UPDATE: House Bill 215 and Senate File 135 have failed. House Bill 29 did not make the deadline for an introduction vote. -ED.
Gov. Mark Gordon said Thursday his executive order protecting wildlife migration routes makes competing legislation unnecessary.
The governor signed the 15-page mule deer and pronghorn order, which designates three existing corridors already officially adopted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The order allows the state wildlife agency to nominate new corridors that would be reviewed by a local working group and approved or rejected by the governor. (See the order below.)
It directs state agencies to hew close to conservation objectives, stating that “whenever possible development, infrastructure and use should occur outside of corridors.”
The order makes three competing bills in the Legislature moot, Gordon told WyoFile on Thursday.
“I think they’re unnecessary,” Gordon said. Of sponsoring legislators who are pushing for more complex, time-consuming procedures, study and limits, he said, “I think they’re seeing ghosts.”
Gordon’s order is the first of its kind, he said at a signing ceremony. “We’re really leading the nation in this effort,” he told a herd of collaborators in the Capitol.
The order should break a minerals leasing logjam, Gordon told WyoFile. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has deferred numerous leases because of worries about migrating wildlife, he said.
“We could with good science identify these various migration corridors and get on with the business of managing our land,” he told WyoFile. Gordon’s designation process would “get rid of the uncertainty that’s clouding some of these areas,” he said.
Three competing bills
Three bills filed in the legislature would create different processes for protecting wildlife or limit the conservation of migration routes. Conservation groups have criticized them as unnecessary roadblocks in wildlife management.
The Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee has sponsored HB29 – Migration Corridor Designation. It would involve six state agencies and complex local working groups, “resulting in a growing government” and creating a “massive bureaucratic undertaking,” the Wyoming Wildlife Federation wrote in a statement.
HB215 – Designated migration corridors – limit, sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander) and others, would cap the number of migration routes in Wyoming at seven. Larsen did not immediately return an email message seeking comment on the proposed limit.
SF135 – Migration corridors, sponsored by Sen Drew Perkins (R-Casper) and others, calls for setting up a system to propose and adopt migration corridor protections. The measure would unnecessarily “hit pause” on wildlife protection efforts, stall science-based management and waste government resources, the Wyoming Outdoor Council said in a statement.
Perkins’ bill also would work to protect highway wildlife crossings. The Game and Fish Department on Thursday announced a new wildlife highway protection initiative that calls for coordination with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to reduce vehicle collisions with animals.
Six thousand or so big game animals die in collisions annually, Game and Fish said in a statement. The initiative seeks “to reduce collisions and design roads with wildlife in mind,” agency director Brian Nesvik said in a statement.
House Majority Leader Steve Harshman (R-Casper), co-sponsor of Perkins’ bill, said Friday that carnage on roadways suggests there’s plenty of wildlife to go around and development is not hindering migrations.
“I read a study once that the Pinedale Anticline [gas field] had a negative impact on [only] five mule deer,” he said. In contrast, he said, “I’ve smoked five deer [while driving] in the last five years.”
Scientific papers document a 36% decline of mule deer in the gas field just west of Pinedale.
People should be wary of executive orders, Harshman said. “We elect a governor, not a king,” he said. “When you sign an executive order, I think legislators pause.”
Support for Gordon
Many interest-group representatives embraced the governor’s order, but some with hesitancy. Gordon developed the order after months of study and drafting by a working group that traveled the state.
“I think our interests were heard,” Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said at the signing ceremony.
Oil and gas representatives were more circumspect. Noting “persistent low prices, global instability, and expanding regulatory burdens,” the Petroleum Association of Wyoming said the state lost 10 drilling rigs in the last year. The reduction equates to “a displacement of hundreds of jobs from the Wyoming economy and a loss of millions in revenue to fund Wyoming’s schools,” the organization said in a statement.
The association called for “a thoughtful implementation [of the executive order] that recognizes the need for balance and avoids further regulatory creep at a time when the state needs oil and natural gas revenues more than ever.”
Gordon’s order directs state agencies to protect deer and antelope migration routes nominated by the Game and Fish according to set procedures.
The Game and Fish Department and commission will identify corridors and publicize information about them. The governor would then appoint a working group to review the data before he acts.
The order calls for a review of the existing Sublette, Baggs and Platte Valley mule deer migration corridors.
It directs Game and Fish to work with applicants to resolve differences regarding development. The governor will arbitrate disputes.
Permits for development inside corridors should be conditioned to protect wildlife use, the order says. The order recognizes valid existing rights and grandfathers existing uses.
— Andrew Graham contributed to this story.