Frank Honored as Outstanding Ag Citizen
Bobbie Frank of Cheyenne, Executive Director of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD), is this year’s co-recipient of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup Outstanding Ag Citizen Award.
Bobbie said, “This is such an honor, especially when there are so many deserving people out there who have been working hard for agriculture much longer than I have.”
In less than two years, though, Bobbie Frank has come to be know-not just regionally, but nationally- as the Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP) lady. Sometimes it’s just overwhelming.
“It’s a huge responsibility. As you know, the Wyoming Association filed a notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the CWAP in early 1999. Now I get calls from people in a lot of other states and we have all these people depending on us. It’s frightening! To me, the worst thing that could happen would be to let somebody down. That’s what drive me and what keeps me awake at night.”
The non-partisan WACD represent the state’s 34 local conservation districts at the state and federal levels. Bobbie points out, “That means representing all those people who elected the supervisors at the local level. We are able to be the balance: to protect and promote resource conservation, to protect the agricultural industry by stabilizing farming and ranching and the base tax.”
The CWAP has targeted animal feeding operations (AF)/CAFOs). In turn, Bobbie and the WACD are focusing on getting grants to help Wyoming rancher’s cost-share the task of removing their corrals from creeks and complying with these regulations. “I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t WANT to do the right thing! Regs have addressed this for a long time, but nobody told the ranchers! The regs were intended for big operations- small acreages with lots of animals. Well, we have lots of acres and fewer animals.”
Bobbie loses a lot of sleep over these ranchers. She wonders, “What if we can’t affect the EPA and this AFO/CAFO issue? What if even one rancher gets regulated and it costs him $50,000? Will it put him out of business? When we lose a ranch or farm, we lose that heritage. We lose open spaces. You know these lands are people’s retirements and they are selling to the highest bidder.
“Like out place south of Cheyenne. We’d be a lot better off if we sold it for subdivision! There’s just one other ranch left out there besides us. But it’s my family. It’s that something inside of you that wants to keep the heritage intact.”
Four generations of Bobbie’s family still live on the land homesteaded by her great-grandmother, Maggie Merna, who came to Wyoming from Ireland with her parents and six brothers. Maggie married Roy Large, a Shoshone from Lander, whose heritage traces back to Sacajawea. Their only child was their daughter, June.
“My children are 6th generation Wyoming. Megan is 13, Bailey, 11, and Shade, 3. My husband, Dean Frank, is an attorney. We live and run a few cows out on the Merna homestead between Cheyenne and the Colorado border. We’re out there with my mom, Marlene Merna, and, in the winters, my grandmother, June Juschka. She lives on her farm at Wheatland in the summers.”
Bobbie grew up south of Cheyenne. She showed lambs and horses in 4-H and was in 4-H horse judging.
“I started in FFA just as they were letting girls join. I was on an all-girl livestock judging team. I really liked to show. I haven’t ridden, though, since my old Quarter Horse, Silky, died last year. He competed so well. He got fourth in the gelding halter class at the Canadian National Quarter Horse Finals in 1986. As he got older, I could put my kids on him. He was real sound and quiet. We cut and roped on him. He was just one of those good horses. . .”
Bobbie graduated from East High School in 1983 and earned her associate’s degree in Ag Communications from LCCC, where “Ros Schliske was my mentor!” She was on the horse judging team “under Bob Day” and she went to the World’s in Ohio. “The good old days. . .!”
She got married and moved to Alberta, Canada, where for two years she worked as a freelance reporter for two weekly newspapers.
“Then I went to work for the Bonneyville Chamber of Commerce. I was the coordinator for the Exhibition Association, doing basically what I’m doing now. I was in charge on putting on Alberta’s largest trade fair, which was fun!”
WACD: A New Chapter
Bobbie moved back to Cheyenne in 1989 and began looking for work. “I saw an add for the Laramie County Conservation District. They wanted someone with an ag and communications background.”
She got the job, and began taking some classes at LCCC.
“I took desktop publishing. When I had graduated from LCCC, I was co-editor of Wingspan and we were still cutting with an Exacto knife and pasting up copy!”
In September 1991, the WACD executive director position opened. Bobbie was very interested, but decided she was too young and not quite ready for that responsibility. Others encouraged her to apply, which gave her just enough self-confidence to try.
She recalls the initial interview. Besides being petite, she was young and female. Her chair sat all by itself in front of the entire board of men.
“I remember the glass of water by my chair. Like I was REALLY going to drink it!”
She began her new position on the road. Then president, Joe Geringer, caller her and said, “Get on up here to Wheatland, so I can tell you what you duties are!” She did. He was out in the field combining. He climbed down and outlined her new job: to build relationships with the conservation districts and other agencies and entities and to diversify funding.
“I was in survival mode, newly divorced and with two little ones to take care of. I had no secretary for the first five months, but I had area meetings and a state convention to put on. I worked my tail off!
“The first year I went to the Capitol during Legislature, I didn’t even know where the bathroom was! I was scared to death and it was the year they redistricted. Everyone was fighting and yelling at each other and I thought I’d died and gone to hell. WACD didn’t have a relationship with legislators; they didn’t know who we were and they didn’t understand our function.”
Bobbie realized she had a lot to learn. She says, “I kept my mouth shut for a long time!” But she went after the information and knowledge, which has gained her respect on all levels. She credits fellow lobbyist Lawrence Anderson from Burns and former legislator Bill McIlvaine of Cheyenne with “taking me under their wings.” She took a lobbying seminar and a couple of political science classes from McIlvain at LCCC.
The WACD has changed in nine years. “My first focus was putting on a good convention, writing grants, doing the bookwork. We had to build a strong, stable association that was responsible to its districts
“Now somebody else takes care of the basics. I run around the country and I write comments and I testify and we work on legislation and class litigation and influencing national policy.”
The TMDL issue in 1996 was the real turning point.
“We decided that you can do a little in a lot of years, or do a lot with a little. By choosing the latter and focusing on water quality, I can read a lot on it. I can study it, comment on it in depth. If I were to try to do that in all the issues- endangered species, ect. – I’d be really frustrated and ineffective.”
When Bobbie attended lobbyist training at the legislative conference in D.C. five years ago, she learned: “Information is power. If you have factual, solid, credible information, then you can get something done.”
Getting the Job Done
Bobbie Frank and the WACD have been busy getting the job done from the introduction of TMDLs in 1996 through Gore’s 1997 initiative, to the lawsuit in 1999, to currently helping ranchers comply with AFO/CAFO regulations. Bobbie speaks to groups all over the state, region and country. Last year Bobbie spoke to twenty groups and a thousand people. She has been to Washington, D.C., many times.
“Last year Barbara Cubin asked me to speak at the Western Republican caucus in Congress. The day before, she said, ‘Oh honey, don’t be scared. Just remember that you know way more about this than any of us do! Don’t be intimidated!’
“After I finished speaking, the committee chairman looked at Rep. Cubin and said, ‘Dang, she’s mad!’
“Rep. Cubin said, ‘No, that’s passion! That’s how women from Wyoming are!’
“I remember standing there, thinking, ‘No, I really AM mad!’”
This is the key to Bobbie Frank and how she does her job.
“I am OFFENDED how things are done in D.C. with little or no public input. Like the road less initiative. Al Gore said even before they published the document, “Mark my words; we’re going to do it!’ This while comment period is just a farce so they can say they complied with the law!
“I am OFFENDED about the disrespect shown for the people I work for. They are the most decent human beings. We are like family.
“For instance, when this whole CWAP thing started, we wrote a letter to the EPA. They ignored it for eight months. When we filed the notice of intent to sue, here came the White House to meet with us. Not responding to that letter was so disrespectful!
“We will be in the middle of things until they start treating people with respect and recognizing that our outfit has been around practicing conservation for fifty years.”
Bobbie sees the WACD’s job as helping empower the local districts. They in turn help empower their local people to take care of their own resource use. She tells the districts, “I’ll tell you what we know. Then you tell me what’s really doing on! You can work here locally or you can let DEQ do it at the state level or EPA at the federal level. The farther you get away from the area, the dumber the decisions get!
“People who don’t live there can’t make good decisions because they don’t have all the information! You have to have ALL the information if you’re going to make a decent decision.”
In this process Bobbie sees herself as a tool, like the computer, while, she says, “The local districts are our strength. The local people, the supervisors, board members, presidents and their families. . . they are the heroes. We ARE starting to turn things around.”
Bobbie describes the balancing act of the WACD:
“One hand is trying to help the local districts help the local people. The other hand is holding back the state and federal agencies.” She pleads for support from the local districts.
“For WACD to fight things like the CWAP, you have to give me our defense. I have to be able to tell the EPA, ‘The people in. . .County are taking care of their own problem, thank you very much!’ And then I must be able to prove that. Then we can challenge them on everything.
“But if we can’t take care of our own resource problems, then maybe we DO need a clean water action plan.”
Bobbie is certain the November elections will determine the future of agriculture, which, she predicts, will always be around, but probably not in the same format as today. She feels that ag is being pushed more and more toward cooperate holdings, “because large outfits are the ones who can afford to comply and are not public-land dependant.”
If the policies, rules and legislative action continue as they are, she says a lot of people will have to “pull out their checkbooks” and will have to look at alternative ways to say in business. Producers are realizing that their jobs include involvement in the issues. Olins Sims has said to Bobbie, ‘I farm, I calve, I AI, I do issues.’ And his family is totally supportive.
She states, “We won’t fail because we haven’t tried! I’ll admit I work so hard because I’m obstinate. When I have to try to explain to my 76-year-old grandma why she can no longer maintain and burn her irrigation ditches because of a mouse, something has to give! The more they do, the madder I get!”
Bobbie is convinced that agriculture needs to continue building more efficient networking: “It allows all of us in ag to share our expertise in all the issues affecting all of us.” She believes that today’s technology allows everyone to be well-informed and to communicate instantaneously.
“The other night, Olin called me on his cell phone. He was on his horse, dallied up to his son’s runaway fair heifer. I’ve called and caught Olin on a two-year-old colt crossing a bridge. One time he was out on his four-wheeler fixing fence. He had to lie down next to the four-wheeler to block the wind to talk to me. He’s haying now, so he has to shut down the swather to talk.”
Catching up to the WACD’s working president any way she can and “doing” issues is a way of life for Bobbie Frank. She spends a lot of time on the road, but it is not “just a job”.
“Being away from my family is truly the hardest thing that I do. My husband is an absolute saint. I take my kids with me as often as possible. Megan and Bailey can probably tell you as much about the Clean Water Action Plan as I can!
“They know politics. They educate their teachers at school about public lands and the EPA.
“We talk about this at home. We try to help our kids understand why they sacrifice just as I do. This is bigger than all of us.”