Joint Ag Committee hears livestock bills
Green River – In late September the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee came together in Green River to review potential legislation for the 2009 session.
Amongst topics from the Department of Agriculture, the State Engineer and others were a series of eight bills brought by the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) pertaining to feral livestock, the brand program, brucellosis management and the intentional feeding of elk.
An addition to the miscellaneous brand inspection fee statute would allow the WLSB to, when possible, bill livestock owners for strays captured and sold at sale barns. The addition would also allow the Board to bill insurance companies for truck wrecks involving rented panels and chutes for cleanup. “In those cases we don’t have a good way to recoup losses even though we know who the owners are,” said Wyoming Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa. “We have had significant costs related to truck wrecks and getting livestock off the highway and taking care of animals afterward.”
Regarding the intentional feeding of elk, Wyoming Livestock Board Director Jim Schwartz said the bill comes directly from a disease transmission standpoint. “We didn’t think it was a major problem in Wyoming but we’ve now found at least two instances on the South Fork near Cody where the Game and Fish has advised residents not to feed elk but they’re doing it anyway,” he said.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Deputy Director John Emmerich said the WGFD has tried to address the issue since 1993. “There are a lot of issues associated with feeding wildlife that create problems. We’re trying to provide an opportunity for peace officers to be able to control a situation where people are bringing animals into areas where we don’t want them,” he explained. “Want to have some ability to deal with situations where people feed and attract large groups of animals but then get tired of it so it becomes Game and Fish’s or the neighbors’ problem.”
“Our concern is that we need to address the additional tools needed by livestock producers to manage for brucellosis,” said Schwartz. “Many of them have unintended consequences that cost money, and we haven’t been able to help them.”
He said ranchers in the designated surveillance area are expected to develop fencing or water or other tools to manage their livestock to prevent commingling. He said many producers are requesting assistance for spaying heifers.
“Fencing requirements for brucellosis management cost five dollars per animal, to spay costs from six to eight dollars per heifer,” said Schwartz. “We think spaying is a viable tool for ranchers to use in the area.”
He said the conflict with assistance in spaying heifers relates to constitutionality. “We’ve gone to the Attorney General and asked that question. If we can show public benefit of these practices to protect the economic viability of the agricultural industry within the state we should have some huge public benefit.”
Schwartz said if the rest of the state wants to continue to have livestock grazing in the area, then the producers in western Wyoming are in need of assistance. “We’d be paying ranchers for their additional management practices that protect the industry for the long-term,” he said.
Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan said using spaying to prevent brucellosis in western Wyoming could be a huge help.
“The producers could see some personal benefit in that they’d get additional gains with spayed heifers, but I don’t care if they do see some benefit as a result,” said Schwartz. “We almost need to give them that if we’re going to keep them.”
Senator and Committee Chairman Gerald Geis said a bill on pet animals won’t be passed in the upcoming session, but it needs to be put in an interim committee study to decide what the state is going to do with them.
“We need to put the responsibility on the county commissioners and the local government, because it shouldn’t be in the Livestock Board,” he said, adding that the committee will introduce the subject so the Legislature can start thinking about it.
Schwartz said the WLSB members feel like their position is with the livestock and rodeo side of animals within the state. “Those are huge issues in themselves,” he said.
Schwartz pointed out that in Colorado over 150 employees were hired to deal with pet animal welfare alone. “The issue is getting huge nationwide, and we get calls on horses, cattle, goats and everything you can imagine. My board feels very strongly that livestock is all they can handle,” he said.
Geis said he was going to look into whether there are other states with pet animal programs on the books, and then he’ll go from there.
The WLSB will meet Oct. 9 in Casper at the UW Outreach Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to discuss their proposed legislation among other items. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.