Commissioners want say in wildlife corridors

RIVERTON — Objections by Gov. Mark Gordon and Wyoming Game and Fish officials to a proposed bill granting county commissioners influence in designating wildlife migration corridors has prompted concern on the Fremont County Commission. 

“If we don’t have a seat at the table, your voice is not going to get heard,” Fremont County Commission Chairman Travis Becker said at a commission meeting this week. 

The bill in its current draft mode in the Wyoming Legislaure’s Subcommittee on Federal Land Resources still includes commissioners in the process of assigning migration corridors for ungulate herds, but the governor’s role has changed. 

In an older draft, the bill would have left the final designation of corridors to the state board of land commissioners – comprising the governor, the secretary of state, the state treasurer, auditor, and superintendent of public instruction – but that wording has been amended to give the governor the final say, not all five elected state officials together.

The change came after Gordon’s staff and Wyoming Game and Fish officials voiced frustration over the bill’s early draft. 

The current draft invests in Game and Fish the ability to designate the corridors and conduct a risk study before assigning a “working group” of county commissioners from affected counties. The working group could review and supplement the risk study and the proposed route, and make recommendations, upon which the governor would be compelled to act. 

The newest wording directs county commissioners’ suggestions directly to the governor, not the state board. 

Becker said “there has been giant resistance from Game and Fish (in promoting the bill), somewhat from the governor’s office as well. I think that legislation is going to hit the back-burner, and that is extremely troubling, because as county commissioners, we need to be at the table.” 

Becker cited the East Fork area in Dubois, a portion to which “the BLM shut off access years ago (because) they’re calling that a migration corridor.”

He added that “if you get certain groups who are in charge of this and you don’t get a say at the table, you’re shutting off the public.” 

Both the old and new drafts involve county commissioners in the process – but the new amendments will, presumably, cause the governor to look with greater favor upon the bill as it progresses.

The legislation is due to advance to the 2020 Legislative session. During the draft’s embryonic stage, Game and Fish commissioner and former energy industry executive Mike Schmid said he wanted the Legislature to “back off.” 

Referring to Gordon’s plan to issue a December executive order detailing migration corridor composition, gubernatorial migration corridor advisory committee member Kathy Lichtendahl said “It’s pretty disturbing that the Select Federal Natural Resource Management committee felt the need to override and undercut the governor’s efforts.”