Current Edition

current edition

Enacted in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was intended to prevent the extinction of species through recovery and removal from the threatened and endangered list. However, after more than four decades, the ESA is failing with a recovery and delisting rate of less than two percent. It is woefully clear to all stakeholders that this is not an effective way to manage species recovery. Between the avalanche of petitions and sue-and-settle tactics from activist groups, emphasis and resources are not being placed where they are needed to boost the population of species that are currently threatened.

  In this vein, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service( FWS) took steps this week that would recognize and correct certain deficiencies in the listing provisions of the Act. Specifically, FWS released a final rule that would limit petitions for new listings to one species and require more substantial justification in order to file a petition. This rule was immediately supported by groups engaged in true conservation because they saw, like we do, that the only way to preserve endangered species is to focus our resources on those that are truly threatened.

  Unfortunately, common sense reform of the ESA must not only overcome objections from radical environmental groups, it must also overcome foot stomping from members of Congress like Ranking Member Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of the House Natural Resources Committee. Rather than embrace the prevailing concept that a working ESA not only allows for the listing of species but also the recovery of species, Rep. Grijalva has sent a list of demands to FWS that would add further steps to the delisting process. The request from Rep. Grijalva refers to the delisting of grizzly bears from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and demands that any post-listing conservation strategy require “clear and enforceable measures” to ensure a stable population, along with a plan to address potential impacts of climate change on the grizzly’s habitat. In other words, Mr. Grijalva would like the post-listing to maintain all the restrictions of the current listing, plus a few additional items.

  The best available science that has been accepted by the FWS has clearly established that the recovery level for the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem has been met and exceeded. And, state management plans developed by Idaho, Montana and Wyoming assure that these population objectives will continue to be met into the future. The added demands of Rep. Grijalva and the radical environmental groups that he represents serve only to delay the delisting process and add frustration to those trying to achieve real species conservation.

  Not only do these requests hamper future state and federal conservation efforts for the grizzly, they set a precedent for every delisting effort going forward – a major goal of Rep. Grijalva’s home-district ally – the Center for Biological Diversity. The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population has been a great example of how the ESA can work to stabilize the population of a species and then return that species to state management. Rather than allowing for a transition to species recovery and focusing limited resources where they are needed, these restrictions would maintain unnecessary listing protections and squander precious resources.

Adding layers of red tape will only perpetuate the dismal failure of ESA species recovery.

Lasting benefit can only be achieved with an ESA focused on species recovery and returning control to state and local authorities. Healthy conservation must take a bottom up approach working with ranchers, conservationists and state and local governments. It must recognize success by delisting species when recovery goals have been met.

This opinion was originally published in “The Hill” blog at thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/energy-environment/299168-advocates-of-esa-abuse-continue-to-stifle-reform.

Because the U.S. cattle herd has been safe from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) since 1929, I am concerned by the Aug. 1 announcement from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that we are considering the importation of fresh beef from Brazil, a country that has an active vaccination program against FMD.

We hold other trading partners to standards that require their cattle herds to be free of a disease and not just vaccinated against it. We should not relax our requirements for Brazil.

Foot-and-mouth disease is not a threat to human health, but it is devastating to the livestock species that are susceptible to it. Ranchers in countries such as Brazil mount hugely expensive animal health campaigns to control the disease and work to eradicate it. Our major trading partners, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are FMD-free.

Thankfully, we were able to eradicate FMD from U.S. herds nearly 100 years ago. It is disappointing that USDA moved forward with its decision to allow the importation of fresh beef from Brazil before the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had completed its audit of the procedures USDA used to formulate its rules for importation.

A bill that passed Congress at the end of last year – a bill that TSCRA helped to get passed – included language that required audits and site inspections of packing facilities in Brazil and included language that required USDA to outline the process for their audits.

At the time, this language was touted as a great victory for the U.S. cattle industry. Now, we have to ask why USDA is going forward with allowing fresh beef to be imported from Brazil and not fulfilling the requirements of the bill.

TSCRA supports “independent scientific and legal analyses of USDA proposals, risk assessments and supporting information, when necessary, to substantiate risk levels of imported live cattle, beef and/or beef products and assure the protection of the U.S. cattle industry.”

TSCRA expects “that slaughter, processing, transporting and other facilities and equipment used to export foreign live cattle, beef and/or beef products into the U.S. be subject to equivalent or greater inspection and sanitation requirements applicable to U.S. inspected facilities and equipment.”

And the Association requests that USDA continue to take all reasonable and appropriate measures to protect the U.S. cattle industry from the introduction of foreign animal diseases and communicate to foreign countries that wish to export live cattle, beef and/or beef products to the U.S. to commit to enhanced efforts to control and eradicate animal diseases that may be a chronic problem in their country.

USDA says that due to the FMD vaccination protocols followed by Brazilian ranchers, the risk of FMD being brought into this country in fresh beef is very low.

Nevertheless, a risk remains and for a small reward.

We imported more than 570,000 metric tons of beef from Australia in 2015 and almost 300,000 metric tons of beef from New Zealand that year. We imported 285,036 metric tons from Canada in 2015.

Until we have a trade agreement with Brazil, fresh beef imports from that country will be limited to less than 65,000 metric tons. At the most, we could expect 5.5 percent of our imported beef to come from Brazil. Are we willing to risk the health of the U.S. beef herd on such a small amount?

The slightest risk, no matter how small, is not worth getting FMD in this country.

I encourage ranchers to call on your members of Congress to take action on this issue before the end of the year. Apparently, USDA did not get the message. It makes sense to delay importation of fresh beef from Brazil until the GAO audit is completed.

TSCRA supports trade with other countries, but we do not want to forego science and expose the rest of this industry to a risk we already fought almost 100 years ago. It was expensive then; it would be devastating now.

Robert “Bobby” McKnight Jr., of Fort Davis, Texas, raises registered and commercial Herefords and crossbred cattle on ranch land in Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio, Reeves and Crane counties. He became a TSCRA director in 1989, and he currently serves as the TSCRA first vice president. 

This has been a summer to remember celebrating the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station’s (WAES) 125th anniversary.

Laramie Research and Extension Center (LREC) Director Doug Zalesky and his team of our two Haflinger mascots, Pistol and Pete, traversed the state to pull the college’s newly refurbished sheep wagon at numerous events. Pistol and Pete were greeted with enthusiasm everywhere they appeared. Visit Pistol and Pete’s Wyoming tour dates at uwyo.edu/uwexpstn to see their schedule.

We received nothing but positive feedback for representing the University of Wyoming (UW) and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the communities the team visited.

And just as we thought we had reached record attendance at our field days and open houses, we eclipsed last year’s overall attendance with record attendance at our field days in Powell and Sheridan. The open house at James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) had higher-than-average attendance, as well. This was not surprising, considering each of the centers also celebrated providing service to Wyoming for over 65 years in the case of Powell and 101 years in Sheridan and Goshen County at SAREC. The Family Farm Day hosted by LREC was a huge success again this year.

Seeing exuberance in persons of all ages as they enjoy everything the centers have to offer is encouraging. This included a tremendous presentation from Agricultural Liaison Librarian David Kruger about the book he wrote on the 125 years of the WAES. Extension Director Glen Whipple’s impression pretty well sums up how well David’s presentation was received.

He said, “David made the history interesting. I was left thinking ‘I want to learn the rest of the story’ when he finished.’”

We also had an opportunity to share our history at the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo. Thanks to Dennis Sun and the Wyoming Livestock Roundup for helping secure a booth and a spot to park the college’s wagon near the Roundup tent.

Fair week culminated with sharing the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s (WDA) Excellence in Agriculture awards program. I offer many thanks to WDA Director Doug Miyamoto and his staff for making the awards reception an event to remember.

WAES teamed with the UW Foundation to host “Friends of AES” in September. Many major contributors and long-term supporters of the AES visited Laramie to help celebrate the milestone. UW President Laurie Nichols welcomed the group, then found time to stay to learn more about the history and how we’ve been celebrating our anniversary. We could not be more proud of the tremendous support we realize from our friends of AES.

Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) wrote, “We have all benefitted from the collaborative partnerships fostered by the station. Thank you to the dedicated folks at the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station. You are fostering a legacy of service to ag producers, ranchers and farmers around the state.”

I can think of no better way to conclude than with the dedication in the “125 years of the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station” book by Kruger, who wrote, “Dedicated to the hardworking employees of the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station in times past, present and future, and to all of the supporters who help us get the job done.”

Since becoming the University of Wyoming’s (UW) 26th president in May, I have had the pleasure of traveling around Wyoming to learn everything I can about the state, meet its people and hear their thoughts and desires for the state’s university.

Those interactions have confirmed something I suspected when I decided to accept the presidency last winter – even though I’m not a Wyoming native, my upbringing and career in the next-door neighbor of South Dakota have prepared me pretty well to understand the people and culture of Wyoming. Things really aren’t that much different. Wyomingites are strong, friendly and independent, with a strong work ethic and a great deal of personal responsibility.

And, of course, much like South Dakota, agriculture plays a key role in Wyoming’s economy and way of life. Having grown up on a farm, with parents and family who have been engaged in agriculture my entire life, I feel right at home in Wyoming.

The common theme of my interactions across the state has been affection for and pride in the university, along with the expectation that it deliver on its land-grant mission of access, quality education, research to stimulate the economy and service to the state and nation. As a product of land-grant universities and having spent my entire career as a land-grant university faculty member, I am happy to lead an institution that continues to embrace its land-grant heritage and mission.

Measured by its impact on American society, the Morrill Act of 1862 must rank as one of the great legislative achievements of 19th century America. The law that provided for the establishment of land-grant universities set the stage for institutions that made higher education accessible for many and that were devoted to serving the people and industries of the states where they were located.

Later congressional actions built upon that foundation, including the Hatch Act of 1887, which provided for the establishment of agricultural experiment stations at those land-grant universities. The Hatch Act deepened and amplified the land-grant mission of education, research and service that continues today.

UW was established in 1886 under the provisions of the Morrill Act, and the Wyoming Agriculture Experiment Station (WAES) was created just five years later – one year after statehood – to serve the state’s farmers and ranchers. As we mark the 125th anniversary of WAES, it’s only appropriate to examine the station’s impressive history and take stock of its achievements.

WAES, both on campus and through our research centers in Lingle, Powell and Sheridan, regularly produces valuable information regarding crop and livestock production, ag economics, weed management and food safety.

Here are a few examples of WAES research:

A collaborative project at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center is finding ways to restore land decimated by invasive weeds such as cheatgrass, which takes valuable land out of production.

Dried bean trials at Powell are helping identify varieties that will perform well in the northwest part of the state.

Research at Sheridan is finding the most ideal combination of grass/legumes to establish in irrigated crop/forage system.

WAES has re-established a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho. WAES had transported the foundation flock of Columbia sheep to the station in 1918. Now, the Laramie Research and Extension Center will test rams from breed improvement research the sheep station has been conducting in recent years.

In my travels around the state, I also have made a point of visiting with UW Extension employees who do important, on-the-ground work with the people and industries of Wyoming. The Extension program was created under the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, in which Congress provided funding for outreach efforts at land-grant universities in partnership with state and county governments. Specifically, the Act’s purpose was “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture … home economics and rural energy and to encourage the application of the same.”

I’m pleased to see that more than a century later, the state-federal-county partnership endures and flourishes in Wyoming, continuing to help the state’s citizens and communities respond to challenges and changes. Although Extension has broadened its educational mission to encompass many of the contemporary issues facing Wyoming’s people and its rural communities, the program’s roots are still firmly planted in agriculture.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that after a long delay and unfortunate problems, work has begun on construction and repairs to UW’s biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory. The building and remodeling should take about 10 months, followed of course by the commissioning and rigorous certification process. I understand this has been a frustrating situation for many people, but I’m glad to see things are now moving forward. This lab will provide ideal conditions for researchers to work with wildlife and livestock diseases including brucellosis, plague, tularemia and Q fever. Even without that facility, our brucellosis researchers remain hard at work on effective vaccines and vaccination practices. We remain hopeful for breakthroughs that will help the agriculture industry and wildlife managers.

I am committed to maintaining strong research facilities and conducting research that is useful to the state’s agricultural producers, even as the university tightens its belt in response to the downturn in the state’s energy economy.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Governor Mead has tasked the university with reducing its budget by a total of $35 million in the coming biennium – in addition to a nearly $6 million cut that came from the 2016 legislative session. There also are needs within the university, related to maintenance of new buildings and upgrading our fiscal reporting system, that require internal reallocations.

I experienced a similar budget reduction at my previous university, so I know that there definitely will be some pain. But I also know that it is possible for an institution to go through reductions of this magnitude and come out even stronger, as a result of prioritization and innovative thinking. I’m committed to making sure this is the case for UW. Strategic planning is one of my first priorities for the university, and I intend for that planning process to also be very inclusive and transparent. It is clear that we will have to think very creatively to maintain and enhance the university’s level of service to the state, and a key to that will be a multidisciplinary approach among our academic units.

Fortunately, there are strong multidisciplinary efforts already in place, including the cooperative relationship between the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Another example is the university’s Science Initiative, which involves five academic departments in the foundational sciences, including molecular biology in the College of Agriculture.

The Science Initiative will involve recruiting and giving Wyoming high school graduates a world-class experience, with active-learning programs, classrooms and laboratories to dramatically increase student learning, retention and satisfaction. We have a number of strong programs in the sciences already, and these coming changes have to potential to lift us to the top quartile of universities across the country.

The Science Initiative plan calls for relocating the Department of molecular biology to be with its sister departments of botany and zoology/physiology. Space freed up by the move of Molecular Biology will provide additional research and support spaces for the Department of Animal Science. This is a very exciting effort that has received strong support from the Legislature and the governor, and we are committed to moving it forward as quickly as possible.

In spite of the challenges facing the state, I remain optimistic for the university and Wyoming’s education system. Higher education is critical to Wyoming’s future, because our graduates are the people who will drive the innovations that assure a future for the state’s key industries; develop new ideas and businesses to diversify the state’s economy; and assure that Wyoming remains a great place to live, work, play and raise families.

I look forward to working in concert with all components of Wyoming’s education system, state government, private industry and others to help drive positive changes in the state – changes that improve our economy while protecting those things we hold dear in this part of the country. Pulling together when times are tough is part of the Western ethic, and I promise that the University of Wyoming will be an active partner as we work our way through the current downturn.