Ron Cole is the Refuge Association’s Conservation Programs Western Program Manager. Ron has over 30 years of experience in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where he worked in 4 different regions, including 9 different states and numerous National Wildlife Refuges and Wetland Management Districts.
Having only been on the job a little over a month now, the Refuge Association’s dedicated leadership and staff have exposed me to some of the important work they have been pursuing on behalf of refuges and fish and wildlife conservation.
My focus will be out west, and that means spending time in the high desert landscapes of eastern Oregon and Nevada. In eastern Oregon, some of the most spectacular habitats for wild things can be found behind the Blue Goose signs that surround Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Just a short horseback ride to the south in the northwest corner of the Silver State is Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge.
Both of these refuges boast some of the most spectacular landscapes, scenery and plentiful wildlife populations found in the high desert. But like we say it is “Beyond the Boundaries” where we hope to lend a hand.
The primary driver for this engagement is the greater sage-grouse. The idea that this iconic western bird could be listed as threatened or endangered within the next year causes all of us who cherish the west to pull up our boots, stand tall and do what it takes to keep sage-grouse as part of our living, breathing and vibrant western culture.
Doing what it takes. It means to understand that it is not just about sage-grouse. It is about hundreds of other species like pronghorn, mule deer, pygmy rabbits and bighorn sheep. It is about desert flowers and cold springs, cattle drives and climbing mountains. It is hunting, fishing, and sleeping under so many stars you have to wash the sparkle off your face in the morning.
Hart- Sheldon and the surrounding landscapes are already doing some creative and cutting edge management which is why there is an abundance of wildlife and strong rural communities already. But there is more we must do. State, federal and county agencies will have to work across their boundaries, reaching out to each other and private landowners.
The issues will be tough, like coming to grips with what to do about thousands of horses across a landscape. Or cheatgrass. Or roads. Or fire. Or maybe just coming to grips with doing the best we can in a balanced and thoughtful way that brings us together so we can preserve our culture, our heritage and our western way of life.
With a little more work, the area can be a demonstration for other western lands of what can be done when you do what it takes. I am looking forward to the challenges and rewards that working beyond boundaries can bring.