WYldlife for Tomorrow (WFT) program is a unique and innovative initiative under the umbrella of the Fund, created by Board Member and Jackson Hole Eco Tour Adventures Owner Taylor Phillips, with support from Chris McBarnes, president of the WYldlife Fund.
WFT seeks to strategically engage the tourism industry in Wyoming to raise funds and awareness, while bringing in more resources to complete critical, on-the-ground projects for Wyoming’s wildlife.
Brown noted this program is about one and a half years old and has put $200,000 of tourism business money toward wildlife conservation efforts.
“We recognize that hunters and anglers provide most of the revenue that goes back to conservation and wildlife, so this initiative is specifically targeted toward engaging businesses that actually profit from wildlife tourism and helping them recognize wildlife is part of their bottom line,” mentioned Brown.
Conservation Leadership Development Program
The Fund’s website notes the purpose of the Western Conservation Leadership Development Program is to equip a diverse set of public and private partners in the Western region with the leadership and relationship capacities needed to inspire and create a legacy of conservation for future generations.
“This specialized program has been developed in cooperation with many partners including several state agencies across the West, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian provinces, Tribal groups and private landowners. This cutting edge and immersive adaptive leadership program develops the needed capacity to tackle the West’s most complex conservation issues,” he explained.
The Fund works to inspire the future of conservation and is dedicated to raising up the next generation of outdoor leaders.
Brown shared, on June 4, 2022, the fund partnered with Maury Brown and WGFD to host the first Maury Brown Kids Fishing Day at the Iron Mountain Ranch outside of Cheyenne.
Working with organizations such as the Youth Alternatives, Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers, Big Sisters over 600 people attended, including children, parents and volunteers to learn how to fish. Attendees received a pole and fully stocked tackle box, sponsored in part by Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. Maury Brown of Cheyenne completely funded and graciously hosted the event.
“Our goal is to inspire kids to get involved, get outside and be involved in conservation,” said Brown.
big game pilot MOU
On Oct. 17, 2022, Gov. Mark Gordon signed the Wyoming Wildlife Habitat Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
Brown noted, “Wyoming has demonstrated itself as a leader across the nation with regard to migration research and has led the charge on putting migration on the map and helping people on a nationwide, even worldwide, scale to recognize migration really is an unbelievable thing.”
“The idea is to use these diverse farm bill programs and state expertise to support voluntary conservation of private working lands and migratory big game populations in Wyoming,” he added. “The whole idea is for us to bridge the gap between the ranch, Tribal lands and USDA funding.”
He explained the Platte Valley, Absaroka Front, Baggs, Sublette County and Wind River Reservation migration corridors are the first five priority areas.
“We’re not saying these are the only places in Wyoming where funding will be available – it’s five places they have identified as hotspots or areas most crucial to migration,” Brown said. As this program gets further along and more research is done, other areas are likely to be added as well.
He further noted full-time equivalent (FTE) employees of non-government organizations (NGOs) will help facilitate and bridge the gap between the ranch, Tribal land, USDA and NRCS.
“FTE employees will reach out to ranchers in these critical habitat areas or migration corridor areas and talk with them about ways they can tap into this funding and basically get paid for what they’re already doing – managing and conserving wildlife habitat,” he said.
Brown added three broad programs which will serve as avenues to facilitate this funding, including the Grasslands Conservation Reserve Program, through short-term – 10 to 15 years – habitat leases that protect sensitive areas; Environmental Quality Incentives Program, providing technical and financial assistance to address natural resource concern and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which protects agricultural lands through conservation easements that also benefit Wyoming’s wildlife.
“The FTE employees, through the Pooled Migration Fund, will hopefully help more folks tap into these resources and set the bar for the rest of the country by using Wyoming as a pilot,” shared Brown. “The goal is to give back to the ranching and Tribal community for what they’ve already done.”
He noted Undersecretary of Agriculture Robert Bonnie once said, “Conserving America’s most iconic wildlife and wildlife migration corridors depends on the conservation of private working lands and Tribal lands through voluntary collaborative incentives which reward farmers, ranchers and forest owners for stewardship of their lands.”
Brown concluded, “I think it’s high time the federal government has recognized this and is willing to work with states to give back to the ranching community for the efforts they’ve had towards conservation.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.