Robert Bonnie

Robert Bonnie

Collaboration and partnerships in the conservation world are set to be the focus of a talk next week at the University of Wyoming.

Robert Bonnie, former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Thursday in the College of Business auditorium. A reception will follow the talk.

Bonnie was invited to UW as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series at the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. The long-standing series was restarted this year, said Drew Bennett, a faculty member at the Haub School.

Bonnie, currently a Rubenstein Fellow at Duke University, served as under secretary during the second Obama administration. His talk, “Beyond Confrontation and Regulation: Towards a New Conservation Paradigm,” will explore the evolution of wildlife and natural resource conservation toward approaches that leverage incentives and collaboration across ownership and management boundaries.

Bennett is the Whitney MacMillan Professor of Practice of Private Lands Management in the Haub School, where he oversees the new Private Lands Stewardship Program. He said the aim of the Distinguished Speaker Series is to bring leaders to campus who can share cutting-edge thinking about environment and natural resource issues.

“Robert Bonnie has really been at the forefront of private lands issues, and many of the issues that he’s been heavily engaged with are directly relevant to this region as well,” he said.

During his time at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bonnie’s job was to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on policy regarding conservation of natural resources. He oversaw the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service as well as implementation of Farm Bill conservation programs.

Bennett said Bonnie was involved in developing incentives for private landowners to improve habitat on their properties to support species such as sage grouse, in lieu of additional regulation. He also helped pioneer safe harbor agreements with private landowners who have endangered species on their land.

“If they enter into an agreement with the federal government, they can continue to manage (their land) in the same way — they won’t face greater restrictions in the future,” Bennett said of safe harbor agreements.

Bennett said people often perceive the existence of mutually exclusive ideologies when it comes to environmental issues, when in reality, balanced approaches are often possible.

“There are lots of ways we can achieve goals that a lot of different stakeholders can support and buy into,” he said. “That’s a message that really resonates well in this region and in the West, and it’s something we’re continuing to try to get the word out about here in the Haub School.”

Bonnie visited Laramie in 2015 to participate in a forum about big game migration at UW. During that visit, he toured part of the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow National Forest, where the Forest Service was collaborating with the state to decrease wildfire fuels and improve habitat across their shared boundary.

With a hefty portion of the Forest Service budget devoted to fighting wildfire, the Forest Service needed to look at ways to conduct fire prevention more efficiently, he said at the time.

During the migration forum, hosted by the Haub School, researchers discussed the emerging science behind understanding big game migrations and the need to work across jurisdictions and boundaries to protect migration routes — another example of collaboration.

“I think it’s a real opportunity to bring somebody that has his finger on the pulse of where the policies are at the national level, but also understands these issues locally,” Bennett said.

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