United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited the Thunder Basin National Grassland on Wednesday. He took a horseback ride through the area in eastern Wyoming where ranchers and wildlife advocates have been working to find an amicable solution to the question of prairie dogs.
Wildlife advocacy groups argue healthy prairie dog numbers are needed if the endangered black-footed ferret will ever be re-introduced there since it's the ferret's primary food source. But ranchers say prairie dogs compete with cattle for grass.
Perdue said a fear of lawsuits has led the U.S. Forest Service, the agency that manages Thunder Basin, to impose too many regulations on ranchers. He said it's time to let states have more say.
"The real champion of that is President Trump," said Perdue. "It's opened up this federal administration to make sure the executive agencies such as USDA and the Forest Service really treat our state partners as equal partners."
U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Governor Mark Gordon joined Perdue for breakfast at a café in Wright. Cheney said decisions about natural resource issues like this one need to be entrusted to landowners and industry.
"Look, our ranchers and our ag industry and our energy industry have all the incentive in the world and have shown that they're going to be the best stewards," said Cheney.
Secretary Perdue agreed and said a fear of getting sued led some federal agencies to over-regulate.
"I think that led to some over-stringent regulations from the Forest Service that was not necessarily the intent of Congress."
The Forest Service is currently considering a proposed environmental impact amendment on how to manage prairie dogs going forward. It's based on months of stakeholder input, but some wildlife groups were disappointed in the result, saying the proposal strips down the prairie dog protection zone too much and allows them to be shot and poisoned. A draft will be available in October.