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By Tim Davis, M.D., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


The peak of summer is nearly here. The hottest summer temperatures for Wyoming, with a few exceptions, occur from July 21-31, according to 30-year averages calculated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In a few outlying areas of the state, the peak tends to fall from Aug. 1-5, but the hottest temperatures are approaching across the state.

In my 25 years as an emergency medicine physician, I’ve seen the catastrophic effect heat can have on health, and many of the people we see while providing event support in the National Disaster Medical System need treatment for heat-related illnesses. On average, heat-related illnesses cause more than 600 deaths every year and from 2001 to 2010, more than 28,000 people were hospitalized for heat-related illnesses.

You can help keep yourself, your family and others around you out of the emergency department by watching for signs of heat stress.

People suffering from heat-related illnesses may experience heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; and nausea or vomiting. Early signs include muscle cramps, heat rash and fainting or near-fainting spells. If you believe someone is suffering from a heat-related illness, they need to move to a cooler location and lie down; apply cool, wet cloths to the body; and sip non-alcoholic fluids. They should remain in the cool location until recovered.

Signs that someone might be suffering from the most severe heat-related illness, heat stroke, include a body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit; hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid and strong pulse; and “altered mental status” that can range from confusion and agitation to possible unconsciousness. If you see someone exhibiting these signs, call 911 immediately; help the person move to a cooler environment; reduce the person’s body temperature with cool cloths soaked in ice water especially to head, neck, arm pits and upper legs near the groin area where combined 70 percent of body heat can be lost, or even a cool bath if you can stay with them to ensure they do not drown; and do not give them fluids. 

Children are especially vulnerable to heat illnesses and can’t always tell us what is wrong. When it’s hot outside, consider any change in a child’s behavior as heat stress. Additionally, infants and children should never be left in a parked car, even if the windows are down.

To help prevent heat-related illness, spend time in locations with air-conditioning. Also, drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. Good choices are water and diluted sport drinks, unless told otherwise by your doctor. 

Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Also, protect yourself from the sun by wearing hats with brims and sunscreen

As people crank up air conditioning in the peak time of summer, electrical grids can become overwhelmed, causing power outages. In power outages, people who rely on electricity-dependent medical devices, like oxygen concentrators and electric wheelchairs, may need assistance, so check on your neighbors as the temperatures soar.

  Heat-related illnesses are dangerous, but they are also preventable. Take some time to learn more about ways to beat the heat so that you, your family and your community can have a safer, healthier summer.

For more information about how to protect yourself, your family and your neighbors from extreme heat, visit emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.asp.

Davis is Chief Medical Officer at the National Disaster Medical System Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

By Brenda Ling, NRCS Wyoming Public Affairs Specialist 

Within walking distance of less than a mile, three holes dug on different spots on Phillip Ellis’ property near Chugwater illustrate the diversity of rangeland soils.

The first stop revealed riparian soil with a dark surface, and Francine Lheritier, a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil scientist from Colorado, observed evidence of a periodic high water table after some analysis. Ellis confirmed Lheritier’s assessment when he spoke of seasonal floods, which provide a seed source for plains cottonwoods.

The Marsh and Ellis Ranch, a cattle operation in Bear Creek Valley, was one of several stops made June 22-26 in Colorado and Wyoming by a group of scientists from NRCS field offices, national headquarters and technology centers; University of Wyoming (UW); Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable (SRR); and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to look at rangeland management practices and visit with ranchers about their real world experiences.

“Our goal is to learn what the latest research is telling us but then to temper that research knowledge with a healthy dose of realism as experienced by ranchers,” said Wayne Honeycutt, deputy chief for science and technology with USDA NRCS in Washington, D.C.

The visits to research sites and ranches were coordinated by UW and SRR.

Research sites toured included the USDA ARS Central Plains Experimental Station in Nunn, Colo. and the USDA-ARS High Plains Grassland Research Station in Cheyenne. In addition to the Ellis property, the group visited M&D Land Company/Sun Ranch west of Casper, PH Livestock Co. west of Rawlins, Sims Cattle Co. in McFadden, Clear Creek Cattle Company in Lysite and the Eisele King Ranch in Cheyenne.

Lheritier found at the second Ellis soil pit, soil with a very fine sandy loam surface. Jerry Schuman, a retired ARS researcher estimated the soil to have low organic carbon, based on its inherent sandy surface and periodic droughty conditions of the area. At the third spot, the hole was dug on a hillslope and the soil had erosional gravels on the surface.

Clark Harshbarger, NRCS soil scientist from Greeley, Colo., said, “This has the lowest productivity of the three sites observed on the Ellis Ranch. On the High Plains, soils in general are less productive as we move higher in the landscape due to parent material and landscape position.”

Three different soils, one ranch

The team wasn’t stumped. They were intrigued and wanted more information. Still, many challenges involving rangeland await these USDA and UW experts.

“With such diversity within a small area, what about a ranch with more than 200,000 acres?” said Sid Brantly, national rangeland management specialist for NRCS.

According to Justin Derner, a research leader with the ARS Rangeland Resources Research Unit, rangeland makes up more than 50 percent of the earth’s land area and contains 10 to 30 percent of the global soil organic carbon. Yet, research on how to properly manage rangelands for healthier soils is lacking.

“There are lots of efforts on cropland, but they are not directly applicable,” Derner said.

Honeycutt wants to know how NRCS can help landowners improve rangeland soil health.

“NRCS has programs that can help ranchers manage their rangelands in ways that may increase the level of carbon in their soil,” he said. “Increasing soil organic carbon increases a soil’s water holding capacity and therefore resilience to drought.”

“Of course, increasing a soil’s organic carbon does not make it rain, but it does help the soil make the most of what rain it receives. That’s because when a soil has higher organic carbon, more of the total rainfall can infiltrate into the soil and be stored there for plants to use. This, in turn, can lead to decreased risk and greater plant and animal productivity,” said Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of the new NRCS Soil Health Division. 

The team will be considering how best to apply the scientific findings from ARS and university researchers. For example, Schuman had conducted a successful ARS study involving interseeding a legume into native rangelands. He showed how yellow-flowering alfalfa, a subspecies called falcata, could increase forage production and quality of native plants. Like other legumes, falcata brings nitrogen into the soil, and nitrogen is one of the most-limiting nutrients in native rangelands, Schuman said.

Unlike purple-flowering alfalfa, which has a long taproot, falcata has a shallow, fibrous root system.

Schuman said, “A lot of precipitation in the northern prairies comes in half-inch thunderstorms. That doesn’t help taprooted plants, but it’s perfect for plants like falcata. It would be a major mistake to turn away from this plant just because we’ve had several years of drought.”

Making a living

Located approximately 45 miles west of Casper, the Sun Ranch on Poison Spider Road has been in Dennis Sun’s family since they first homesteaded in the area. The whole ranch is in a sage grouse core area and is a large wintering area for sage grouse.

Sun, like his fellow ranchers in Wyoming, has learned through hard experience what works for these landscapes and what doesn’t.

“We use this ranch only for summer grazing of cattle and sheep. We rotate pastures every year and come back to a given pasture at different times from one year to the next. We graze from May 1 to Oct. 31,” Sun said.

Water, or lack of it, is a key concern for Wyoming ranchers. 

  “It’s an art,” Rob Hendry, of Clear Creek Cattle Company, said about handling the low and uncertain precipitation in his area. “We’re usually a week away from drought.”

As a result, Hendry and his wife Leslie plan accordingly. While this year might be a good year for moisture, drought is always a possibility.

PH Livestock Co. is a cow/calf and yearling operation, and four generations of Niels Hansen’s family have been in the ranching business in Rawlins since 1882.

Hansen said, “Our ranch, like so many others, is a living example of adaptive management. If we had not adapted to the needs of the land, we could not have survived on the same land for 116 years.”

Valuable perspective

All participants agreed that hearing from ranchers about what drives their management decisions provided invaluable lessons. 

“As we embark on our journey in working with ranchers to enhance the health of their soils, and therefore production resilience to drought, I’m sure the insights we gained from these successful ranchers will have its mark in guiding our way,” said Honeycutt.  “We sincerely appreciate the ranchers for sharing their experiences, as well as the leadership of John Tanaka with the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Kristie Maczko with the Sustainable Rangelands Roundtable for organizing this wonderful opportunity.”    

“There is nothing like coming out to the field and talking with people who make their living from the land,” said National Soil Health Team Leader Dave Lamm.

For more information about soil health, visit nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health.

By Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation President

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally released its new “clean water” rule and actually managed to make it worse than we expected. Despite an unprecedented marketing campaign by EPA, the proposed rule was fiercely opposed by the vast majority of state and local governments, businesses and groups representing almost every part of the American economy – including farmers and ranchers. We called on EPA to ditch the rule, go back to the drawing board and craft a rule that won’t cripple farming and ranching.

  Perhaps it’s no surprise that EPA failed to listen. This rule was never really about protecting water sources. It’s about giving EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the power to regulate any activity on the land that they choose to regulate. And that’s what the rule does.

  What is a “water of the U.S.”? Only the agencies can say, and their word is final. Under the new rule, just about any patch of land might be found to be “waters of the U.S.” You don’t have to see water flowing there or even spot signs of flow. The rule gives EPA and the Corps the trump card: the power to use remote “desktop tools” to identify and regulate a so-called “tributary” on your land – or even just places where a “tributary” used to be – whether or not you can see anything that looks like a water feature. What’s more, the rule automatically regulates other waters within certain distances of any such invisible or historical “tributary.” So much for clarity.

The rule does provide several exclusions from regulation. But most of the exclusions, including the one for farm ponds, apply only to features “created in dry land.” Was your farm pond “created in dry land”? Who knows?! EPA’s hundreds of pages of regulatory “clarity” don’t help you distinguish between “waters” and “dry land.” Only the agencies can say for sure.

Identifying bodies of water, and especially bodies of water regulated by the federal government, shouldn’t be rocket science. But EPA has made it impossible for farmers and ranchers to look at their own land and know what falls under federal jurisdiction and what doesn’t. But if the government does later find that your land is “waters of the U.S.,” you will already be in violation of the law for farming there, even though you had no reason to know your land was regulated. This puts landowners at risk of steep fines in “gotcha” enforcement just for using their lands. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

It’s time for Congress to step in and check EPA’s blatant overreach. Farmers and ranchers know the importance of protecting water resources. Federal rules should let them continue taking care of the land while producing our food, fiber and renewable energy.

By Tony Willardson, WSWC Executive Director


When the Western States Water Council (WSWC) meets next month in Stateline, Nev. on July 8-10, it will mark its 50th Anniversary. A unique government entity, it is an instrumentality of each and every one of the 18 participating member states. Formed pursuant to a resolution of the then Western Governors’ Conference, it first met in Stateline on Lake Tahoe on Aug. 3, 1965. Originally, WSWC included the 11 most western states, but over the years states from Texas to North Dakota joined, and later Alaska became a part of the organization. Eighteen states are now represented. Hawaii was also once a member. While originally located in Portland, Oregon – the Council’s offices are now on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, Utah.

WSWC member state representatives are appointed by their governors. The Council’s current chair is Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell. Of note, the Council continues to work closely in cooperation with the Western Governors’ Association, the incoming chair of which is notably Wyoming Governor Matt Mead. Over the years, the Council has benefited from the expertise and dedication of its appointed members and staff, as well as the continuing commitment of western governors.

The Governor’s 1965 resolution calling for the Council’s creation, dated June 10, 1965, recognized that “the future growth and prosperity of the western states depends upon the availability of adequate quantities of water of suitable quality; and that there was a need for an accurate and unbiased appraisal of present and future requirements of each area of the West and for the most equitable means of providing for the meeting of such requirements demands a regional effort.”

At its first meeting, Governor Grant Sawyer of Nevada observed, “Gathered here today is a greater assemblage of knowledge of water problems of the West than has ever been seated in one hall before…. We must act as fast as we can, for I guarantee, if we cannot get this moving among the states, it is going to be done, and it may be done at a level which may not take into account public interest as we see it. If we cannot work together as combined states, we certainly cannot complain if someone else, specifically the federal government, resolves our problems for us. We cannot complain about federal control when it is invited by our own inaction.”

He concluded declaring that western governors “… hope this will be a stable, long-lasting … Council of vigorous action.”

Much of the early work of the Council centered on evaluating proposals for long range inter-basin transfers of water supplies and encouraging the development of state water plans. However, over the years, the focus changed to reflect other matters of imminent and pressing concern to the states it represents – addressing critical issues of concern to the states individually and collectively. The Council has been particularly instrumental and effective in monitoring and influencing federal legislation, rules, regulations, directives and programs affecting state water rights and western water generally.

Recently, WSWC has been intimately involved in discussions related to the rule EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have released regarding their jurisdiction over “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) and the U.S. Forest Service’s Groundwater Directive, just withdrawn with a commitment to work more closely with the WSWC and others. The Council is also building a Water Data Exchange (WaDE) to allow states to more easily share their water rights, water use, water quality and other data sets.

The WSWC has been a valued advocate for federal programs that facilitate improved western water management, including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream gauging program, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) snow surveys and water supply forecasting, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather and river forecasting, and USGS and National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) Landsat thermal imaging for monitoring consumptive water uses. The Council just completed work and a summary report on the need to integrate water and energy resources policy and planning. It holds regular symposia and workshops on the settlement of Indian water rights claims, infrastructure development, drought monitoring and prediction and other topics.

Information on Council meetings and activities can be found online at westernstateswater.org.

In 2008, at the request of the governors and WSWC, a Western Federal Agency Support Team (WestFAST) was established with representation from a dozen federal agencies with water related responsibilities to work together and with western states to address issues of common concern and improve intergovernmental relations. A federal liaison is housed in the WSWC offices on a rotating two-year detail shared among the federal agencies. WestFAST has been a great step forward in federal/state collaboration of water resources management, protection and development matters.

The Council’s vision states that state primacy in the management of our water resources is fundamental to a sustainable water future. Given the importance of the resource to our public health, economy, food security and environment, water must be given a high public policy priority at all levels. Further, an integrated and collaborative approach to water resources management is critical to the environmentally sound and efficient use of our water resources. States, tribes and local communities should work together with stakeholders to resolve water issues, emphasizing a grassroots approach to identifying problems and developing solutions.

When the Council meets next it will consider its vision for the next 50 years, and again seated together will be some of the most knowledgable and well respected state and federal officials dedicated to developing policies and strategies to ensure we have water in sufficient quantities of suitable quality to meet of our future economic and environmental needs.