Another chapter comes to a close…

My internship is coming to an end as I’m leaving for another opportunity. My time at the Wyoming State Office has been a good one. I have learned a lot from the experienced staff here and at times has felt like I’m trying to drink from a fire hose. The basis on which the BLM manages land for multiple uses is incredibly fluid and requires balancing several programs and land uses to achieve almost anything.
It’s this intricate process which takes patience and a willingness to cooperate with agencies and the private sector to move towards and accomplish goals that benefit everyone involved. It adds perspective when driving across the western states and looking at seas of sagebrush that may seemingly be undervalued at first glance. It’s these vast expanses that provide resources to wildlife, our economy, and private landowners looking to continue a life style that is becoming rarer by the day.
The CLM internship program is a great way to make connections but is ultimately what you make of it. I can happily say I feel I put forth my best effort resulting in another fantastic opportunity, in which I will be able to continue working, on some level, with those who I’ve built relationships with here, in the State Office.

butterfly plants

As summer has finally arrived and flowers are in full bloom, I sit in my cube, updating the statewide Programmatic Biological Assessment for the threatened Colorado butterfly plant (Gaura neomexicana spp. Coloradensis) I was fortunate enough to go out with some US Fish and Wildlife Service employees to survey some riparian areas for the butterfly plant. Surveys are important for the plant, since it is only found in the southeast corner of Wyoming. As summer continues and areas dry up, riparian areas become very important to land uses such as grazing. Riparian areas often support many plants, wildlife, and livestock, which may have an impact on the species. Identifying these habitats and areas for conservation can help preserve the species.

grab bag

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been learning about the future of management and policy adjustments necessary to address changes in the listing status for the Black-footed ferret (BFF) in the State of Wyoming, as all BFFs will now be considered 10(j) populations . The 10(j) connotation is specific to that section and part of the Endangered Species Act discussing experimental populations.  In this instance, the existing populations of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming are considered non-essential to the continued existence of the species.  BFF management is typically tied directly to management of habitat for their specialized food source, prairie dogs.

I’ve also been assisting with a Congressional data call involving a significant undertaking to collect information and correspondence related to the conservation efforts for greater sage-grouse across the west.  Sage grouse have been and will continue to be a source of debate and interest in Wyoming and across the west.  The USFWS  is scheduled to have a listing decision in the fall of 2015, and the bearing of that decision regardless of the final ruling, will have impacts biologically, economically, and politically.  The interworkings of how species listings shape and change policy is a complicated one that requires a lot of people working diligently to manage public lands to the best of their ability, and I continue to learn the processes piece by piece…


Give-and-take (n): 1. mutual concessions, shared benefits, and cooperation; 2. a smoothly flowing exchange of ideas and talk.

Ah… compromise.  The give-and-take from separate sides of every discussion, issue, or concern is what allows us as an agency (the BLM) to move towards a solution, regardless of how fluid the end-game may be.  At the BLM, it is our role to manage the lands and natural resources, so current generations may enjoy what is available to us, without depriving future generations of these resources, benefits, and natural landscapes.

The balance isn’t always easy to reach, especially when working with T&E species and their respective habitat(s).  I’ve been involved in discussions and meetings pertaining to more proactive management and pre-development mitigation on behalf of project proponents in an attempt to enhance the survival and habitats of these species on the front end, rather than attempting to correct what has been done after the fact through (at times lengthy and expensive) restoration and reclamation.   These efforts can sometimes be done through off-site and off-set mitigation depending on habitat type and quality as well as easements to protect other valuable areas.

These type of efforts are also being exercised in partnership with the USFWS in the development of conservation agreements called Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA) which allow private land owners to enroll in agreements that provide them with protections if a candidate species is listed as threatened or endangered by the USFWS, that no further stipulations will be put in place as long as they agree to conservation measures prior to the listing decision to ‘enhance the survival’ of the species in question.  These are being developed in states across the west with varied participation.

I’ve had the benefit of participating in discussions for these mitigations,  CCAAs, and CCAs, as well as reviewing proposals that indicate stipulations related to these plans.  There is an attempt to be consistent to some degree, which can be difficult given the varying factors across the state of Wyoming as well as the species and their needs across the same areas.

This type of land management is a ‘give-and-take’ method to multi-use lands.  Like other types of restoration, reclamation, and mitigation used in the past, only time will tell and judge the success of these efforts…  but the cooperation between agency and industry, between public and private, will continue to strive towards the optimal balance and benefit all parties involved.

We need a bigger table…

As we’re on the doorstep of Thanksgiving (at the time this was written), I felt it would be fitting to [attempt to] try and compare management and policy implementation to Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey is great, but a meal, it does not make. You need stuffing as well, probably some sort of potato dish (or 3), gravy, rolls, cranberries, blah, blah, yadda yadda – You get the picture.
It’s similar to creating and implementing actions and management plans for land use, wildlife, and resources, etc. Timing restrictions near sage grouse leks, a conservation plan does not make. You need habitat protections, and improvements. You need seasonal habitat ranges identified. You need a cornucopia (see what I did there?) of information at several different scales, and all the while, you still need to manage for other land use/purposes (recreation, minerals, etc.). Protection around winter roost sites alone doesn’t satisfy all there is to eagle protection, the same way if I slapped down a tofurkey and some green beans, you’d probably (and deservedly) label it one of the worst Thanksgiving dinners… ever (subtle message to some of you, leave your tofurkey at home).
And that’s just addressing the ingredients. A huge spread while eating it alone, a Thanksgiving meal, it does not make. Without different offices and agencies all cooperating and doing their best to address and identify a common goal to work towards, these plans can easily fall short. It’s important to keep in mind; one can clean the bird, while the other cooks it. I’ll peel the potatoes and you mash them. You distract so-and-so, and I’ll chuck the tofurkey in the garbage. Much in the same way, we collect the survey data, and they can collect vegetation information. In the end, in the same way you share a meal over the holiday season to increase the level of enjoyment, the best conservation plans and management goals are reached with similar cooperation and partnerships.
This is mainly off the heels of the kinds of communication I’ve witnessed at some level-1 team meetings here in Wyoming, where representatives from different agencies work together to share information and move towards common goals. I’ve also recently witnessed this at a workshop for identifying seasonal sage-grouse habitat where private sector and public agency personnel share input (both while sitting a large tables) to reach a goal with shared aspects. None of these plans will ever taste as good as a deep-fried turkey, but you get the picture… Happy Thanksgiving.


You down with BOP? Yeah you know me…

Blowout Penstemon (BOP). It’s endangered and it’s only found in Wyoming and Nebraska… and nowhere else. Originally discovered in Wyoming by Ferdinand Hayden in 1877, the plant was thought to no longer exist in Wyoming, only in Nebraska where it was first discovered. However, in 1996 a botanist from the BLM rediscovered the species in Carbon County.
This perennial herb, this pioneer of a plant, was one of the first plants to establish itself in wind-swept sand dunes. The ever shifting sand dunes are a crucial habitat feature for BOP to exist. If a dune begins to stabilize, the dunes may become overgrown with other vegetation.
The BLM works with other local, state, and federal agencies to develop conservation strategies that will nurture long term viability of the species. The key is to avoid potential threats to the plant and it’s habitat from impacts associated with activities like energy development, live-stock grazing, off-road vehicle use, plant collection, and wind farms. However, with a Biological Assessment (BA) in place, managers and biologists can continue to enlist the land in multi-use programs, while protecting and enhancing conditions for this beautiful plant.

BAs, BEs and FOs, oh my!

I’m wrapping up my first month with the BLM at the Wyoming State Office in Cheyenne, and it has gone by quickly. I’ve spent some of my time attempting to learn the 437 (estimated) acronyms used by different programs and agencies on a regular basis.

Most of my duties consist of updating the Statewide Programmatic Biological Assessments (BAs) and Biological Evaluations (BEs) for Threatened and Endangered (T&E) Species for the BLM. These documents are then submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), so they can be used by the 10 respective Field Offices (FO) in Wyoming. Then the FOs can look to the BA or BE for each respective T&E species or SSS, along with the BO generated by the FWS so management actions can abide by land use stipulations outlined by the CMs and BMPs in the Bas or BE. That way any Agency or NGO will be aware of pertinent information, such as the ACECs, or CSUs, or if an NSO is in place.
AKS (all kidding aside), I’ve gained valuable experience and a better understanding of how the BLM manages a multitude of different land use programs while protecting T&E and candidate species. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in meetings and discussion on sage-grouse with multiple agencies as well as some additional high-profile species, including lynx, bald eagle, and gray wolves. Hopefully my next post will result in a few more completed projects and an ability to immediately understand the other 424 acronyms…