Priorities for 2021 interim topics approved
Cheyenne – After an organizational meeting was held by the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee of the Wyoming Legislature, Committee Chairmen Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) and Rep. John Eklund (R-Cheyenne) proposed six priorities for their committee discussions during the 2021 interim, with the goal of improving the agriculture landscape in Wyoming.
In a meeting on April 16, Management Council heard from committee chairmen, ultimately approving a majority of the topics, while adjusting several other topics and eliminating those topics that were assigned to other committees.
Eklund noted, in his opening comments, “It’s an honor to be back on the Agriculture Committee. It seems like things don’t change much with the times, and we’re still dealing with the many of the same issues from year to year.”
Sen. Boner explained, “The Ag Authority was already discussed by the Minerals Committee, and they were seeking more information on what the authority would and wouldn’t do. This would be beneficial, since those discussions came up in the House debate this year.”
“This is our first priority, looking for a solution to the long-term problem we have with large, multi-national corporations having an increasingly large monopoly in agriculture,” Boner continued. “It has changed significantly over the past 10 to 15 years. These monopolies are international in nature and span multiple proteins. We’re looking at any and all solutions to increase the reliability of this supply chain.”
Boner noted the ability to have revenue bonds, to increase the capacity of meatpacking and more are all important facets, but he added having an entity dedicated to support of the agriculture industry is important.
As a supported topic, Boner suggested looking at the organization of agriculture agencies to clearly define which agency is involved in which actions, so agencies work in concert, but not in duplicative efforts.
“It is important to have a clear, concise understanding of who is regulating and who is supporting agriculture,” he mentioned.
A longstanding topic of conversation with the committee, Eklund noted committee members are seeking to review the state of predator management efforts within Wyoming, including updates on wolf and grizzly bear populations and coordination with other states.
“We’d like to have a strong idea of how we can be involved in controlling these predators for our producers, especially as our neighbors to the south look to introduce wolves,” Eklund explained.
Additionally, Wyoming strives to seek a strong leadership role in predator control in the state.
Another issue that “won’t go away,” in the state of Wyoming, according to Boner, is the continued recreational and hunting trespass which occurs on agricultural land.
“I’m envisioning a relatively simple bill that will increase the fine for trespass, in accordance with inflation,” he said. “We’re also looking at the possibility of looking at issues of feral horses in the southwest portion of the state as it relates to private property rights and the state’s obligation to protect its property in the checkerboard.”
Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) recommended elimination of the trespass issue, instead focusing the issue on feral horses on state lands.
Water rights issues
“The committee would like to study the history of federal lands in Wyoming and consider the state’s rights and federal lands, with an emphasis on water rights on federal lands,” Eklund explained. “I think the committee would like to review mineral rights, as well as surface rights.”
Additional conversation on the process of transferring federal lands would be included in this topic, as well, with increased conversations on the subject.
Boner emphasized this priority targets an individual bill that didn’t quite pass both bodies as it relates to water rights, Senate File 135, Water rights – livestock on federal land.
Hicks additionally suggested involved of the Select Water Committee in these conversations.
“The priority will be the specific legislation that we can make a meaningful difference on, but I think we need to be cognizant of other rhetoric that is out there, regarding our relationship with the federal government,” Boner added, noting that the history and background will be important to have a productive conversation.
Management Council Chair Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) noted, “Mr. Chairman, you’re blending two great topics with this priority.”
Hicks amended the priority to focus simply on the water-related issues on federal lands, eliminating the focus on the history of federal lands and state’s rights and federal land transfer topics.
Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) noted this topic is of utmost importance for the industry.
“I would also recommend adding an additional priority, studying how to perfect land exchanges between the state and federal government, with an emphasis of maximizing revenues from state trust lands,” Hicks suggested. “We have 106,000 trust acres that are land-locked by federal land, which restricts our ability to create revenue for our schools.”
The motion was seconded by Sommers, who suggested that the bill from the 2021 session related to state lands which was vetoed should also be considered.
“Perhaps the committee can work on the bill that was vetoed this year and address the concerns from the Executive Branch,” Sommers said. “We ought to examine the issue of re-authorization vacant state lands.”
The Revenue Committee jointly proposed studying the next topic, agriculture land valuations, and Boner stated that the bill envisioned by the Joint Agriculture Committee would simply seek to change the qualification required for ag valuation on property taxes.
“The Revenue Committee has already been assigned this topic, but we believe it is very important,” he added.
Because the topic was already assigned, it was stricken from the list for consideration by the Agriculture Committee.
The final topic would involve the opportunity to hear reports from those agencies under the committee’s purview, including the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming State Fair, Office of State Lands and Investments and Wyoming Livestock Board.
The Joint Agriculture Committee proposed meeting three times during the year, May 24-25, Sept. 9-10 and Oct. 21-22, at various locations around the state. Locations for those meetings will be set closer to the meeting dates.Updates will be provided at wyoleg.gov regarding specific agenda items for each interim meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee.
Saige Zespy is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.