SHERIDAN — Khale Century Reno starts week three of her new position as executive director of the Wyoming Wilderness Association with high hopes for greatness. The challenges ahead may prove hefty, but with her unique experience in the Sheridan area, she hopes to bring contentious issues to the table with grace and civility.
Reno grew up in the area and moved to Sheridan County with her husband and two sons in July after living in Jackson for close to 10 years. Her family still resides on a ranch on the Crow Reservation just outside of Wyola, and her husband’s family lives in Billings, making the move purposeful for the family.
The Sheridan Press sat down with Reno to chat about the future of the Wyoming Wilderness Association.
The Sheridan Press: What drew you to apply for the executive director position for the Wyoming Wilderness Association?
Khale Century Reno: As we were looking for work, this position came open. I had previously been interested in what the [Sheridan Community] Land Trust does and what other nonprofits are doing around town. I’ve always worked for nonprofits as an educator, and this position came open and I thought about it for a while and did a lot of research about the organization.
I think what I landed on was that I really can vibe with our mission statement of working to protect public wildlands because I grew up playing in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. Even though I was little and didn’t really connect with [land ownership distinctions], the importance of gaining that respect for not only the ecosystems, but the legacy and historical preservation [was there].
TSP: What makes you the best person for the job?
KCR: My family did a lot of horse packing, and because wilderness really preserves that part of recreation, I think it’s important. I love to backpack as well.
When I looked at the position, I thought of those things that I connect with, things that I want my boys to connect with, and I thought this might be a really good fit for me.
My recent work has been in education and coaching. I’ve been a coach for a really long time now. I think being a coach translates to this position really well. You have a team of people; you have a similar goal; getting to that goal there has to be benchmarks to reach it.
Another reason I took this position is to help this organization identify what are our biggest concerns with public lands right now, and how does WWA play a role. What part of the team are we on in this conversation, and how can we help to carry out our mission along with creating new team members for the same end game?
I also took this position because I grew up on a ranch, and I think ranchers are conservationists and they need to be part of this conversation and respected for the conservationists that they are.
Something really important I hope to do in this job is to create conversation with people that may not agree with our mission statement. I’d like to identify who they are and learn more about what their feelings are.
TSP: What are the conversations that need to be started?
KCR: I think this organization has a lot of misconceptions surrounding it.
(Misconceptions like) we’re the organization that wants to lock people out of wilderness. That’s entirely a myth. Wilderness is an entirely multi-use area, but it just depends on what you’re doing.
Wilderness has grazing, hunting and recreation. You just have to define and find out where those lines exist.
TSP: This position deals with contentious issues. What are they and how will you handle addressing them?
KCR: Land is always a hot-button issue, especially when you’re dealing with not just the state but the county and that it’s public land. That starts a lot of conversations that need to be had.
In this work you have to be patient and you have to see the big picture. They’re wrapping up [Wyoming Public Lands Initiative conversations] supposedly. That’s [been] the hot button topic for the last two years.
I’ve come in at a tough time as far as having to gather what has been happening and how are we moving forward?
More importantly, the hot-button issue looking forward is how are we getting people connected to being outside?
My big thing is technology keeps moving faster, we keep getting more screens and more social media and kids get more sucked into that, and we have to disconnect them and have a place where it’s quiet, where there can be a place that looks the same as it did 100 years ago.
We need a place for kids, families, people to disconnect from our fast-paced world. That’s probably what I’m most passionate about in addition to preserving somewhere that we can use in a soft way, leaving no trace and respecting that.
TSP: How will you reach your goals in strategic planning and participation with the Wyoming Wilderness Association?
KCR: What I hope is to get a really good historical perspective on how we exist in the first place, really recognizing and admiring the people that have come before me and understanding their stories. I really want to know why people feel the way they do; what’s their story?