During a legislative committee meeting last week, several Fremont County residents reiterated their desire for more wildlife considerations and public input in Wyoming’s outdoor recreation planning processes.
The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee was discussing the new Wyoming Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Trust Fund, which was created to help develop outdoor recreation and tourism projects throughout the state.
Those projects “can end up in direct conflict with habitats and ecologies,” Wyoming Wildlife Federation government affairs director Jess Johnson told the committee last week, suggesting that trust fund grant applicants be required to consult with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department about their project proposals as part of the process.
Wyoming Outdoor Council legislative advocate Era Aranow agreed that it’s “important to balance” recreational and wildlife considerations, which “can both compete and complement each other.”
“Who doesn’t like recreating when you can hear the beautiful birds singing or encounter some majestic wildlife?” Aranow asked. “However, in Wyoming and beyond, there’s growing evidence that continues to show that wildlife are impacted by all types of recreation.
“That can lead to increased mortality, decreased reproduction, altered behavior, increased non-native species, and reduced fitness.”
The outdoor recreation and tourism industry “tends to be very promotional,” Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, pointed out, expressing his concern that, “by over-promoting recreation in some venues, we actually will kill the goose that laid the golden egg – in the sense that we will actually hurt the underlying resources, especially when you develop in historically sensitive areas or critical wildlife habitat.”
“In our zeal to promote (tourism), we have to take heart about the impacts of that industry … on wildlife, impacts on the visitor experience in these very crowded areas, competition with other providers,” he said. “There is a need (for) a more structured process that slows things down a little bit and lets people come to the table with input. …
“I’m hoping we can find balance.”
Aranow’s group proposed that the new trust fund grant program should “identify and mitigate the impacts of increased outdoor recreation on natural resources, wildlife, cultural, and historical elements.”
The WOC would also like to see a “process for implementing grant awards that, at a minimum, requires public notice, comment, and consideration of alternative proposals that are less injurious to natural resources,” Aranow said.
Sinks Canyon Wild chair Ron Smith echoed those comments, adding that Tribal entities should also be consulted about outdoor recreation and tourism projects.
“There needs to be, at least, mention and inclusion of environmental review of the impacts as well as public participation and consultation with the Tribes,” SWC member Will Almas said. “I think that (would) ultimately ensure more successful projects.”
Other local comments in support of the new trust fund came from Lander resident Steff Kessler, who attended the meeting on behalf of “some interests that are investigating the startup of a Wyoming outdoor recreation business association,” and Wyoming Pathways executive director Michael Kusiek, who urged the state to “release grant opportunities sooner (rather) than later.”
The legislative committee decided to appoint a working group to assess the feedback they heard this month about the structure of the new trust fund.
They plan to consider the topic again during their next meeting, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 10-11 in Casper.