The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) hosted a land management and resource cooperative working group meeting with other government agencies that have shared responsibility and interest in the Thunder Basin National Grassland (TBNG). This new effort by the USFS will encourage open, transparent, and consistent communications with its neighbors, local, state, and Tribal governments, and other Federal agencies. Initially, it is expected that the new group will deal with charter formation and will engage in discussion about important resource issues and concerns. The meeting was the first of six scheduled gatherings for 2017. In order to meet Federal guidelines regarding cooperative working group meetings, only local, state, Federal, and tribal government representatives may participate in this particular group. The meeting is open to the public and anyone interested is encouraged to attend and observe the dialogue. Representing Niobrara County were Commissioner Pat Wade and John Midkif, Weed and Pest employees Gail and Tracy Mahnke and Niobrara Conservation District Chairman Matt Dockery and Manager Lisa Shaw. It is anticipated that the cooperative working group will primarily share information, discuss options, and problem solve. Private landowners with interest in the grasslands are encouraged to share their concerns with the local government representatives.
Public venues for similar involvement and learning will take place in the form of upcoming collaborative learning workshops. The first learning workshop for 2017 is scheduled for Wed., April 12 from 2-5 p.m. in Newcastle, Wyo. The event location is still to be determined. Two additional public learning sessions are planned for August and December of 2017. These public engagement sessions will mirror three workshops held in 2016.The Forest Service hopes that eventually both the cooperative working group meetings and the public events can discuss a wide array of topics pertaining to the TBNG.
“After much thought and discussion with folks regarding how best to communicate with all interested parties, we are moving forward with formation of the new group and continuation of the public workshops,” said Douglas District Ranger Shane Walker. “We have a narrow window within which to work so that we are in compliance with requirements for this kind of coordinated effort. “I am looking forward to having everyone in one place at the same time to have productive discussions that help come up with practical on-the-ground solutions to some serious resource issues in eastern Wyoming. Simply from a communication efficiency standpoint, this is a step in the right direction. Open discussion with our neighbors is always a good thing. We want to improve how we communicate by coordinating, cooperating, collaborating, and consulting with people for the purpose of conserving our national resources.”
Both outreach efforts by the USFS are in response to requests from state and local governments, as well as a summary report from last year’s public engagement sessions, for the agency to establish multiple collaborative venues for community-based information sharing. This approach parallels the final report from the University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute, as well as the Governor’s Task Force on Forests, which recommends local collaborative efforts to address local forest management issues. Ruckelshaus Institute held workshops in 2016 on behalf of the USFS and has been asked to facilitate both the cooperative working group and the 2017 public sessions. The intent by the USFS is to utilize the expertise of the Ruckelshaus Institute to initiate these cooperative efforts, and then once the community events are established the USFS will assume the facilitation role for the long term. All discussions will be transparent and inclusive, and will use the Thunder Basin National Grassland Land and Resource Management Plan, as well as associated plans and strategies as guiding documents.