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EDITORIAL: Commission sends wrong message over funding for landfill fence

Thumbs down to politically motivated balking by the Park County Commission over money needed to help pay for a fence around the Park County Regional Landfill near Cody. The electric fence would help keep grizzly bears out of the landfill. 

Five bears have been captured at the landfill since 2010 and there are likely other bears that have escaped capture, Dusty Lasseter, Bear Wise coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told the commission last week.

Lasseter asked commissioners to contribute $7,000 toward the $28,000 price of the 9,000-foot fence, with the Bureau of Land Management and outdoor organizations picking up the rest of the cost.

Instead of agreeing to pay the money as they should have — after all, the county would only have to pay a quarter of the price for the fence, which would benefit the county — commissioners refused to pay their share of the bill. Instead, in a fit of pique against environmentalists, they voted to pay just half, or $3,500 — but only if one or more environmentalist groups would pay the other half. If environmentalists don’t come through with the money, neither will the commission.

“I get so damn sick and tired of the environmental groups that won’t pony up any money to preserve the bear,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden, who made the motion.  “All they want to do is litigate.”

We agree that the amount of litigation filed by environmentalists over endangered species issues is way over the top. These days, it’s a given that any attempt to delist a species, no matter how well reasoned or justified, will face challenges in court.

But it is ridiculous for commissioners to penalize the Wyoming Game and Fish Department by refusing to help pay their share of the cost for the fence around the county landfill. This is not about a beef with the department — in fact, the commission has long wanted the department to manage the grizzly bear. And, like all state agencies, the department is struggling to do its work with decreased revenue and resources.

Tilden said he realized the commission’s decision would be a hardship for the department.

“It’s just a statement,” he said. “That’s all it is.”

There’s got to be a better way to make that statement. Striking out at environmental groups this way will gain the commission nothing — especially when their inaction hurts only the Game and Fish Department; environmental groups won’t be affected at all.

Lasseter said the department will be able to raise the money for the fence from other entities, but the county’s refusal to pay its share of the cost ultimately will mean that money that could be used on wildlife projects will go to pay for a fence around the landfill instead. So the commission’s poorly executed statement will hurt all the wrong people, and it will require the use of resources intended for wildlife habitat and management.

That’s definitely the wrong way to send a message.

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