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I have often wondered how many decisions a rancher makes each day. In our fast-paced, constantly changing world, each new day seems to bring more options for day-to-day decisions. While most decisions aren’t going to make or break the ranch, in hindsight, it is easier to say whether the decision was the best choice. Most decisions aren’t black and white – right or wrong.

I have always operated with the premise that most decisions are very personal. What is a good decision for one operation may not work for another operation. The most important part of the decision making process is to obtain enough information to make an informed decision. 

Information in today’s society changes rapidly. There are so many places people get information – with lots of the information being inaccurate. It is hard enough to keep up with day-to-day ranch management operations that it is no wonder a poll showed that the number one reason for why livestock producers didn’t participate in available programs was “they didn’t know about the program.” 

One of the high-priority issues facing many ranching operations in Wyoming is the potential listing of the Greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). While the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in their March 23, 2010 listing decision determined livestock grazing is not a significant threat to the sage grouse, it was determined that improper livestock management may have negative impacts on sage grouse seasonal habitats. Listing the sage  grouse could have significant impacts to managing private and state lands. Additional challenges in utilizing federal grazing permits could also occur.

One risk management tool currently available to private landowners in Wyoming who have a sage grouse utilizing their land is the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). As implied, sage grouse are a “candidate” for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) list, with the next FWS listing determination scheduled for September 2015.

Many agencies, organizations and individuals in Wyoming worked for years to develop an umbrella sage grouse CCAA with goals of streamlining the process for landowner enrollment; promoting conservation measures that reduce or remove threats to the Greater sage grouse through proactive ranch management; providing comprehensive conservation; and providing landowners assurances that current ranch management practices covered by this CCAA will continue in the event the Greater sage grouse is listed under the ESA.

The Greater Sage Grouse Umbrella CCAA for Ranch Management is designed to address identified threats affecting Greater sage grouse on private lands in Wyoming, while providing conservation measure options to address each threat. Individual CCAAs entered into by landowners are built on the information provided in the umbrella agreement to tailor a conservation package to the requirements of habitat on particular parcels of land.

Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) provided input during the development of the umbrella CCAA. Providing timely, useful information is part of the core mission for the WSGA. They felt it was vital for landowners to have complete and accurate information when making a decision on whether or not to enroll all or part of their lands in a CCAA, so they partnered on an educational project with Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and Wyoming Nature Conservancy to develop a CCAA education program. The project was made possible through funding assistance from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

WSGA subsequently contracted with me to serve as the CCAA Education Project Coordinator. It is my job to insure private landowners have accurate information to make an informed decision in regards to the sage grouse CCAA.

So what is a CCAA?

A CCAA is a voluntary agreement between the FWS and a private landowner whereby private landowners agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to species at risk of being listed under the ESA. The complementary public land voluntary agreement is a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) that may provide some “insurance” for grazing allotments but not assurances.

The overall goal of a CCAA is conservation of the species through cooperative, voluntary conservation on non-federal land. Actions should be conducted, or not conducted, that remove or reduce threats, so there would be no need to list the species under the Endangered Species Act.

Landowners agree to carry out the actions, and in exchange, the FWS agrees not to require additional conservation measures if the sage grouse ever becomes listed.

So what does a private landowner gain by enrolling lands in a CCAA and the sage grouse is listed? With a CCAA, the landowner receives assurances that current ranch management practices covered by the umbrella CCAA will continue even if the Greater sage grouse is listed under the ESA, and an “incidental take” permit will go into effect. If the bird is listed, take will be illegal per Section 9 of the ESA, but with the take permit, the landowner would have incidental take coverage. 

Enrolled participants could expect a reduction in the amount of time it takes to implement projects for conservation programs offered through the Farm Bill, Natural Resources Conservation Service or other Federal agencies, such as Wildlife Services.

To learn more about CCAAs and CCAs to make an informed decision, attend the WSGA Convention June 4-7, contact the WSGA Office at 307-638-3942 to ask questions or receive a CCAA/CCA Education Packet, visit wysga.org for extensive information or attend an informational meeting in your area.

 

There was a saying on the ranch I grew up on. “Don’t pitch the kids out with the hay.” It wasn’t really a saying, but it should have been. When I was a fuzzy-haired, overall-clad eight-year-old girl, my life revolved around being in the barn. In fact, I once moved my bed out there, but that’s a story for another time. In today’s story, I was helping out in the hayloft. 

In anticipation of a new crop of alfalfa, we were pitching forkfuls of loose hay out of the loft and onto a flatbed below. My job was to move the loose stuff forward from the back of the barn and push it toward my dad who piled it up.  From there, Grandpa, who was armed with the requisite fork, would pitch it out onto the trailer below. On the ground, Grandma and my sister raked up the spillage and put it back on the trailer. Now, I have to admit that my dedication to the mission at-large was far greater than my dedication to my role in achieving the mission.  

The afternoon was hot. Being ready to finish and go to the house for iced tea, Grandpa was pitching like Cy Young trying to get his 512th win. When the fork tine snagged my overall cuff, Grandpa must have thought the catcher tossed him a bowling ball. I sailed from the loft, twisting and writhing in the air as if auditioning for Cirque Du Soleil. I can’t speak to the gracefulness of the dive, but I stuck the landing. Flat. On. My. Back. 

Through the cloud of dust and chaff, I looked up into the horrified faces of Dad, Grandpa and Grandma. I still wonder how fast Grandpa had to run to beat me to the ground. Grandma, who was also a nurse, checked me out and proclaimed me uninjured, but I was banished from the loft for the duration of the project. As I dragged myself to the house in shame, over the squeals of my sister’s laughter and the ringing in my head, I heard Grandpa say, “That Ansel (yes, he called me Ansel) is going to have some hard lessons to learn about staying focused.”  

My Grandfather was right, I had some hard lessons ahead of me, but I pride myself on my ability to focus now not just on the mission at-large but on my role in accomplishing that mission. The mission I am speaking of is ensuring beef checkoff dollars paid by Wyoming cattlemen and women are used in the most effective, efficient and results-oriented manner possible. The purpose of the checkoff is to increase beef demand. Day in, day out, that is what your checkoff dollars are being used for, and I am proud to be executing those producer-determined programs. 

In January, the members of the Wyoming Beef Council spent the better part of two days reviewing the status of the beef industry in Wyoming, the country and world.  For hours they listened, questioned, pondered, strategized and prioritized. There may have even been some ruminating. With so many opportunities for promotion, education and information sharing, they did yeoman’s work honing in on how producer dollars collected in Wyoming could make the greatest impact. 

In the end, these fine producer leaders completed a roadmap for success – a list of priorities and objectives for expenditure of funds. These goals and priorities not only comply with the Beef Promotion Act and Order but maximize the impact and reach of the checkoff, so that every precious dollar is being used in the best way possible toward the goal of increasing demand.  

In the hayloft project, each of us had a job to do and a role in accomplishing the overarching goal. Designing that roadmap is the role of producer leadership, as is choosing projects that fit the priorities. The role of contractors and staff is to propose projects that fit the priorities and execute to the best of our abilities the projects that are approved. It’s a good system, and it makes sense.  

The consumer-related priorities determined by the members of the Wyoming Beef Council in January are all of equal importance and are listed in no particular order. 

They include proactively educating influencers about environmentally, socially and economically sustainable beef production practices; capitalizing on Wyoming’s ranching culture and heritage to improve the image of the beef community among millennials and key thought leaders; providing millennials with recipes and cooking techniques to address their desire for convenient, healthy beef meals; and educating health and nutrition influencers about the nutritional benefits of beef. 

Now you may ask yourself, “What about education?  What about research?” The truth is, education and research are great projects, and they are undoubtedly essential in accomplishing the overarching goal of increasing demand. However, we must be cognizant of our personal and organizational strengths and weaknesses, as well as our budget limitations. 

Questions Council members considered during their planning session were, “What is our greatest strength?” and “How can we use that to make the largest possible impact?”   One of the best things we have on our side is you, Wyoming cattlemen and women, and we are hoping for your support and involvement in upcoming projects. We will be reaching out to millennials with recipes that have Wyoming flair, ranch stories and features about you, as well as having you speak to influencers about what you do as a rancher and why you do it. If you haven’t seen our updated website, wybeef.com, I invite you to take a look. It shows the direction we are trying to take. We also have a new producer e-newsletter that I encourage you to sign up for. The link is on the producer page of the site.  Join us. We need you.  

It’s an exciting time, and I know that by focusing on what we can do better than anyone else and sticking to the plan, we can make advances toward our ultimate goal of keeping beef king of the plate. Avoiding being pitched out of the loft isn’t a bad motivator, either.

President Ruth Laribee led a successful legislative visit with Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE) members from states of Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota, New York, Nebraska, Washington and Wyoming to Washington D.C. WIFE is a grassroots organization that represents U.S. farmers and ranchers.

The first day visit to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Ed Avalos, the undersecretary for marketing and regulation, said the new Farm Bill gives security for commodity marketing. The economic impact of agriculture adds $750 billion to the U.S. economy every year and creates over 60 million jobs. Michael Scuse, director of Farm Service Agency, informed the group that U.S. has 72 offices in foreign countries to promote foreign agriculture marketing. 

In brief, the Farm Bill eliminates direct payments while strengthening and expanding crop insurance options; puts into place a permanent livestock disaster assistance fund; reforms dairy policy by repealing outdated programs and creating a new voluntary margin protection program without imposing government-mandated supply controls; and consolidates conservation programs and focuses those efforts on working lands.

It also continues funding for agricultural research; creates support for beginning farmers; and reforms the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by addressing fraud and misuse; and assists with foreign agriculture and marketing and development. 

Matt Schertz, senior ag staffer for from Representative Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, explained it very clearly. The 2014 Farm Bill has eliminated the direct payment program to farmers.  He explained the federal crop insurance is in place to cover crop losses related to bad weather. 

Matt explained that there are three new programs to assist crop price losses. The New Farm Bill has a $100 million budget to educate the nation’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) employees and to implement crop losses program. Price losses provide a floor for crops target price. Farmers have to sign up for crop loss coverage, agriculture risk coverage and shallow coverage loss protection at the FSA offices.

Thanks to our lawmakers in the House and Senate for the great work they have done to maintain U.S. sugar policy to sustain our farmer-owned industry. The Farm Bill mandatory spending baseline for 2013-22 is $969 billion, with nutrition making up $772 billion of that. Agriculture itself represents a small portion of the Farm Bill.

Wyoming Senior Senator Michael Enzi has been an advocate of America’s agriculture. There is less than one percent of population that feeds us all. It is such a privilege to have Senator Enzi to work on balancing this nation’s budget deficit. Senator Enzi is well aware of economic impact of farming in America and importance of sugar income to the western states especially State of Montana and Wyoming.

America is already more dependent on foreign suppliers than most would think. Trade deals have forced the United States to be the second biggest sugar importer in the world. Imports account for approximately one-quarter of the market, and low prices in past years have forced 33 U.S. sugar facilities to close between 1996 and 2008. 

Agriculture has been the stepping stone for this great country’s fortune. America can easily overcome the huge budget deficit. We can easily payoff this nation’s debt by following America’s founding fathers’ wisdom. Presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt knew the blessing of having good farmers in this new land. 

We have to make sure the 2014 Congress supports U.S. agriculture sector. History is a wise teacher, and if we look back and learn from our past mistakes, we will prosper from this great teacher.

Recently, opponents of conservation easements in the Wyoming Legislature seized the issue of public access to polarize support as a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. Former advocates for private property rights suddenly threw in with others who believe that access is a right to be legislated. Various maneuvers were attempted to require “full public access” to the habitat of the very species for which we are trying to stave off an endangered species listing and preserve as an economic driver of tourism.  

If such efforts had passed, projects would likely not have moved forward – which, of course, was the intent.  No private landowner would agree to “full public access” as a required by-product of a conservation easement.

But, is there value in the grant of public access by private landowners, and is it something that we should justify paying for in the name of the public good?  Is full public access to private land an appropriate use of state funding, and, if so, is it appropriate on all lands in which the state invests?

The  Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT) was signed into law in 2005 in order to maintain, conserve and enhance the Cowboy State’s natural resource heritage, which is defined in statute as “renewable natural resources managed under a balanced stewardship that provides for the optimization of social, economic and cultural benefits for the citizens of Wyoming.”

The law further describes how this can be accomplished, and the WWNRT Board has done an admirable job of selecting and recommending projects to further this vision.  Projects funded to date enhance existing terrestrial and aquatic habitat necessary to maintain optimum wildlife and fish populations, preserve open space through the acquisition of development rights, support watershed enhancements and mitigate human and natural impacts detrimental to wildlife.

Some of the projects completed to date also support public access, and it is our belief that this is in fact a good use of state funding if several factors are taken into consideration.

First, each conservation project must be designed and evaluated on individual merits to maintain, conserve or enhance the resource values it provides.  

Open lands that provide sage grouse leks, parturition grounds for game animals, winter range and year-round water supplies are important to conserve for these very reasons alone. In fact, seclusion is often a significant aspect of why these lands are critical to the 800 species that make Wyoming their home. Only a fraction of these species are hunted, fished and trapped, and they contribute mightily to our state’s second biggest industry – tourism. However, 180 are described as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” and, in turn, can be used to disproportionately determine our ability to use other natural resources.  

If habitat fragmentation is among the most detrimental factors to the abundance of a species, then maintaining vast areas of intact habitat is critical to getting and keeping such species off the list.  Wyoming’s wide-open spaces, productive lowland ranges and riparian corridors provided by private agricultural lands are the very reason we have diversity.  

At a minimum, we need to maintain these lands if we are to maintain populations. Full public access is simply not conducive to maintaining habitat for sensitive species.

Next, public access, if appropriate, must be valued separately from the value of a conservation easement. 

When private lands are valued by an independent certified appraiser for the purpose of acquiring a conservation easement, the value contemplates only the difference between the property as it exists at the time and its contemporaneous development potential.  If we wish to add other sticks to the bundle, we should value them incrementally and provide landowners the ability to recoup their value, either through the sale of those assets or through a tax-deduction gained by way of their donation to a qualified conservation organization.

Additionally, the landowner’s wishes should determine the breadth and depth of the conservation project – including public access

One of the most positive aspects of the acquisition of conservation easements on private land is that it is completely voluntary.  

Also, unlike land acquired for conservation purposes by a government entity, private land under easement remains on the tax rolls, and the cost of its stewardship continues to be borne by the private sector.  We all know about private lands with new locks on the gates once newcomers take them over. But we also know of many Wyoming families who, for decades, have allowed folks to access their property either through private understandings or more formal agreements. 

A conservation easement does not take away surface ownership and landowners continue to have the right to decide who may access their private property and when.

As another consideration, we already have provided public access in conjunction with voluntary conservation projects.  Some conservation projects – several completed by the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust in recent years – have, in fact, provided access to the public. 

Thanks to the wishes of the Sommers Family Ranch Partnership, the Grindstone Cattle Company in Sublette County and a productive partnership between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) and our Land Trust, the public can access almost five miles of blue-ribbon trout fishing on the Green River.  

The same can be said of the Vible Ranch, also in Sublette County, where the Richie family chose to honor access to the New Fork River they have provided to anglers for years. 

Just last week, the Stock Growers Land Trust, working in partnership with the Pheasant family, multi-generational sheep ranchers in Johnson County, completed an agricultural easement that preserves a stock rest on Bear Trap Meadows in the Big Horns.  This project was supported with donations from the Johnson County Cattlemen’s Association and the Johnson County Wool Growers, as well as the WWNRT and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Not surprisingly, the family also chose to continue to allow the public access to fishing on Bear Trap Creek through a separate agreement with the WGFD.  

The Stock Growers Land Trust is committed to Wyoming’s natural resource heritage and mindful of the art of balancing many choices. We are dedicated to working with many partners to help ensure that this heritage is available to be enjoyed by future generations of the Cowboy State. We hope you will help, too!

For more information on the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust, visit wsgalt.org.