Wyo leaders call citizens to engage in state’s future on local level
Casper – Several themes received repeated attention at the June 9-10 Building the Wyoming We Want conference hosted by Governor Dave Freudenthal in Casper.
Amongst those topics was the opinion it will take a grassroots, citizen-driven movement to really drive Wyoming in the “right” direction, and that today’s leaders need to look beyond five or even 10 years down the road to the quality of life the state may or may not offer to the next generation.
“People in Wyoming don’t take very well to being told what to do,” said Freudenthal in his keynote address of the gathering, dubbed BW3. “And it’s not a skill they intend to adopt. We’re hopeful that out of this initiative we create recognition of shared values that will ultimately affect the lives of ourselves and future generations. “
Although some of Wyoming’s circumstances have changed – like the 67 percent price decrease of natural gas – Freudenthal said the main issues confronting the state haven’t.
BW3 has launched a page on the social networking site Facebook and recently held a Wyoming photo contest. “The pictures sent in to Facebook are uniform in that they’re of the outdoors, and one critical ingredient in all of them was that they showed people in the outdoors hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, walking or picnicking,” said Freudenthal. “All of us view land and water and resources as something to be persevered, and not just looked at as a landscape picture, but something in which we participate. We don’t see ourselves as observers of life, but participants.”
In light of that, the governor called on Wyoming citizens to participate in the formulation of what the state will look like. “It’s not going to stay as it is. The state will change, and it’s inevitable, but positive change and positive growth are not,” he said.
BW3 Advisory Committee Chair Terry Cleveland said he thinks the biggest challenge is to get people out of their comfort zone. “We’re pretty comfortable right now in Wyoming. Life’s not that bad, and we have almost all of what we want. Somehow we have to have an education process so people realize it isn’t always going to be this way.”
Cleveland pointed out that as he looks back on his life in Wyoming, all change has been incremental. “It’s slow, one house at a time, and I think people don’t really think about it for the long-range.”
Throughout the two-day meeting Wyoming agriculture was identified as something that contributes to the values and desires of the state’s citizens, whether or not they’re a member of the ag industry.
“Ag operations preserve open space, land, wildlife and a certain set of values,” said Freudenthal.
“I think one of the best things we can do to preserve agriculture is to help them stay in business,” he stated. “We’ve done everything we can to address the expense side, but the real problem is on the revenue side. The state needs to come up with some way to compensate people to keep that land open. We can’t say they ought to stay in agriculture just because it’s important for us to drive down the road and see their operation. We’ve been able to enjoy much of what we enjoy in this state almost for free, and I think those days are rapidly coming to an end.”
Wyoming Stock Growers Vice President Mark Eisele said ranching is important to Wyoming for three reasons: producing food and fiber, conserving natural resources and providing cultural and societal benefits.
“Ranchers and farmers are absolutely the best stewards, and that’s shown by their ability to run a business on natural resources for three, four or even six generations,” said Eisele, adding, “There’s something to be said for generational transfer, but that’s also one of agriculture’s problems with the average age of operators at 67 years old and climbing.”
He said younger ranchers and farmers would dedicate themselves to the industry if they were given the right opportunity, incentives, regulatory relief and assurances that federal lands permits would remain intact.
Concerning wind energy, the governor said the question, as with any development, comes down to whether the state is going to do it “right,” and he says it parallels what the state went through in the 1970s with the onset of the development of coal resources.
Admitting a response similar to most Wyomingites of cursing the wind, he says, “Now I see it as a remarkable resource. If done right, we can take wind and urban development and turn them into a positive force for growth.”
“We’re very independent and don’t like being in group consensus-building stuff,” said Freudenthal of the effort to get as much public participation as possible. “We can say, ‘That’s my view, take it or leave it,’ but that leaves us with nothing. No regulations or specifications and we end up letting it go. The consequences threaten all the values we share.”
“This is a remarkable place. People care about it, and each other,” he continued. “It’s great fun to travel this state. Some say it’s because we’re friendly, I know it’s because we’re lonely.”
Freudenthal said what it comes down to is Wyoming’s citizens coming forward to say they know how to make the state work best. “Are we going to act, or just let things happen to us?” he asked.
At the meeting’s close, Freudenthal urged people to return to their communities and get projects started, saying that he and other state officials will do everything they can to assist. This year’s meeting featured Joe Glode of the Platte Valley Community Center in Saratoga and Rep. Elaine Harvey, who shared information on the community- and volunteer-driven Hyart Theatre Project in Lovell.
“Next time we have one of these meetings I want to sit in the audience and listen to all the projects you’ve started, and what’s working and what’s not,” he said.
Visit the BW3 website at www.buildingwyoming.com and follow links to Facebook and Twitter. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.