BLM, Hay Creek see success in partnership
Worland – “We’ve been working with Hay Creek Land and Livestock and Josh Longwell since roughly 2009 when he applied for some vacated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing permits,” says Mike Phillips, manager of the Worland BLM Office. “We’ve been working hand-in-hand to build a level of trust in going through the permitting process.”
In December 2016, Longwell was awarded the permits, and he will begin using them this season after pre-grazing meetings in late December.
“We typically don’t have vacated permits,” Phillips says, “so this was a new process for our office.”
The process led to a three-step approach for Hay Creek and Worland BLM, where they divided the large ranch into three phases.
“The ranch is divided into the low county, the middle country and the upper country,” Phillips explains. “Each phase has unique characteristics.”
For example, in their low country, the rangelands provide sage grouse habitat, while the upper country sees Bighorn sheep, grizzly bear and wolf populations.
“We worked through a three-step approach, doing rangeland health, working through a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document with public scoping and then issuing a permit,” Phillips says.
For the permit reissuance, Phillips explains that one essential component meant working with the public and interested stakeholders.
“Throughout this whole process, we invited all the interested public to be involved, which included the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Wool Growers Association, the Governor’s Office, Western Watersheds Project, the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation and others,” Philips says. “This was a large project.”
The one protest that was received on the NEPA document was answered by Worland BLM and went without appeal from the commenter, meaning that the permitting for phase one, the low country that Longwell sought to use, is now issued.
“Right now, we have a pre-grazing season meeting with Josh in late December, and he’ll be using those permits this winter,” Phillips adds.
“We’re working on phase two and phase three now,” Phillips says. “We’re going to do those together.”
As they conduct their rangeland health evaluations, which will then be included in a NEPA document, he explains that they have an additional wrinkle in the form of new guidance that was issued, mandating that they collect additional data.
“We’ll collect the data on the upper country this field season, which is this summer, so by next winter, we’re hoping to have the rangeland health evaluation determination done,” Phillips explains. “Then, we’ll go right into the NEPA document and try to get those permits issued by 2018-19.”
The approach taken by Longwell and Worland BLM has yielded what both parties tout as a resounding success.
“We followed a process and worked together,” Phillips says.
As they worked to develop a positive relationship, Phillips notes that the biggest piece was establishing communication and being able to bridge some gaps that had deteriorated in the past.
“We worked together to come up with common goals and objectives, looking at the land holistically and what it can really produce,” he says. “We did a carrying capacity study of the allotments to look at what they can really produce and worked all that out together.”
Phillips adds, “I think the constant communication between Josh and our staff has been crucial. He’s been with us while we’ve done the monitoring, the field tours and all of this work. Josh has done everything we’ve asked of him, and we’ve developed a really good partnership.”
Longwell commends BLM for their professionalism and the partnership they’ve developed.
“This BLM office is really just a group of outstanding guys,” Longwell says. “They did a great job and deserve to be recognized for the work we’ve done here.”
Both Longwell and Phillips recognize the other as being necessary to completing the process and getting BLM permits reissued for Hay Creek Land and Livestock.
“Josh has been so key in all this,” says John Elliott, assistant field manager for resources in the Worland BLM office. “I talk to Josh so often, and if we have a problem about anything, we’re honest and direct.”
He adds, “Our success here doesn’t mean that either of us likes everything that happens all the time, but we’re up-front with each other and we work through it. Without Josh, I don’t believe we would have been able to reissue these permits as we have.”
Phillips notes that the success seen by Worland BLM and Hay Creek Land and Livestock can be replicated across the state, but permittees and BLM must work together.
“I think it’s really important that BLM and permittees get out on the ground together, kicking the dirt and seeing the problems, as well as the good things, that are happening out on the ground,” Phillips said.
He adds that permitees and BLM staff can’t be afraid of conflict or communication, which are both instrumental.
“We can’t be afraid of being able to communicate or sit down with folks. We have to do that and get out into the field,” Phillips says. “It takes a lot of face-to-face, which takes more time, but that’s what we should be doing to see success on the ground.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.