WATCH: WGA Working Lands Roundtable on April 3-4 in Denver

The Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service kicked off the Working Lands Roundtable on April 3 in Denver by reminding participants about the importance of focus.

“How often are we working hard, and doing what we think we need to be doing, but we lose sight of what is really the most important thing?" NRCS Chief Matt Lohr said at the opening of the two-day event. "If we can stay focused on our guiding principles (for conservation), we can continue the great work we are doing in conservation.”

Chief Lohr, who assumed his role at the end of 2018, noted that as a fifth-generation farmer he comes to his position from a "farmer's" perspective. “I learned growing up, working alongside my grandparents, the importance of protecting our resources.”

He recalled the historic effort of runner Roger Bannister to run a mile in less than 4 minutes as a good example of what can be achieved. "It took 75 years for the first man to run a sub-four-minute mile, and only 49 days for the second man to do it. Today there are thousands of people who can run a sub-four-minute mile. This is how we should approach conservation hurdles people think are impossible to overcome today.”

WGA Executive Jim Ogsbury explained in his introductory remarks the importance of the Working Lands Roundtable in continuing the work of past Chairman's Initiatives.

"Once WGA has established a beachhead to confront hard challenges, we’re in it for the long haul, fighting for the Governors' priorities ... And that’s where the Working Lands Roundtable comes in: The roundtable is where these big resource initiatives go to live and thrive and cross-pollinate."

The April 3-4 workshop examined at-risk species conservation, broad-scale threats to western working landscapes, and cross-boundary coordination in resource management and planning. (Complete agenda)

Below find links to watch each session, as well as selected panelists' comments.

WATCH: Welcome and Opening Remarks: Jim Ogsbury, WGA Executive Director, introduced Chief Matt Lohr of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Moderator John Freemuth, Executive Director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy, described goals for the roundtable.

WATCH: Collaborative Conservation: Panelists discussed collaborative efforts, highlighted elements that contribute to success, and examined challenges and opportunities for expanding collaborative at-risk species conservation in the West. Panelist remarks included:

Paul Souza, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “Farming and ranching is essential to conservation. The best thing we can do to keep lands and species healthy is to keep farmers farming and ranchers ranching. The relationship between refuge lands and irrigated agricultural lands is crucial.”

David Tenny, National Alliance of Forest Owners: “If you’re not relevant, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, because you will have a hard time figuring out how to work with the people you want to work with. You need to find common ground." View slides 

Lesli Allison, Western Landowners Alliance: “I like to think of incentives as the ability to enable people to do the things they already want to do.”

WATCH: Threats to Western Working Landscapes: Panelists shared West-wide threats to working landscapes and identified opportunities to address them.

Jeremy Maestas, Natural Resources Conservation Service: “Cheatgrass covers over 100 million acres, almost twice the amount of land covered by our entire national parks system.” View slides 

Garth Fuller, The Nature Conservancy: “If we lock ourselves into how we’ve been managing land for the last 50 years, we’re never going to improve. We have to take what we’ve learned from the past and carry that forward. Independent linear solutions are not getting us where we need to go.” View slides 

Brian Mealor, Sheridan Research and Extension Center: “The longer we stay in a state of landscapes dictated by invasive species, the harder it is to get back to an equilibrium dictated by the natural perennials. The problem is that we don’t know where that threshold is.” View slides 

John Ruhs, Bureau of Land Management: “Outcome-based grazing will not be dictated by dates and times, but by grazing patterns and ecosystem need. We will be giving people the flexibility they need to get things done on the ground.” View slides 

WATCH: Coordination Between Federal Agencies: Successful coordination between federal agencies is a necessity for most collaborative and cross-boundary conservation efforts. Panelists  highlighted organizations and agencies enhancing federal agency coordination.

Kristin Thomasgard-Spence, Department of Defense: “We have more endangered species on our land by density than any other federal agency. We have 350 threatened and endangered species, a number of which exist only on DoD land. This requires a lot of collaboration to manage them.”

Kim Tripp, Bureau of Land Management: “BLM land is predominantly in the West and the distinction from the East is that the scale of federal land holdings is a lot larger. The capacity to manage or address those large-scale lands is pretty small, so there is great need for partnerships to achieve our conservation goals.”

Chris West, Director, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: “(The foundation) can act as a translator between federal agencies and the landowners, and the collaboration really starts to happen when this information flows back and forth between the two.”

WATCH: Natural Resource Data Management and Landowner Privacy: Private landowners participate in species conservation and help inform policymakers by allowing data collection on their property. Panelists examined opportunities and obstacles surrounding data collection and exchange between private landowners and state/federal agencies.

Steve Jester, Partners for Conservation: “Landowners are always incentivized and interested in learning more about their land and what’s on their property. The concern is not ‘I don’t want to know about it,’ the concern is where that data is going to go and how it’s going to be used.”

Sara Brodnax, Environmental Defense Fund: “As a person coming from a family of landowners, I understand how vulnerable it can feel to give up data on how you manage your land. But we don’t want your specific data, we are interested in the aggregate.”

Thad Heater, Natural Resources Conservation Service: “Some of these new technological advances are going to revolutionize where we are in terms of conservation, and a lot of landowners are more incentivized to share their data under it because they are curious to see how their land is evolving and how it’s doing on a landscape scale.”

WATCH: Migration Corridors: Panelists provided an overview on wildlife migration, the role corridors and migratory habitat play in broader species conservation efforts, and what policy considerations inform their management.

Jim Heffelfinger, Arizona Game and Fish Department: “Migration routes are learned by the previous generation of animals; if we disturb their route it will take a very long time for them to re-learn. With tracking technology, we’ve seen that super highways and oil fields have severely impacted and sometimes stopped migration corridors altogether.” View slides 

Paul Ulrich, Jonah Energy: “There is a fundamental lack of good science to make informed policy decisions. What I’m seeing is a rush to make a decision, nailing that decision into the ground, and then fighting over it.”

Matthew Skroch, Pew Charitable Trusts: “Engineers and biologists don’t work well together, and throwing that on top of agency/landowner collaboration and state/federal collaboration, things can get messy. It’s really been only recently that we’ve been able to connect these worlds.” View slide

David Willms, National Wildlife Federation: “If Wyoming were a country, it would be the third largest energy exporter in the world. In that frame, Wyoming is critical to the economy. Yet, tourism is the number two industry (in the state), and people come to see wildlife and open spaces. Figuring out a way to balance the needs of the state also requires balancing the needs of the habitat and wildlife.”

WATCH: Regulatory Certainty and Litigation: Panelists discussed how regulatory certainty, litigation, and agency policy can drive or inhibit collaborative conservation.

Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County Commissioner: “It was touted from litigants on the other end (of the proposed Gunnison sage grouse endangered listing) that with the listing would come resources and benefits to our communities. But those resources haven’t shown up, and now we’ve had to shrink our efforts, and eventually those satellite populations won’t be successful because there’s no local buy in.”

Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society: “Can you bring people to the table if there is the threat that litigation is going to blow it all up. There is a lot of uncertainty when you think you have done something really meaningful and then everyone just walks away.”

Austin McCullough, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks: “A lot of these conversations have been framed around 'How do we bring agencies and collaborators to the table? And how do we implement conservation more effectively?' There’s a lot of stuff that can be improved in those dialogues, but it’s also important to have the perspective of what are we doing right."

WATCH: Case Study – Cross Boundary and Multi-Agency Collaboration: Panelists shared success stories of the multi-agency response to the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs and discussed elements that may be applied more broadly to cross-boundary land management in the West.

Sallie Clark, U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Inherently between sections of government, there’s a competitiveness. That was one of the biggest challenges. As a county staff member, I reached out to Colorado Springs utilities who I already had a relationship with to help pull those other governments actors in and help us overcome that competitiveness in order to work together. You have to find the leaders within your group who can go out and build those relationships when there is friction. View slides 

Oscar Martinez, United States Forest Service: “Having these relationships beforehand was why we were so successful. The value is having partners that approach events from a different lens and can look at post-disaster areas and figure out how to recover them proactively.” View slides 

Eric Howell, Colorado Springs Utilities: “We realized [during recovery] we had folks in places they shouldn’t have been because we didn’t have defined roles and there were a lot of miscommunications. To get past that, we needed a business continuity concept. We brought someone in to be the lead coordinator to reach out to all the partners in the community and to refocus Colorado Springs utilities. We’ve started annual trainings, make sure there is clarity on roles and responsibilities, and it is ultimately a better way." View slides 

Watch sessions from the 2018 Wyoming workshop, hosted by then-Gov. Matt Mead.

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