Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Mary Flanderka, and I write to you from the Wyoming Outdoor Council’s new office in downtown Cheyenne, just above the Paramount Cafe. I joined the Wyoming Outdoor Council staff as a policy advocate in March of this year. My current focus is on improving and protecting Wyoming’s air quality and public health. This means working to strengthen pollution controls, including those related to flaring, venting, and waste of natural gas, as well as leak detection and repair.
I’m also excited to provide the Wyoming Outdoor Council and our members a year-round, full-time presence in Cheyenne, where so many statewide policy discussions begin and where important decisions are made every year.
Over the course of my almost 40-year career, I’ve worked for the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, the State of Wyoming as the State Planning Coordinator for Governor Dave Freudenthal, the Wyoming Department of Health as its Administrator, and, most recently, as the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Habitat Protection Program Coordinator. While it might seem like I may have jumped around frequently in my career, I relate the experience more to being a potted plant—every once and awhile, you need to be repotted in order to grow.
I’ve always appreciated the benefits of a clean environment. I grew up in Milwaukee—camping and fishing with my family in northern Wisconsin and spending whatever time I could outside. At the age of 8, I even tried to organize community cleanups of abandoned lots near Arlan’s Department Store in Milwaukee . . . Yeah, that was 50 years ago!
Because of my love for the outdoors, I initially thought forestry would be the perfect profession for me, since I didn’t care much for politics or dealing with people at the time. It didn’t take long, however, for me to learn that to make a difference for wildlife, the environment, and the outdoors, you need to love—or learn to love—both politics and working with people. With the help of some great mentors, I learned the intricacies of natural resource policy and implementation. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1981 with a B.S. in Forest Management, and in 1999, I earned a M.A. in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix.
I love solving problems, and the projects that I deem most important in my life have been the result of the hard work of teams of talented, determined, and conscientious people. I’ve had the privilege to work on the Black Hills Forest Resource Management Plan and on the Hulett Airport’s environmental analysis and plan, working closely with the National Park Service and 22 Native American tribes to solve the issues of noise and violation of sacred space. I helped create the BLM offsite mitigation policy, and for the past eight years, I worked at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to implement Wyoming’s preeminent Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy.
The challenges of conservation work in Wyoming often have to do with finding a balance between interests: the environment, economics, and politics (and, not to mention, memorizing all the air-quality acronyms!). These challenges are not new to the Outdoor Council, however, and I am hopeful there will be successes on the horizon. It’s just another problem I can work to solve—and this time, alongside a team of hard-working, patient, passionate, and pragmatic staff at the Outdoor Council.
While working for Governor Freudenthal in the early 2000s, he looked for people who could break down problems and chip away at them, incrementally, piece by piece, over time. This is not unlike the approach that effective conservation organizations in Wyoming often have to take to make progress for the environment. I remain humbled every day as I continue to learn how to assess and navigate problems, always in hopes of finding a place of agreement where improvement and sustainability can be achieved.