Early last week I attended the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee of our State Legislature in Lusk. These meetings are always informative, and I would urge anyone in agriculture to attend one of these meetings every so often. First you find out what is happening around the state in agriculture or natural resources. Second, one has easy access to the legislators, and our comments and opinions are welcome and asked for.
The members of the committee are really a good bunch of legislators. There are ranchers from both the House and Senate side, and almost everyone on the committee has ties to agriculture, so they know the issues. The co-chairmen are rancher Mark Semlek from the Moorcroft area, representing the House, and Gerald Geis, retired livestock trucker from Worland, representing the Senate, so there is a world of experience in the leadership.
The committee heard numerous updates from state agencies and discussed, amended, passed or defeated numerous bills for the upcoming legislative session. Some bills were considered for interim study in 2014.
One issue that received a lot of discussion came from the State Engineer’s Office concerning all the coal bed methane (CBM) gas wells that are abandoned or not in use. The State Engineer said there were around 14,000 CBM wells drilled in the state, and not many are producing these days with much lower gas prices. If a landowner wanted to use an old CBM well for stock or domestic water, what are the issues to deal with? It looks good on just the concept, but with all the liabilities you would have to assume, you might be better off just drilling a new well. Don’t just rush into it – you might be sorry later. Be careful.
Another issue that came up during the Wyoming Livestock Board presentation was a bill dealing with livestock trespass. In recent years there have been numerous out of state people buying ranches and not having livestock on them, so they thought they didn’t have to fix the fences. Others brought in exotic animals that a regular fence wouldn’t hold.
For the last 120 years or so, we have been a “fence-out” state, and the law has worked for us. Lately there has been some abuse of the law and a number of complaints. In the past there was almost always good communication between neighbors, or one could call a truck up and send the trespassing livestock to the nearest livestock auction, and the problem was solved. That is still an option today. Either party can just fix the fence, take the livestock back and send the other party half the bill to be paid, but lately it seems to have gotten more complicated with more complaints. A proposed bill was written to complement the fence-out bill and amend it some.
In a public lands state like Wyoming, a fence-out law really works with the intermingled ownership of lands, and we will always need it. We do need some sort of fence-in law for exotics that have no respect for fences – like buffalo.
Most important, don’t abuse the law. It is too important to lose, so be careful.