Engagement with federal agencies allows positive interaction for cattle producers
Issues from sage grouse to wildland fire to general management and grazing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allotments confront western ranchers every day. Challenges encompass a wide array of people and don’t fit inside a box.
For Darcy Helmick of Simplot Land and Livestock in Idaho and Niels Hansen of PH Livestock Company near Rawlins, whether the issue is fighting rangeland wildfires or simply working together to continue to run cattle, working cooperatively with federal agencies is paramount.
“We hear a common theme that gets to the heart of things,” Hansen says. “I focus on making my home on our family ranch.”
“With BLM, we’re in an arranged married with no option for divorce,” Hansen quips of his family’s checkerboard pastures. “We’ve been on this piece of property since 1899, so we’ve worked it, lived it and changed to adapt to the current conditions. Because of this land pattern, I watched my father butt heads with BLM.”
When Hansen picked up the reins of the ranch, he said he won an occasional battle, but overall, he could see they were losing the war.
“We had the good fortune to work with new BLM range conservationists,” he says. “We went in and talked about some of the issues we had seen in the past. We didn’t solve any of them, but we recognized they were there and agreed to go forward.”
Hansen adds, from the beginning, all parties agreed to disagree from time to time, but most importantly, they agreed to never lie to one another.
“If we had something we knew the other person wasn’t going to like, it didn’t matter. We had to address it and move on,” he says.
Overtime, Hansen also says he took the time to get to know the federal personnel involved and understand their values.
“Often, we’re all pulling for the same goal,” he says. “It’s just a matter of how to get there.”
For Hansen, it has been important to work cooperatively and support the federal agencies by collecting and submitting extensive monitoring data.
“When they’re defending us, they are not only defending BLM and their actions, the agency is defending us because they want to continue working and doing what we’re doing,” he says. “We have to give them the data and numbers to do that.”
“If we find a problem through monitoring, that is good. Then we have the opportunity address it together,” Hansen says.
The bottom line, Hansen emphasizes, is to give agency personnel a reason to support the ranch by being an active, engaged partner.
Hansen’s message is to create allies, rather than enemies to ensure ranches will continue to be able to operate.
“The best way to defend the ranch is to develop allies,” he says. “We’ve worked hard with our range conservationist at BLM, and we continue to work with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. These are our allies, and we’ve built them from the bottom up.”
When issues arise, he emphasizes the first people to know about the problem should be the federal partner.
“If BLM is the first one to get the call that something doesn’t seem quite right, they’re the first ones to help us up front,” he says.
“When it comes right down to it, there’s nothing to fear,” Hansen says. “It’s been our experience that when we take people out to the range, we have yet to find a situation where people on the ground don’t support us.”
Steps for working together
Helmick explained her ranching operation outside of Boise, Idaho is consistently faced with wildland fires challenges. After many years and a string of negative interactions, she began to look at opportunities.
“As the issue of fire became more and more contentious, a handful of people saw the opportunity to do something better,” Helmick says. “These people worked together to identify the common objective – to put out fire – and then worked together to find out what prevented them from getting it done.”
Helmick notes working together is essential to overcome challenges in dealing with natural disasters on rangelands, as well as a number of other issues that ranchers may face.
“How did we go from fighting each other to receiving national recognition for our efforts together?” Helmick asks, noting several steps are important to follow.
“First, we have to identify the issue,” she says. “In this case, it was the need to rapidly suppress wildland fires.”
Then, Helmick says they identified their challenges, particularly a lack of communication and trust.
“We were able to improve communication and gain trust by completing trainings, working together to make simple policy changes and improving legislation through our state,” Helmick says.
Identifying key players – not only influencers but also people who are willing to talk and make changes – is necessary.
“We must work together to find solutions instead of just throwing our hands in the air,” she says. “Finally, we have to just make it happen. If we can work together to trust and communicate, in my mind, we can do almost anything.”
Helmick and Hansen spoke during the 2018 Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.