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As I gear up for multiple Public Lands Council (PLC) affiliate meetings out West this fall and winter, including a stop in Casper the first week of December for the Wyoming Stock Growers meeting, I wanted to bring you up to speed on what we have been working on in Washington, D.C. Coming off 16 days of a government “shutdown,” where 83 percent of the government continued to work, we are back at it on Capitol Hill working to pass priority legislation for ranchers with public land grazing permits. 

This session PLC has seen positive movement on the Hill, which offers a bright spot for the often overwhelmingly gridlocked Congress. 

Our top priority, the Grazing Improvement Act, which willstabilize permit renewals and will codify a longstanding appropriations rider that would allow grazing to continue under existing terms and conditions while the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) backlog is being addressed, is advancing. This session, we helped garner bipartisan sponsorship in the House, as well as strengthening the bill in committee. We will continue to push for advancement in the Senate. Wyoming’s own Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has championed the legislation in the Senate when he introduced S. 258 last February. PLC has kept the act as a top priority, as so many Western livestock producers will benefit from the bill – we are working for passage in the House this year and markup in the Senate soon. 

Additionally, PLC was pleased to see that a bill we have strongly supported – the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, H.R. 1526 – passed the House this fall. The bill was sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), it includes measures from various previously-introduced bills designed to expedite the removal of hazardous fuels from national forests while simultaneously increasing the economic productivity of those forests, including the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act, sponsored by Representative Gosar (R-Ariz.).  

Another priority for PLC is protecting private property rights against usurpation by the federal government, including water rights.  The Water Rights Protection Act (WRPA), H.R. 3189, is a bipartisan bill that was introduced earlier this month by Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Colo.); introduction was followed by a Water and Power Subcommittee hearing on the bill. The legislation aims to protect water rights from a recent directive by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) allowing them to potentially take water rights from private entities operating on federal lands. The USFS is attempting to acquire water for the federal government as a condition of issuing standard land use permits. The USFS has failed to provide just compensation – a violation of the Fifth Amendment and likely the Koontz ruling discussed below. 

Finally, we remain hopeful that the budget compromise currently being worked on by the House and Senate conference committee, a product of the resolution to the government shutdown, will include an Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations package. The House Interior Appropriations bill includes more than 15 provisions PLC supports and has worked on, including extension of the grazing rider, extension by one year of the decision on whether to list the greater sage grouse and extension of grazing permits from 10 to 20 years among many others. 

On the legal front, PLC continues the fight alongside the Wyoming Stock Growers in Federal District Court defending the USFS’s past use of categorical exclusions against attacks by Western Watersheds Project. Categorical exclusions were a tool that allowed the agency to renew grazing permits under the same terms and conditions where full environmental analysis was not necessary, a commonsense tool which allowed the agency to focus limited resources to areas which required analysis. 

At the Supreme Court during the final week of the last session the Court ruled in favor of the Koontz family in Florida, a case in which PLC filed an amicus in support of the family. In the five to four decision, the Court ruled that the federal government could not require outsized forfeiture of property, real or monetary, in return for the issuance of land use permits – a huge victory for industry and clear limit on the federal government’s attempts to extort property when landowners rely on permits from the government. 

On the agency front, PLC leadership and staff continue to maintain strong relationships with USFS and BLM leadership at the Washington, D.C. level in order to represent industry and ensure we are at the table as the administration drafts new policy and regulation. 

PLC has worked for ranchers since 1968. Our dedication to protecting rights of ranchers with public land grazing permits has increased drastically in just the last few years, including providing six witnesses on Capitol Hill during the first half of the 113th Congress. 

I encourage you to join our affiliates in Wyoming and contribute dues to the voluntary assessment all permittees will receive this fall. With your support we can pass the legislation I’ve listed above, ensure agency regulation has minimal impact on your operation and defend you against frivolous lawsuits aimed at destroying livestock ranching in the West – all of which contributes to turning the tide against bureaucracy out of Washington and senseless attacks from environmental zealots set on ending animal agriculture.

Every fall the agricultural community gets busy trying to get everything done before the first cold snap catches up with them and makes the job twice as hard or, in some cases, impossible. We also find fall to be the time when agriculture groups hold their meetings, all the time hoping that a fall blizzard doesn’t shut the roads down before, during or after the meeting can get done.

This year the Wyoming Farm Bureau will once again return to Laramie for our 94th Annual Meeting. We’ll be sharing the town with the High School football championship, so hopefully those two activities in Laramie won’t encourage a fall snowstorm. 

Speaking of storms, I would like to encourage folks to donate to one of the several groups raising dollars to help the folks in South Dakota.

In conjunction with our annual meeting, the Wyoming Farm Bureau Foundation will host a free symposium on succession planning on the morning of Nov. 14.

Of course the main reason for our meeting, beginning the afternoon of Nov. 14, is to consider resolutions that have been developed by the county Farm Bureaus. We have several resolutions dealing with the Common Core Standards being used in the state’s education system. All of them oppose the implementation of these standards. 

Another topic that has seen a lot of discussion deals with Wyoming fence laws. Ever since I was a kid, everyone talked about Wyoming being a “fence out” state. As always, what we think is so and what is so ain’t necessarily so – sorry Mrs. Fender, my first and second grade teacher, for using “ain’t”. Wyoming court cases have established cattle as something you should fence out. However, in looking through the statutes, you can’t find anywhere where it says cattle are fence out. 

Several resolutions want to put into statutes what the court cases have established. Of course, this only pertains to cattle, so other species such as sheep or bison won’t be affected. There has been a lot of discussion on what’s happening in Wyoming where someone overstocks their pastures either with cattle, or some other exotic animal, and those animals decide the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. The other rancher suddenly finds him or herself the recipient of several more head of livestock. 

Some other resolutions deal with how the state pays for damage caused by their livestock, or, in this case, wildlife. During dry years, wildlife make it a point to come into irrigated acreages, and some folks find the impacts caused by wildlife to be a significant issue. Again, Wyoming Statutes dealing with wildlife damage to grass calls for compensation based on “extraordinary damages,” which most agricultural producers feel is very difficult to prove. One resolution addresses this by saying that even a partial taking of a person’s property either by wildlife or some other means should be compensated by the state.

Wyoming agricultural producers share their memberships with other groups. The Wyoming Rural Electric Association (WREA) has been working on issues with power generation and these folks have a lot of Farm Bureau members, as well.  There are several resolutions supporting WREA’s efforts in keeping electricity affordable.

There are numerous other issues that will be discussed, but one thing that you can be sure of is the passion agricultural folks bring to the debate on these issues and it’s also worth noting how broad the issues are that agricultural folks follow. 

If you’re in Laramie Nov. 14-16, drop by the Wyoming Farm Bureau Annual Meeting and visit with some of your neighbors, listen in on the American Farm Bureau folks that are coming and visit with Representative Cynthia Lummis on Nov. 16.

Ken Hamilton can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling 307-721-7712.

The Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) program was established in 1979 and has undergone a number of changes in its 34-year history. However, the overall concept of the program has remained the same during those years. That is, the program’s guiding principle is “to utilize tax revenues generated from non-renewable resources, including minerals, oil and gas, to develop Wyoming’s most valuable renewable resource – water – for the benefit of current and future generations.” 

The purpose of this article is to provide a broad overview of the WWDC program and better inform water providers of the funding opportunities available to them. 

The program is managed by the Water Development Commission, whose 10 members are appointed by the governor and serve terms of four years. The Legislature’s Select Committee on Water, which also provides the important interface with the full legislature, provides additional oversight. The active management of the program’s 140-plus ongoing projects is provided by the Water Development Office staff, which is primarily located in Cheyenne.

The Wyoming Water Development Program is segregated into three distinct funds. Each fund is designated for use on different categories of projects. 

Those funds include the Water Development Account I, Water Development Account II, and Water Development Account III

Water Development Account I (WDA I) is used to finance a wide category of new development projects. Those projects include:

New Development – Funds projects involving new facilities that provide for new or enhanced use of the State’s water. Typical examples include transmission pipelines, water storage tanks, new wells and diversion structures;

Water Resource Planning – Includes development of watershed studies, river basin plans and the statewide water plan;

Groundwater Exploration – Provides for the exploration and identification of new groundwater sources in the state;

Small Water Projects – Funds the development of range improvement water projects such as stock water pipelines, wells and stock reservoirs. The overall project cost cannot exceed $100,000;

General Agency Operations;

Management of the state’s reservoir accounts and state-owned High Savery Dam and Reservoir – The state has acquired water storage contracts in several Federal reservoirs and actively manages those accounts for the designated water uses. 

Water Development Account II (WDA II) is used to rehabilitate existing water supply systems. Typical projects include:

Replacement of municipal transmission pipelines; and

Lining or piping of irrigation canals.

Water Development Account III (WDAIII) was created in 2006 to focus the State’s efforts at constructing dams and reservoirs. Eligible projects include:

New reservoirs with a capacity of 2,000 acre-feet or more; and

Enlargement of existing reservoirs where the enlargement adds 1,000 acre-feet of capacity or more.

WWDC projects involve three levels of review and funding. The purpose of this process is to ensure that all projects undergo extensive analyses that include alternative evaluation, cost estimating, feasibility studies and economic and environmental analysis. 

The three project levels are Level I, Level II and Level III.

Level I projects are studied in a very broad conceptual basis to determine the project needs, priorities and costs. Master plans and reconnaissance studies are included in Level I. These studies are 100 percent funded by the WWDC. 

In the Level II phase, the sponsor, or project owner, has selected a particular project to pursue. In Level II a comprehensive feasibility study of the project is prepared, which includes a detailed cost estimate. Level II studies are 100 percent funded by the WWDC. 

Level III represents the phase in which project design, permitting, land acquisition and construction are completed. The typical funding for Level III projects is a 67 percent WWDC grant and a 33 percent local share, which can take the form of a four percent loan from the WWDC. 

There are several exceptions to this funding package. 

In cases of significant financial hardship, the WWDC may offer grants up to 75 percent of eligible project costs. 

Small water project funding is capped at $25,000 per project.

Groundwater exploration grants are capped at $400,000 with the sponsor providing 25 percent of total costs. 

For dams and reservoirs, the WWDC may recommend higher grant percentages based on the sponsor’s ability to pay.

For materials-only grants where an irrigation district provides all labor and equipment to construct a project, the WWDC funds 100 percent of all material costs.

It should be noted that an eligibility criterion for accessing the WWDC program requires that the Sponsor be a legal governmental entity in Wyoming. This includes municipalities, special districts such as water and sewer or improvement and service districts, and irrigation districts.

Over the last 34 years the WWDC has completed over 500 studies and projects. This has included a number of large projects such as the High Savery Dam and Reservoir in Carbon County with an expenditure of $31.5 million, the Greybull Valley Dam and Reservoir for $31.2 million, the Hawk Springs Dam Rehabilitation for $8.49 million, the Buffalo Bill Dam Enlargement for $52 million, the Pathfinder Reservoir Modification and Enlargement for $6.6 million and the Gillette Madison Well Field Expansion for $1.6 million.

If you would like to learn more about the WWDC program visit wwdc.state.wy.us or call the office at 307-777-7626.

 

By Bryce Reece, WWGA Executive Vice President

The Wyoming Wool Growers Association (WWGA) completed its 108 annual convention on Nov. 13. by again meeting jointly with its sister organization in Idaho, the Idaho Wool Growers Association (IWGA).

The meeting, held at the spectacular Sun Valley Inn and Resort, saw over 50 Wyoming attendees make the short 600-plus mile jaunt to Sun Valley, where they were treated to both phenomenal warm fall weather, and then to waking up one morning with a beautiful dusting of fresh snow (the snow delivered in Idaho was somewhat new and different to many of the Wyoming attendees, in that they were unaccustomed to seeing snow fall straight downward).
Prior to the start of the convention on Nov. 11, the Wyoming delegation held a small reception, to which the IWGA Board was invited. This provided an ideal setting for the leadership of the two associations to become better acquainted and discuss issues critical to both memberships in a more relaxed atmosphere. The convention began in earnest the next morning with both associations holding their annual business meetings.

During the WWGA business meeting, new officers were elected. Peter John Camino of Buffalo was elected President, and, in breaking with tradition somewhat, Dave Julian of Kemmerer was selected to serve as President-elect. When Julian assumes the presidency following Camino’s term, it will be for his second presidential term.

Three Vice President “At-Large” seats were up for election, and the membership re-elected all three current seat holders for an additional two-year term. Re-elected were Brent Larson of Laramie, Laura Taliaferro Pearson of Kemmerer and Lisa Cunningham of Kaycee. With the return of these three producers to the Board, the WWGA continues to have the youngest in average age Executive Board of any of the Wyoming agricultural organizations.
In terms of policy, only one resolution was brought forward, which was drafted to ratify the Executive Board’s earlier interim policy that endorsed Governor Matt Mead’s plan to manage wolves upon delisting. The unanimously adopted resolution states:

Be it resolved that the Wyoming Wool Growers Association supports the proposal brought forward by Governor Matt Mead, which has been agreed to by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and which has been adopted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission through the document entitled “Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan” dated Sept. 14, 2011, and;

Be it Further Resolved that the WWGA ONLY supports the proposal as outlined and proposed by Governor Mead, and any modification to either the Governor’s proposal or the Game and Fish Commissions Sept. 14, 2011 plan that reflects the Governor’s proposal may immediately result in the withdrawal of the WWGA’s support.

Following the conclusion of the annual business meeting, the majority of the convention was focused on addressing several issues of grave importance to the Wyoming and Idaho sheep industries. Paramount was the issue of elimination of domestic sheep grazing permits in the name of big horn sheep. While Wyoming has been perceived to be in better stead than many of the other western states due to the development and adoption of the “Wyoming Domestic/Big Horn Sheep Management Plan,” that is not the case in Idaho, which has recently seen several multi-generational Forest Service grazing allotments vacated by the U.S. Forest Service in their wrong-headed rush to ostensibly “protect” Big Horns.

While Wyoming has not seen the challenges that Idaho has, that is changing as the rabid anti-livestock extremist group known as Western Watersheds has now brought its well-financed team of attorneys and activists to Wyoming with the express purpose of eliminating, through whatever means necessary, the grazing of livestock on federal lands.

Many have described the activities and agenda of Western Watersheds as disgusting and disturbing, and these activities were the subject of much discussion during the joint meeting. The industry has little choice but to meet this onslaught head-on, and strategies and plans are being put in place to do so.

Despite the “heavy” nature of many of the topics brought forward and discussed during the convention, there was still time for enjoyment and socializing. The convention was described by many as “fun,” “enlightening,” “worth the drive” and “should be done again.” Plans are already underway for the 2012 convention, which will once again be brought back to and held in Wyoming.

The WWGA wants to thank all those who took the time to make the drive over to Sun Valley, and those same folks for expressing their support and devotion to the WWGA. In particular, the WWGA wants to especially thank Wyoming Director of Agriculture Jason Fearneyough and newly appointed of Wyoming Livestock Board Director Leanne Stevenson for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend the convention. Many positive statements were heard about their presence and contribution to the overall success of the convention.