WWGA update: Borcher provides update on Wyoming sheep industry
Sheep producers, industry leaders and other agriculture stakeholders hailing from Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Nevada gathered in Boise, Idaho Nov. 2-4 for the West Central States Wool Growers Convention, an annual event dedicated to providing cutting-edge, high-quality information for attendees in an effort to improve lamb and sheep production in the West.
During the meeting, individuals were able to attend educational programming relating to this year’s theme of “Opportunities for American Lamb” and hear updates from national organizations such as the Public Lands Council (PLC), the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and the American Lamb Board, among others.
Additionally, on the first morning of the convention, meeting attendees split up by state to focus on industry happenings closer to home.
Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) Executive Director Alison Borcher led the Wyoming breakout session.
Borcher started the session by touching on the frequently-discussed, hot button topic of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) conservation rule.
“One of the biggest things to mention is a bill being brought forward to try and reverse BLM’s conservation and land health rule, which was proposed on the federal level but also ties into what is happening in Rock Springs with the draft resource management plan (RMP),” she said.
In order to “throw in their hat,” Borcher noted WWGA has submitted a letter in support of the bill, which is being penned by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, PLC and ASI.
“We were calling for a complete reversal on the proposal, but of course, BLM declined,” she said. “They did extend the comment period for another 60 days, so we have until Jan. 17 to submit comments on the draft.”
Borcher also expressed, with the help of state legislators, nearly every natural resource organization across the state – besides one wildlife group – is working on a plan for Wyoming in regards to the Rock Springs RMP.
“I think almost everyone in Wyoming is on the same page about the Rock Springs plan,” she concluded.
Another issue WWGA has been fighting is the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation’s (WWSF) Sweetwater Rocks Initiative to reintroduce Big Horn sheep to the Sweetwater Rocks of Wyoming.
“A few weeks ago, WWSF announced their Sweetwater Rocks Initiative and released a promotional video, which was blindsiding for all of us,” Borcher noted. “It seems like they are trying to circumvent the working group and push their agenda on Sweetwater Rocks. It is disappointing.”
Since then, Borcher explained WWGA has requested an independent moderator for the working group, which was shot down. They are also looking for movement on three action items agreed upon during the working group’s last meeting in 2020.
“One of these things was putting out a memorandum of understanding, which was sent out this summer, but the only person who sent back any edits was our Wyoming representative,” she shared. “The second thing is a bill with Sen. John Barrasso, which has not moved forward, and the third thing is working to change federal policy.”
Unfortunately, Borcher noted the working group hasn’t seen movement on any of these action items.
She further noted the working group has an upcoming meeting scheduled for Dec. 18 in Lander, in which they will discuss updated testing on mycoplasma ovipneumoniae and how to properly use terminology from a producer perspective.
Borcher then shared the mic with John Steuber, assistant regional director of the Western region for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, who offered an update of his own.
First, Steuber noted Wyoming has hired a new regional director and has acquired a new helicopter.
“It was an excess, used MO 530F from the military, which is an upgrade. It is a much higher-performing helicopter that is more nimble and more capable,” he said. “I think it is going to be a really good addition.”
Steuber also pointed out the BLM’s recent decision to ban M44 firearms on all BLM land.
“I wanted to let you all know this was abcsolutely not our decision,” he stated. “From my understanding, this was a decision that came down from the top – BLM Director Tracey Stone-Manning – and there is no way to fight it.”
To conclude her program, Borcher listed some upcoming events for sheep producers in the state.
“We have our winter meeting Dec. 4-5 at the Ramkota in Casper, and on the fourth, one of the most important things that will happen is two listening sessions hosted by the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board – one at 10 a.m. and one at 11 a.m.,” Borcher said.
These sessions will be identical, simply offered at two separate times because of conflict with other programs at the meeting. The listening sessions are also free to the public and don’t require registration.
“We will also have an afternoon session with a University of Wyoming Extension program discussing their recently launched Wyoming Sheep Task Force,” Borcher added.
She continued, “The next thing on our agenda is the Select Bred Ewe Sale, and we are going into the second year of the sale. We are currently taking consignments and will probably have it open until early January. This will be held Feb. 24 at the CAM-PLEX in Gillette.”
Lastly, Borcher expressed her pleasure with the success of the Annual Sheep and Wool Festival, held this past summer in Kemmerer. Plans are currently in the works for the 2024 festival, which will take place at the Hot Springs County Fairgrounds in Thermopolis.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments not his article to firstname.lastname@example.org.