REFER TO:

DAN HUFF, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, (303) 236-8145 ext. 605

STEVE IOBST, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 10, 2001 Public Meeting Discussed Bison and Elk Plan

Approximately 85 people attended the second pubic meeting in the development of a management plan for the bison and elk inhabiting the National Elk Refuge (NER) and Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) that was held on March 10, 2001. Along with the management plan, an environmental impact statement (EIS) will also be prepared - in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At the meeting, from 9 am until 2 pm at the Snow King Resort, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service provided a recap of the Feb. 10 meeting and allowed for discussion/review of the planning process. The planning team received many good suggestions from participants, including suggestions on the types and locations of meetings and topics for extended discussions. This was followed by 2-hours of small group discussions on individual topics with agency representatives, which provided an opportunity for clarification, questions and answers and open dialogs.

One clarification made at the March 10 meeting was that although the environmental impact statement (EIS) will include analyses that extend beyond the boundaries of the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, the decisions to be made in the elk and bison planning process are limited to the refuge and park. Nonetheless, the issues being addressed in the planning process are integrally linked with management of elk and bison on adjoining lands. Therefore, Dan Huff, the Project Leader for the planning effort, pointed out that "we have had real effective cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Bridger-Teton National Forest, and have gotten a tremendous amount of valuable input from these agencies over the last several months. We hope to continue this productive working relationship."

The first public meeting for the bison and elk planning effort was held on February 10, 2001. Approximately 60 members from the community and 15 agency representatives attended the Saturday meeting at Snow King.

The February meeting began with presentations from federal and state agency representatives on the history and mission of involved agencies, elk/bison populations and diseases, habitat ecology, winter feeding program, and recreation, social and economic factors related to the issue.

The afternoon was spent in eight breakout groups. Each group was assigned to brainstorm two questions. For a full listing of comments from each topic, please visit the website at http://nationalelkrefuge.fws.gov/ The following is a summary of the common themes from those sessions.

Comments from the afternoon topic sessions were focused on desired conditions. There seemed to be a general desire for a healthy, sustainable population of elk and recognition of the importance of the elk and bison herds to Jackson, Wyoming and the nation. Other comments included concepts such as use of habitat carrying capacity as a decision basis; increasing or maintaining current numbers of elk; desire for free ranging/dispersed animals; allow no bison on the refuge; set population targets for bison; and retain historic habitat and use.

The second discussion session dealt with how participants wanted to be involved in the planning process. Logistics comments included a variety of times and locations of meetings and better use of the media to announce meetings. Informational comments related to providing information prior to meetings, continuation of public education on issues and providing better access to project leaders. Process comments reflected opinions that the public should be allowed to help design the process; roles, groups, and goals should be clearly identified; more agencies should be involved; and the importance of honoring tribal traditions and treaties. Format suggestions included allowing open debate and questions/answer sessions; setting goals/topics for each meeting; and utilizing task forces or small work groups. Other comments were related to equal influence of individuals vs. groups and concerns about the weight of local vs. national input.

The efforts begun in the February 10 and March 10 meetings will continue for the next few months. In particular, the focus at this time will be on sharing information pertaining to existing conditions and identifying common ground and ways to formulate goals for elk and bison management on the National Elk Refuge and in Grand Teton National Park that accommodate the range of interested user groups. As emphasized by Dan Huff "at this early stage in the planning process, it is very important that we focus our attention on getting a better understanding of the existing conditions and the conditions we’d like to see in the future. The more attention we pay to this before we start talking about how to achieve these conditions, the easier it will be on everyone and the higher quality the eventual plan will be." A key factor in determining desired future conditions, or ‘where we want to be,’ are the legal directives that govern management of the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park - namely, the legal authorities that established the two areas and the missions of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Park Service.

The next three public meetings will be held in Riverton (April 16), Casper (April 17), and Cheyenne (April 18). They will be similar to the meetings held in Jackson on Feb. 10 and Mar. 10. There will be workshops on various topics during the first two weeks of May. Several people signed up to help design and organize these meetings on the existing status of resources and programs of interest. The workshops will include elk & bison populations, habitat/winter feeding, disease, historic migration patterns and the planning process. If anyone else is interested in helping to design these meetings, please contact Don DeLong at 307-733-9212, ext 235 or email: elk/bison_planning@fws.gov

 

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