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WGA: Addressing cross-boundary management of challenges is key

Written by Saige

Denver, Colo. – “Ecosystems of the West are not narrow and focused,” said Western Governors’ Association (WGA) Executive Director Jim Ogsbury on March 15 during the opening of the Western Working Lands Forum. “They are broad, dynamic, messy, complicated and inter-related.” 

Ogsbury explained the Western Working Lands Forum is the association’s most broad, cross-cutting effort to begin to think about issues in the West on a large scale. 

“We want to explore inter-related resource issues at a landscape scale, to see if we can start to develop a common understanding and common definition to what landscape scale really means. Then, even if we have great differences, we can at least be confident we’re speaking the same language,” he said. 

Panelists from a wide range of background discussed cross-boundary collaboration to address several different challenges around the West.  

Lessons learned 

“When we’re talking about cross-boundary collaboration, we have to be inclusive in our approach,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Noreen Walsh said. “We have to set a table big enough for all the involved partners.”

Further, she noted true collaborative efforts “really take some time to marinate. Some things just cannot be rushed.” 

Respecting the needs of all partners must be balanced with a focus on addressing the ecological and biological realities of the target species is also top priority. 

“Achieving the balance between these things will not happen without constant collaboration,” she continued. 

Finally, Walsh asserted, “The Endangered Species Act (ESA) can definitely act as a significant catalyst to galvanize necessary, meaningful conservation, but at the same time, it sets timeframes that aren’t always very flexible and don’t always allow for the development of relationships or complex conservation strategies.

Large scale approach 

FWS strives at the end of the day, to support the long-game – healthy sagebrush landscapes that support people and species. 

“We have to have a ‘big tent’ approach to setting objectives, developing needed scientific information, putting these efforts on the ground and constantly communicating with all partners,” Walsh said. 

When looking at the last several years and success of working together cooperatively on important issues, Walsh commented, “I have hope we can marshal the same resolve that is going to take the next step in these efforts.”

Walsh further quoted Jay Tanner of Boxelder County, Utah, who said, “People of good will can accomplish a lot together.”

Obstacles

While partnerships are essential, a big challenge for cross-boundary management is interagency cooperation, said Jim Magagna, executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. 

As an example he cited sage grouse efforts with the FWS, noting that the agency’s willingness and enthusiasm to develop Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances was not echoed by the Bureau of Land Management, which took much longer to take similar steps on public land. 

“This cooperation is necessary,” he commented.

On the same token, private landowners are sometimes seen as an obstacle, though Magagna added that landowners are also important partners. 

He suggested looking more at how to engage and motivate private landowners. 

“A couple of things come to mind when working with private landowners,” Magagna explained, saying early engagement is top. “Don’t go to landowners and say, ‘We have a plan.’ Go to landowners and say, ‘We need to develop a plan and would like to have you at the table.’”

He added, “In the West, we ranchers are stubborn people, and if approached the right way, landowners can become the best partners. Approached the wrong way, however, and we can become the greatest threat to the success of any effort.” 

The need for incentives in developing partnerships is also important, Magagna noted. Incentives, however, can mean more than dollars and cents. 

“However, landowners can equally be motivated for the chance to enhance a resource when there is a chance for benefits to the resource,” he said. “The third area of incentive that is harder to define is operation and efficiency incentives.”

For example, flexibility in turn-out date for public land grazing based on climate, forage and other factors alone can be an incentive that engages landowners. 

“The opportunities are limitless,” Magagna said, “and I don’t think any of the challenges are insurmountable if we pull together and engage in addressing htem.”

Threats and opportunities

Magagna said building partnerships is paramount, but achieving that vision is accompanied by many obstacles.

“If it comes down to two magic words, they are whether we look at what is happens on the landscape as a threat or an opportunity,” Magagna said. 

Specifically addressing the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Magagna continued, “I think often, when we talk about ESA specifically, we must talk about – and we do – what the natural landscape is and what unit we should do business. I think sometimes where we fail is to talk about the human landscape.” 

Discussing the human landscape, including where people can come together and what the goals of the populations are. 

The scale of the human landscape, he added, can include areas as large as states or regions or as small as individual communities. 

Additionally, Magagna encouraged people to look at challenges on the landscape not as a threat but as opportunities to collaborate and get together to take actions that are meaningful for a wide range of populations.

“Let’s not overdo the threat component of these issues,” he said. “Success will depend not on the ability to overcome threats but on the ability to find opportunities and move forward with them.”

Look for more from the Western Working Lands Forum in future editions of the Roundup.

Saige Albert 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..