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Collaborating for Success

Collaboration Program
Collaboration Program in Natural Resources Director Jessica Western speaks with Ryan Amundsen, habitat biologist with Wyoming Game and Fish Department, during a Platte Valley Habitat Partnership field trip. Photo by Fred Schmechel, Haub School of ENR

The Collaboration Program in Natural Resources brings people from across Wyoming together to create lasting solutions.

By Micaela Myers

It’s a decades-old story: environmentalists and industry at odds, and no one wins. The Ruckelshaus Institute, a division of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming, sees a different way forward—a way paved with stakeholder-driven solutions to environmental challenges based on collaborative decision making.

The Collaboration Program in Natural Resources brings natural resource decision makers and engaged citizens—including ranchers, conservationists, those in the trona and coal industries, and many others—together to learn to apply collaborative processes to complex natural resource challenges.

“It’s a yearlong training composed of six sessions combined with a practicum,” says program Director Jessica Western. The practicum varies, such as working with ranchers on a conservation easement or working with industry on sage grouse conservation efforts.

The sessions are two days each and take place at various locations throughout Wyoming. Academic credit can be earned through the UW Outreach School, and participants each receive a certificate.

This year’s cohort of 17 is the largest yet. “We’ve graduated about 45 people so far,” Western says. While most attendees are from Wyoming, the program is gaining a national reputation, with participants flying in from both coasts. As the list of graduates grows, Wyoming develops a network of trained professionals who can work together to create solutions. 

“I use the skills I learned on a daily basis,” says graduate Dan Smitherman, Wyoming representative for The Wilderness Society in Jackson. “Most of my work involves working on public land use issues with partners. In today’s environment, conservation must be collaborative to be successful. Wyoming’s history has not seen many examples of successful collaboration. The principles and practices taught in this program offer an opportunity to change the mindset and to increase chances of success with sticky and difficult issues.”

Fellow program graduate Leanne Correll agrees. She operates SunAgri LLC, an agriculture and natural resources consulting business based in Saratoga that serves clients throughout the state. “I work with many federal and state agencies. The collaboration program fits hand in hand with what I was already doing, and it really helped give me additional skill sets to develop solutions for some of the ongoing issues.”

At Tronox Alkali, Environmental Engineer Julie Lutz and Environmental Manager John Lucas completed the program. “John and I are both leading proactive conservation initiatives for Tronox Alkali’s Green River trona mining operations,” Lutz says. “For those initiatives to be successful, we need to constructively engage with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, such as landowners, public land managers, other mining operators, oil and gas entities, other public land users, Wyoming Game and Fish, conservation organizations, regulatory agencies and working groups such as the Governor’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team and the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative. We needed to develop the skills to help us engage with these entities, work through the inherent conflict and self-interest associated with complex wildlife and conservation issues, and create a collaborative product that would benefit the species and habitats in our mine permit landscape while also ensuring the long-term sustainability of our mining and processing operations.”

Tronox Alkali’s Sage Grouse Initiative efforts were recognized by the Bureau of Land Management’s 2015 Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Land Quality Division 2016 Noncoal Program Award for Excellence in Mining Reclamation.

“The skills we learned in the collaboration program are cutting edge, and it’s been exciting to be on the front end of a movement and process that we see becoming more prominent in resource management problem resolution,” Lutz says.

Julia Stuble, public lands advocate for the Wyoming Outdoor Council in Lander, was part of the first cohort in 2013. “As the conservation representative for the Fremont County Public Lands Initiative, I can serve as a better committee member because of my background in the collaboration program,” she says.

“Wyoming is often characterized as small town with long streets,” Stuble continues. “If our state, with all of our diversity of thought and experience and geography, is in fact one neighborhood, then I’d like to think we can still have conversations that allow us to lean across our fence lines.”

That, Stuble says, is a place of hope—a neighborhood where she wants to live.

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