Following pushback, lawmakers back off plan to put counties in charge of migration corridors

POWELL — After a proposal to put county commissioners and others in charge of designating migration corridors drew widespread criticism, a state legislative committee is apparently changing course. 

“We’re the cannon fodder because we were the first to have a black and white proposal out,” said State Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee. 

On Oct. 23, the committee voted to advance a bill that would cut the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission out of the decision-making process for designating migration corridors. 

There was immediate backlash, including from Gov. Mark Gordon’s migration corridor advisory group, Game and Fish officials and members of the public. 

Game and Fish commissioner and former energy industry executive Mike Schmid said he wanted the Legislature to “back off,” in an interview with the Jackson Hole News & Guide; Commissioner Patrick Crank testified before the committee prior to the release of the bill that their proposal would result in a “horrible waste of time” should it go forward. 

Meanwhile, seven of the eight members on Gordon’s advisory committee fired off a letter to the natural resource committee, expressing their displeasure. 

“It’s pretty disturbing that the Select Federal Natural Resource Management 

committee felt the need to override and undercut the governor’s efforts,” said Kathy Lichtendahl, Park County’s only representative on the committee. 

However, Sen. Boner said the original bill was simply a backup plan from the Legislature. 

“We want to have a back up plan legislatively in case we can’t strike a balance in the executive order” that Gordon plans to issue in creating migration corridors, Boner said. “I’ve been telling people until I was blue in the face that it’s not possible to preempt the executive order,” Boner said Tuesday. “That the bill came out before we saw the governor’s draft executive order is the product of our legislative schedule.” 

The Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee held its final meeting of the year on Oct. 23, while Gordon’s draft executive order isn’t due to come out until December, with the final version scheduled to be released in January, according to Renny MacKay, a senior adviser to the governor. 

After being “besieged” by negative feedback, Boner said the committee has made substantial changes to the draft bill. 

The new version gives the Game and Fish authority to designate migration corridors and the governor the responsibility to manage wildlife resources and industry assets within corridors. 

Boner praised the advisory committee Tuesday. 

“I think the governor showed a tremendous amount of foresight getting regular Wyomingites from various walks of life together in a room,” he said. “They came up with a very well-balanced policy.” 

But the senator also sees some “daylight” between the consensus agreements of the advisory committee and the interests they represent. 

“The individuals who are representing various industries and interests came to a consensus, but the challenge is moving that consensus into their broader constituency,” Boner said. “There’s some daylight between the advisory committee and professional lobbyists who would usually deal with this kind of issue. We’re just in the process of getting that broader buy-in.” 

The goal that almost everybody agrees with is preserving corridors, Boner said. 

But he said it’s also important that “Wyomingites can live and work in those corridors as well.”

“We pride ourselves in finding ways to strike that balance,” he said. “We’re not going to treat corridors like a wilderness area where there can be no activity at all, but at the same time not so much activity that it destroys the corridors. We’re working on a solution that maybe not everybody will be happy with, but that we all can live with.”

Lichtendahl had yet to see the new proposals this week but called the concessions “huge.” 

MacKay said there’s uniform agreement on the need to protect migration corridors, while knowing that “our energy industries are significantly impacted by potential prescriptions that come with managing habitat.” 

Current efforts involve all sides “trying to improve the process and the policies,” he said, adding, “We have plenty of time for this to play out and it’s just another example of how important wildlife is in this state.” 

Boner said this round of discussions is “a reminder of how important the details are in what [the governor] comes up with” in his executive order.