Advocating for the industry, Wyo sheep producers visit Washington, D.C. for annual fly-in
Washington, D.C. – More than 70 sheep producers from 17 states gathered in Washington, D.C. March 6-8 for the American Sheep Industry Association’s Annual Legislative Fly-In to meet with Congressmen and agency officials about the most pressing issues in the sheep industry.
“We had a busy week, and it was a very successful fly-in,” says Shaun Sims, sheep producer from Evanston. “Our main goal was to visit with delegations from across the U.S. about some of the things sheep producers face in the West.”
Tightened budgets at the federal level have dramatically impacted the sheep industry in several ways.
“We talked about Wildlife Services funding levels, which is important,” Sims says. “Funding for WS has remained flat, and we need more dollars to get on the ground to control predators.”
Sims notes the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) has also been a target recently – again.
He emphasized USSES is the only research station in the high desert landscape, which allows the opportunity to study fire response, grazing regimes, sage grouse habitat and more.
“All of these things are in addition to the daily research they do with sheep,” Sims comments.
USSES collaborates with University of Wyoming, Idaho State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Pullman, Wash. Research Station in a number of important areas.
“Most recently, a hiring freeze has not allowed USSES to hire any researchers,” Sims says. “The only researcher currently on staff is also the station administrator.
He continues, “My fear is, when it comes down to budgets, Congress will ask why there hasn’t been much research come out of the sheep station, but the reduced level of researchers have handicapped USSES.”
Some entities are also expressing concerns about a lack of research from USSES.
An additional topic of conversation was the impact of Bighorn sheep for western range ranchers.
Currently, Sims Ranch and Broadbent Ranches in southwest Wyoming run sheep on five allotments.
A settlement agreement was reached on 11 of the 77 allotments to conduct an environmental impact statement. An injunction was filed in the Ninth Circuit last fall disallowing grazing on two of those allotments,” Sims says, noting there is a possibility both Wyoming operations may see a halt to their summer grazing this year. “We had a meeting with the House Natural Resource Committee to talk about these impacts from the U.S. Forest Service.”
As a result of their meeting, Sims notes committee may hold an oversight hearing on Forest Service to hear more about the actions and issues that have arisen regarding Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep.
During briefing sessions, sheep producers heard from USDA, Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and more, allowing them the opportunity to interact with officials and voice concerns.
“In Washington, D.C., the agencies are looking to help producers,” Sims explains. “There is still some internal struggle inside the agencies, but overall, they are much more willing to help alleviate our challenges.”
Department of Interior (DOI) discussed their numerous activities and provided insight on how the department currently works.
“DOI’s Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aurelia Skipwith could not have been more strident about the importance of multiple use, including grazing, on DOI lands,” explains Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Executive Director Amy Hendrickson. “She also talked about their efforts on wild horses and acknowledged the difficulties of the Endangered Species Act and species of conservation interest.”
Other news came in the recent announcement by Wildlife Services (WS) that M-44 devices would soon be available for use to control predators as a result of agency collaboration.
“WS went to the mat to get these devices back into use,” Hendrickson says. “It was regulatory conflict that forced WS to suspend the use of M-44 devices.”
She continues, “The problem was resolved with a change in equipment applicators must wear when placing or handling the devices and a new label that removes amyl nitrate as a requirement for the applicator to carry when placing or picking up devices.”
WS Director Janet Bucknell announced that M-44 devices are again authorized for use, and states authorized to use M-44s should expect to receive their first delivery sometime this week.
“We saw a very short turn-around on this issue, which is something we haven’t seen before,” Sims says. “This came about because, rather than WS and the Environmental Protection Agency working independently to do their analyses, they worked collaboratively.”
“Overall, the agencies are working to try and make it easier for western ranchers to operate on public land,” he adds.
Additionally, Sims notes USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue met with ASI leadership to talk about their challenges. Meetings between the Agriculture Secretary and ASI have not occurred since the early 2000s.
“We also met with the Farm Service Agency to talk about how disaster programs work,” Sims says.
“In Wyoming, disaster payments under the Livestock Forage Protection Program and Emergency Livestock Assistance Program are tied to our grazing season,” he explains. “If we graze outside of a May 1 to Sept. 30 window – which almost all of the large range sheep herds do in Wyoming – we are precluded from qualifying to disaster payments.”
Sims notes agency officials in Washington, D.C. were perplexed by how Wyoming’s range sheep operations work and requested producers write the Washington, D.C. office of FSA to explain large landscape rotation grazing and how grazing management is impacted by disaster programs.
“I’ll be working with the Public Lands Council (PLC) and American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) to draft a letter in the next week,” Sims says, noting that other producers who are impacted by FSA disaster programs dates should also reach out to ASI, WWGA and PLC for guidance in writing letters.
“A lot of issues were brought to the forefront over these three days,” Sims comments. “In contrast to other years, I feel like we got a lot of good things started. We’re moving in the right direction, where we haven’t seen that in the past.”
In next week’s Roundup, look for more information on discussions around mandatory livestock price reporting for the sheep industry.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.