Avoid Communication Drought During Dry Years
By Neils Hansen
Like many producers, I received the dreaded, but expected, drought letter from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or Forest Service not too long ago. Content of the letters vary from state to state, but all of the letters tell the range conditions are dry, and there may be a need to make some kind of adjustment in 2021 grazing plans.
As we head into spring and summer pasture, where pastures are dry and situations change quickly, it is important to have good, open communication with range professionals in the federal agencies. I’m sure most, if not all, ranchers have received a letter informing this.
On our ranch, it took two range tours, multiple calls and countless e-mails to move into 2021 with an updated grazing plan everyone is comfortable with. While drought raises a variety of scenarios which require additional planning, a few things come to the head of the list.
For us, it was planning for the possibility of emergency water projects. We looked at temporary watering sites using hauling and pipelines to disperse the livestock and wildlife and keep the range healthy. Everyone agreed on the value of the effort and the proposed goals, but when looking to put those plans into action, we ran into some roadblocks.
The executive order President Biden signed his first day in office on oil and gas development has been expanded to cover all surface disturbing activities. This would, of course, impact projects ranchers and agencies want to complete in order to alleviate drought concerns – both for livestock and wildlife.
The Public Lands Council has been communicating with Department of Interior (DOI) in an effort to get clarification on the department’s intention and share real, on-the-ground impacts of broad decisions like this. All too often, something looks like it will be good on paper, but doesn’t work in practice or has unintended consequences.
After visiting with some ranchers in other areas, it became clear that internally, DOI hasn’t given a lot of clear guidance on how to move projects forward in a timely manner, emergency or otherwise.
Whether producers are assessing the potential for an emergency water haul or discussing ongoing monitoring, I urge the importance of contacting range professionals and discussing the situation. By working together to make a plan for this year, producers will be able to get their thoughts and needs for a dry year on the table.
Learn what obstacles or issues BLM or the Forest Service see which may slow or prohibit producers from doing what they need to protect their livestock and the land. For example, if the permit is for a Herd Management Area, producers could ask BLM to implement a water hauling program for the feral horses. Whatever the issue and whatever the timing, stay in contact with a range professional.
Dry years are always tough to deal with, but working together and keeping conversation flowing is the best way to decrease stress, improve outcomes and set the stage for the productive years to come.
Niels Hansen is a third generation rancher from Rawlins and currently serves as president of the Public Lands Council. He has served as chairman of the Wyoming State Grazing Board and president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.