State gets its way on a national refuge

  • National Elk Refuge

    RICCARDS SAVI, for USFWS
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Sound science goes sour."

Endangered species management isn’t the only hot-point issue for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Political pressure is also affecting how the agency manages 540 national wildlife refuges across the country.

In 1998, the state of Wyoming sued the Fish and Wildlife Service, trying to force the agency to vaccinate elk for brucellosis on the National Elk Refuge (HCN, 3/16/98: Elk are the battleground). Wyoming officials worried that the elk, which come to the refuge by the thousands each winter to feed on pellets and hay dispersed by managers, could spread the disease to cattle. The state lost that suit, appealed it and lost again. Eventually, however, Fish and Wildlife conceded and agreed to study vaccination.

The agency’s study found the vaccine unreliable. The public, which was given a chance to comment on the proposal, overwhelmingly favored improving elk habitat off the refuge and reducing the herd’s numbers, rather than continuing to feed elk on the refuge, and then vaccinating them for the disease.

But last December, Fish and Wildlife officials decided to go ahead with vaccination. When Barry Reiswig, the manager of the 25,000-acre refuge, opposed the plan, saying it wasn’t compatible with the objectives of the refuge, Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Ralph Morgenweck withdrew Reiswig’s authority over the decision.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Wyoming Outdoor Council obtained e-mails and memos detailing the agency’s decision. One e-mail, to Reiswig from Steve Berendzen, the refuge supervisor for Montana, Wyoming and Utah, reads: “I encourage you to keep your comments to yourself (or very discreet) when asked your opinions on much of this.” Berendzen explains that Steve Williams, the director of Fish and Wildlife, is “very serious” about getting the vaccination program through, and doesn’t want to “impact the tenuous relationship” with the Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department.

“Fish and Wildlife ruled against public opinion and made a mockery of the process,” says Meredith Taylor of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “It’s a political sham perpetrated by Fish and Wildlife in (Washington,) D.C., and their pawns in Denver.”

Vaccination will begin this winter.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH MANAGER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Outreach Manager to reach and forge new relationships with individuals and groups who represent communities historically...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.