Current Edition

current edition

Endangered Species Act

Gillette — Wyoming’s work to develop a statewide Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), a program intended to protect those landowners implementing the right management practices for sage grouse from the consequences of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), continues.
    Attorney Tom Blickensderfer, Governor Freudenthal’s Endangered Species Coordinator, is tackling the CCAA project for Wyoming sage grouse and spoke about his work during the recent Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts meeting in Gillette.
    Candidate species are those under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS) for listing as threatened or endangered under the ESA. “What are these assurances?” asked Blickensderfer. “What it all really boils down to is that the FWS will offer up to you assurances that, should a particular species be listed under the ESA, if you have gone into an agreement where you commit to certain conservation measures on your ground you can forgo any other regulatory restrictions on your ground. Those are the assurances if you commit to those measures prelisting.”
    A listing decision, based on a Dec. 4, 2007 legal ruling, could have come as early as this December. “Do it over, but with new information, good and bad, that has happened since 2005,” said FWS’s Brian Kelly summing up Judge Winmill’s instructions. One of the key documents to be included hasn’t yet been published, therefore delaying the delisting decision. “You’ve got 12 months from the decision on listing to complete a CCAA,” said Kelly.
    “With the sage grouse it’s very clear the FWS is very sympathetic and very willing to work with states willing to put their own efforts on the ground,” said Blickensderfer, noting Governor’s Freudenthal’s support for “crafting Wyoming solutions.”
    “The Governor’s Task Force has mapped the greatest concentrations of grouse,” said Blickensderfer of the governor-appointed team. Mapping continues with a new level of detail, he said, noting, “One of the most salient mapping exercises we’re doing is trying to establish the various habitat types of the bird, which include leking, brood rearing and wintering habitat.” He said that would allow management techniques to be implemented during times of the year when the birds aren’t using a given area.
    “We’ve integrated that into the core area strategy to serve as the basis for the CCAA,” said Blickensderfer. “We’ve put together an umbrella CCAA, which in essence covers the entire state of Wyoming,” he explained of a partnership with FWS. “Every land user, be you conducting a grazing operation, be you doing oil and gas operations, uranium mining, any number of different land uses, you can join in on that agreement through a Certificate of Inclusion, which we will put together as well.”
    While the groundwork itself has been put down, several questions remain. “This is the biggest effort that has been undertaken in the country from a geographic standpoint,” said Blickensderfer. With a great deal of sage grouse habitat on federal lands, where a CCAA isn’t an option, but instead a Candidate Conservation Agreement without the assurances is, land ownership is a key question.
    “On surface situations, you are going to have circumstances where you have private ground, circumstances where you have state ground and BLM ground. So how do you deal with that?” asked Blickensderfer. “First and foremost, the federal ground is not our responsibility from the standpoint of doing a CCAA. That is a separate effort by the major landowner to move on their own trajectory to put together a much shorter document, a Candidate Conservation Agreement.”
    “But the question comes in, how do we meld these together when we are in that checkerboard situation,” said Blickensderfer. His answer is consistency among conservation practices across ownership boundaries.
    Certificate of Inclusion details remain to be determined. Blickensderfer said he envisions a description of the mineral estate that would bring developers to the table with landowners to keep the grouse in mind when development occurs. “That’s a work in progress,” he said.
    There’s also the question of just what landowners signing a CCAA will be asked to do in return. Blickensderfer mentioned everything from a continuation of currently proven practices to habitat enhancement.
    “I want to be sure we don’t overload landowners with a whole series of requirements, stipulation and undertakings,” he said. “I’m thinking at most four conservation practices they can put on the ground.” There’s also the question of when and how a landowner who is not complying will lose the associated Certificate of Inclusion.
    Whatever the documents include, as pointed out by Little Snake River Conservation District Manager Larry Hicks, they have to be defendable in court. CCAAs, partially because few have been written, haven’t yet been tested in court. Blickensderfer said that if that legal test were to occur on Wyoming’s agreement, the state would defend the agreements. Landowners would likely play a separate, yet related, role in that litigation.
    Once the wrinkles are ironed out, the document may serve future purposes. “The sage grouse is just the torch bearer for a large sagebrush ecosystem challenge,” said Tom Christiansen with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
    Tom Blickensderfer can be reached at 307-777-7575 or via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
    The white-tailed prairie dog is up for review - again. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will evaluate whether the species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act and is seeking input from the public.
    FWS will review all information about the status and distribution of the white-tailed prairie dog, including the impacts or potential impacts of threats to the species resulting from either human activities or natural causes, according to a press release.
    Wyoming Game and Fish Supervisor of Biological Services Reg Rothwell says the FWS will need information on numbers, trends and conservation measures. He says they need the information to make a well-balanced judgment about whether the white-tailed prairie dog needs protection.
    White-tailed prairie dog habitat is found across the western half of Wyoming and in parts of Colorado, Utah and Montana. Rothwell says most of the affected land in Wyoming is on public land and therefore listing, “isn’t going to stop everybody from doing what they’re doing.”
    However, there are many livestock producers who use those public lands and the effects might reach beyond regulatory issues.
    “As most people who work on the range know, a prairie dog town doesn’t produce many multiple use values,” says Wyoming State Grazing Board Grazing Consultant Dick Loper.
    Because forage in and around prairie dog towns is limited, the ability for multiple-use is reduced, which is mandated for federal lands. Loper says there won’t be a direct effect on livestock except to reduce forage and the reduced forage could eventually cut down numbers.
    The potential need for listing the species baffles many Wyomingites who consider prairie dogs pests. Rothwell says the call for listing is relative to the former and current numbers. He says in the case of the black-tailed prairie dog, the estimates showed only one percent of estimated numbers and distribution of the species was present during the review.
    If the new review finds warranted protection for white-tailed prairie dogs under the ESA, recovery plans and recovery targets will be established and implemented. Rothwell says good news comes in the previous planning of the states with historic black-tailed and white-tailed prairie dog range. Recovery plans and conservation strategies information is already in place, “so we’re not starting from zero,” he says.
    “From our standpoint, it is not warranted to list the white-tailed prairie dog, particularly in Wyoming,” says Rothwell. “The species is abundant, primarily on public land, and there isn’t and never really has been an effort to do control like with black-tailed prairie dogs.”
    Listing would cause regulatory shifts within Wyoming Game and Fish and more consideration would be given to the species’ recovery and conservation. However, Rothwell says livestock and oil and gas would still be present on white-tailed prairie dog habitat.
    “As long as we are smart about setting recovery targets during and post recovery, I don’t know that it would be as big a problem as some people might think,” he says.
    The status review was initiated in 2007 after questions were raised about the science used for a 2004 FWS decision. The original finding stated that listing of the white-tailed prairie dog was not warranted. A lawsuit from the Center for Native Ecosystems was also filed and a stipulated settlement required FWS to submit a notice to the Federal Register about the status review for the white-tailed prairie dog. The results of the review will be published in the Federal Register June 1, 2010.
    Comments and information will be accepted until July 7 and can be submitted at or can be mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2008-0053; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
    Liz LeSatz is Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Cheyenne — “It comes down to a simple truth — the landowner community and the conservation community have more things in common than they have things that divide them,” says Wyoming Wildlife Federation Executive Director Walt Gasson.
    “My point is,” says Gasson, “that the open spaces, clean air and clean water that sustain wildlife also sustain family farming and ranching operations. That provides common ground, not just figuratively, but literally. Without the contribution of Wyoming’s private land and the landowners’ responsibility for the stewardship of those lands, we wouldn’t enjoy the wildlife abundance and variety that we enjoy in Wyoming today.”
    Earlier this summer Gasson, on behalf of the WWF, issued an opinion piece to Wyoming newspapers expressing the value of private lands to wildlife. He also spoke of the need for stronger partnerships between Wyoming’s private landowner community and groups like his. The Roundup recently spent some time visiting with Gasson about his organization’s positions on issues of great importance to Wyoming agriculture. His editorial appears as a letter to the editor on Page 15 of this edition.
    First of all, who is the Wyoming Wildlife Federation? “We are predominantly hunter and angler based,” says Gasson of the roughly 5,000 members he describes as the “Carhartt and camo group.” A large board of directors, including representatives from affiliate members, guides the WWF’s policy decisions. With an annual meeting each spring, Gasson says policy can also be presented at that gathering.
    The WWF board officers are President Lonnie Allred, Vice President Dave Moody, Secretary Armond Acri and Treasurer Richard Oblak. The remainder of the board is Gwyn McKee, Mark Winland, Bill Allredge, Lance Harmon and Dick Kroger. Affiliate members on the board are Harold Schultz representing the National Wildlife Federation, Mac Black, Marty Casey and Steve Martin. The group has a seven-member staff led by Gasson.
    WWF is among the groups who support statewide trophy game classification of wolves in the state. Over the years Gasson says the Wyoming Game and Fish has proven their ability to manage trophy game animals when it comes to both wildlife and livestock conflicts.
    “It would not be fair to call us pro-wolf,” says Gasson. “I think it would be fair to call us pro-wolf management. The time has long gone by to delist wolves in Wyoming. We don’t believe delisting is going to happen under any other regulatory framework than trophy game status statewide.”
    Of WWF and the agriculture community, Gasson says, “While we may disagree on the regulatory framework, I think we can both agree that wolves need to be managed. The bottom line is, if you can manage black bears and lions, two species that are more difficult to manage than wolves, then we ought to be able to manage wolves as trophy game.”
    While the legislation has varied over the years, Gasson says WWF is a long-time supporter of efforts to implement and expand instream flow. “We were the organization that led to the initiative process back in the 1980s,” he says. “Our position on a given bill may be pro or con, but in general we believe that hunters, anglers and landowners benefit from live, healthy streams.”
    When it comes to sage grouse, Gasson says WWF has been involved in recent discussions and activities including service on the Governor’s sage grouse team. “I think it’s fair to say that we all recognize that a sage grouse listing is not something that would be food for Wyoming.” In addition, Gasson says WWF members are participating in sage grouse working groups at the community level across the state.
    Agree or disagree on any given topic, Gasson says he looks at the agricultural community as a friend and realizes that friends don’t always have to agree. “The paternal side of my family was in the sheep business in southwestern Wyoming,” he says. “I came up as a wildlife biologist in an area predominantly comprised of private land.” Early on in his Game and Fish career, which lasted over 30 years, he says he realized the paramount importance of strong relationships with the landowner community.
    “I don’t expect us to always agree, but I don’t think it necessarily follows that we have to view the world from the standpoint that you’re either with us or against us. I don’t think that’s real and that’s not a Wyoming way of doing business.”
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..