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Ranchers in the Powder River Basin with oil and gas development on their land have really been frustrated and alarmed for the last year or so. If any part of the development on the surface or underground mineral rights crosses federal lands or mineral rights, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a say, and there is a good chance that eight Native American tribes will also have a say on the whole development on those private lands.

Development could be as small as moving an access road or well site over a little bit, or it could involve the amount of dust, noise or anything disrupting the view-shed, but if that development involves a potential site with Native American artifacts discovered by the BLM archeologists, then consultation with the tribes is likely.

The worst-case scenario we’ve heard from an oil developer was when his company tried to get a drilling permit from the BLM, as there must have been some federal lands or mineral rights involved. The proposed action was on an existing well pad with all of the facilities – including access road, tanks, etc. The company had been trying for three years to get the drilling permit, and despite two consultations with the tribes, there has been no decision. These actions by BLM cause some developers to just give up and go elsewhere to drill. BLM says only 12 percent of drilling permits are affected by tribal consultations. Well, if an action is wrong, that is 12 percent too many.

Most of the drilling in our area is horizontal drilling. The laterals can go out for quite a distance, so it is easy to cross federal mineral rights. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act calls for arch surveys and tribe consultations when federal land or minerals are impacted. Some in BLM interpreted this section of the law strictly. If that’s what the law says, that’s what it says.

But, knowing there is going to be some kick-back from landowners and developers, we need good communication, which, evidently, has not happened. Even the tribes are frustrated. These ranchers are not used to dealing with federal land managers, and the land involved is mostly deeded.

As history states, there could have been as many as 12 tribes in northeast Wyoming. Now, ranchers have to deal with about eight tribes, and each has a different culture. Some ranchers, expressing frustration, have not allowed the tribes on their lands, and one can’t blame them. These sites and actions, sacred to the tribes, are looked at a real intrusion to their private property rights, and they are.

Look, we all know that the tribes were in the area at some time, but so were the Spaniards and the country of Mexico, and didn’t we purchase the lands from France in the Louisiana Purchase? Why the tribes and not them? Why are we tearing down history and culture now in the South by destroying statues and protecting other sites in the West so fiercely? We need to save them all, within reason, and there are common sense methods to do it.

Most landowners want to protect these sites. I want to know where they are and to take care of them, but I don’t want them to threaten my business. There are ways to do both in a timely manner.

The worst thing to happen now is to go to the other extreme. That doesn’t solve the issue. We have to find a middle of the road here, and we can.

 

On Oct. 18, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resource Interim Committee met in Douglas to discuss their agenda. Included on the agenda was the topic of finalizing a working draft into a sponsored bill to take to the 2018 legislature dealing with management of the State Fair.

As we have written in this column before, and a lot of you know, the State Legislature cut Wyoming State Fair’s budget by over $400,000 last winter. Now, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and those involved in the State Fair – both management and participants – are trying to figure out what the fair will look like in the future. The Joint Ag Committee needed to finalize the working draft as a proposed bill but was unable to accomplish that. Right now, the co-chairmen are working more on the draft and will send it to the Wyoming Legislative Services Office to be finalized. Then, the committee will vote by e-mail to approve or disapprove sending it on.

The purpose of the bill as written was, “An Act relating to agriculture; authorizing management of the maintenance of State Fair facilities; amending provisions for the oversite and general supervision of the Ftate Fair and fairgrounds; reconstituting the State Fair Advisory Board as the State Fair Board; specifying the composition of the State Fair Board; specifying the appointment of board members; and providing for an effective date.”

The big issue, as I see it, is not putting on the annual State Fair. Managing and keeping the fairgrounds busy during the off-season, that is, the other 50 weeks.

During the 17 listening sessions held throughout the state, around 300 people attended, and in reading the results of a survey sheet that was handed out, two-thirds thought our state fair was a high priority. Well, of course, people showed up for the session because they thought State Fair was important. Rather, it’s the rest of the state and many of our state legislatures who don’t know what goes on during State Fair, the importance of the fair to 4-H and FFA or why some people have been coming to State Fair all their lives. 

On the negative side, some of the people who attended listening sessions thought the annual event is too expensive, not worth the expense and doesn't have enough big entertainment, like concerts – all the usual complaints. I’ve found out that, when you ask someone what their thoughts are on State Fair, the responses are as broad as if I asked how to raise cows or break a horse.

Now, the committee will have to shape up the working draft of their bill, and it could be difficult. At the hearing, they heard from the dedicated advisory board, 4-H, FFA, Board of Ag, the State Fair Director, local legislators and, the best speaker, past State Sen. Jim Anderson, who used to live around Glenrock and always supported State Fair.

Sen. Anderson has since moved to Wisconsin to be closer to family, but he traveled 1,100 miles to speak, and speak well he did. He spoke on history, culture, value to youth, tradition, our ag roots and Wyoming’s heritage. He cautioned the committee about raising fees too high or making too many cuts. He advocated for involvement of outside interests to serve on a board appointed by the Governor to develop strategies for drawing more groups to the fairgrounds in the off-season.

Sen. Anderson, we miss you and your wisdom. Thank you for your continued dedication to Wyoming agriculture.

Every so often, we read or hear something that makes us stop, think and, in a nice way, say, “What’s this?” That’s what happened a couple of weeks ago when I received an e-mail from one of Congressman Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) Washington, D.C. staffers. Congressman Cheney was present at a hearing held on a proposed bill on Oct. 3, and the bill raised some concerns for her.

House of Representatives (HR) 3400, The Recreation Not Red Tape Act, is sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who is also the U.S. House Chairman on the Natural Resources Committee. Earlier this year, a companion bill was filed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore). The House version is the same as the Senate bill, so, if passed by both houses, Congress can avoid the need for a conference committee.

In the past, if we saw something with Rep. Bishop’s name on it, we just knew it would be good for public lands ranching. He is a good friend of the West and our way of life. I haven't heard Rep. Bishop’s reasoning behind this bill, but he certainly has some explaining to do.

HR 3400 intends to “promote innovative approaches to outdoor recreation on federal land and to open up opportunities for collaboration with non-federal partners and for other purposes.”

Rep. Liz Cheney is concerned that Title III of the bill, which establishes the process for designating the national recreation areas, raises recreation to a higher level than other uses, such as grazing, on public land.

Title III sounds almost like designating certain public lands for wilderness areas. The good part is that the process will be different. The bad part is, what happens to grazing, oil and gas, other energy development, timber and other uses on the designated public lands? In cases like this, grazing, energy and other uses usually lose to recreation.

We all know about some public lands where about the only use is recreation, and for those areas, everyone says, “So what.” We live with it, and no other uses are harmed. Like wilderness areas, these recreation areas will be signed and placed on maps, and recreationists will be drawn to them from all over. The public and private lands surrounding the National Recreation Areas will bear the brunt of the impacts. For those flipping burgers or making beds, it may be good, but this concept may not be so good for ranching, unless you are looking to sell.

To alleviate concerns, Rep. Bishop has said he will work with the committee to amend the bill. If that is true, he has a lot of work ahead of him, especially since Rep. Cheney is watching him and the bill.

The bill says that each system – a recreation area designated – will be managed by the Secretary of either Interior or Agriculture, which would include both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service. It specifies management in a manner that maximizes the protection and enhancement of the remarkable recreational values of the system unit, including natural features that support the recreational experiences.

Well, what about the other public land uses? Or what if there are some federal leased mineral rights? It sounds to me like this bill would have the ability to lock public lands up for a single use, doesn’t it?

For the last couple of weeks, there have been listening sessions held around the state, hosted by the Wyoming State Fair, as to what people want to see at future state fairs.

The Wyoming State Fair has been in the bullseye ever since the State Legislature cut about a third of its appropriation from every biennium. With school funding on the line across the state, our legislators have had some really tough decisions to make the last couple of years. I’ve even heard some legislators involved in agriculture say, “If it involves dollars for education or Wyoming State Fair, I have to go with education.”

To help solve the short funding in education, the legislators don’t have a lot of choices. They can cut more in state government, utilize dollars from one of the rainy-day accounts, cut more funding from state education or all of the above.

Here is where the Wyoming State Fair is in trouble – not many state legislators are aware of what State Fair is all about, and outside of Douglas, the general public doesn’t know much about state fair if they are not involved in 4-H or FFA.

The Wyoming State Fair does have some challenges. as a result of its timing. State Fair has always been held in August, and attendees have always seemed to make it work. It is expensive for parents to take their kids and animals to State Fair, but youth are always there.

At the same time, due to a number of reasons, vendor numbers are dropping as State Fair prices rise. The state legislators asked that vendor, gate receipts and ticket sales increase and also that prices for using state fair facilities during the year were raised. Does this make money or lose money for State Fair in the long run?

Other challenges out of State Fair's control are the low population base in the town of Douglas and surrounding area and the slow-down in energy prices. These factors hurt when we look at getting people through the gates and in increasing sponsorships – two vital components for success.

But if we want a State Fair – and we do, we can make it happen, even though it may not look as past ones have. The number of days will be shorter, and this may not be all bad. For open show classes of livestock, outside livestock and breed organizations may have to participate in sponsorship and planning. Prices for vendors and other participants will have to stay low to compensate for the lower number of gate receipts. Maybe State Fair will have to run some buses from Gillette or Casper.

The State Fair staff will have to include marketing personnel to attract use during the off-season and may have to have lower costs than facilities in Casper or Gillette to attract those events to their venue. A number of changes in state regulations may have to take place for State Fair to be more efficient, too.

But first, we need to tell our legislators we want a viable State Fair for our youth and to showcase agriculture. That is our job. Talk to your legislators. Show up at the hearing on Oct. 18 in the McKibben Cafeteria on the State Fairgrounds. Do your part. We owe it to the youth of Wyoming who are or will be a part of the Wyoming State Fair.