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One of the most important issues facing the 18,000 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing permittees and lessees and nearly 6,000 Forest Service permittees is grazing permit renewal. Although Congress has granted to each of you a temporary reprieve from being thrown off your allotments because of the failure of the agencies to get through a timely renewal process, the BLM and Forest Service are still charged with completing the term renewal process at some point.

For BLM, this renewal requires the completion of a “standards and guidelines” determination. For the Forest Service, this renewal requires the gathering of monitoring data. Compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental statutes is also required for both agencies.

While it is up to the federal agencies to complete these requirements, grazing permittees grazing and lessees can, and should, still play an important role in the permit renewal process.

The following are a few suggestions.

First, be thoroughly engaged in the monitoring process. If monitoring shows that there is an issue on the allotment, work with your federal agencies to determine the cause of that issue. The regulations only require a change in use or management of a term permit if livestock grazing is a significant cause of an environmental issue on the allotment.

However, if range or riparian issues are being caused by excess wild horse use, wildlife use, recreation use, geomorphological or material element or some other factor, livestock grazing should still be continued.

Documenting the significant cause of any range or riparian issue is critical when it comes to term permit renewal.

Second, some type of NEPA compliance will be required for term permit renewal. NEPA review can range anywhere from a full-blown environmental impact statement to a categorical exclusion. Both the BLM and Forest Service allow the use of categorical exclusions to renew term permits so long as, a, the monitoring data or rangeland health evaluation shows that the allotment is meeting all rangeland health standards or that livestock grazing is not the causal factor in failing to meet a standard; b, the allotment does not contain any “extraordinary circumstances”; c, the permit is being renewed under substantially the same terms and conditions as the prior permit; and d, Endangered Species Act and other types of reviews have been completed.

“Extraordinary circumstances” could include things like the presence of a Mexican wolf den, the need to change the management of the land to another use, significant cultural or historical sites, a request to analyze the development of water sources, fences or other physical improvements, etc. According to the current BLM Instruction Memorandums for sage grouse, the mere presence of the species is not, in and of itself, an “extraordinary circumstance.” With all of these factors, the most important thing that has to occur is written documentation. If the agency can document why it reached the decision it did, it is going to be significantly harder to challenge.

If the agency makes a decision and does not have a supporting rationale at the time of the decision, an administrative or legal challenge is likely to follow.

Fourth, if the agency determines that either an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement is necessary, a permittee also needs to have significant involvement prior to the public comment period.

One of the ways that radical environmental groups like to attack grazing permit renewal is based on an allegedly “inadequate NEPA document.” Based on a quick review of the reported court cases, one of the most likely areas of attack is if an agency fails to consider all direct and indirect effects, cumulative impacts and connected actions between renewal of the permit and other uses of the allotment.

For example, if the allotment is also subject to oil and gas or other mineral development, developed recreation or other permitted use, those uses have to be analyzed in the permit renewal NEPA document. Additionally, permit renewal NEPA documents are attacked if the agency fails to adequately analyze alternatives. Note that the agency does not have to fully evaluate every possible alternative to renew a permit, but if the agency is going to exclude a viable alternative from consideration, it has to explain why. Third, litigation and appeals can be filed if there is a perceived data gap. Like the alternative analysis, however, as long as the agency notes and explains its rationale for not endlessly collecting data, the courts will defer to the agency explanation.

Now is the time to begin discussing term permit renewal with your agency personnel to see where your permit is on the schedule and to explore any ways you can assist with this process. This is not a process that permittees should ignore, particularly since so many ranches have to have a reliable term permit to survive.

On June 1, 2017, in less than two hours after the parties’ closing arguments following a two-week jury trial, jurors rendered their decision, and Edwin Hostetler and Western Slope Layers, LLC won the right to continue their family farming operation on their agricultural property outside Hotchkiss, Colo.

Even though this indoor, organic, chicken egg-laying operation had every county and state permit imaginable and had passed all environmental and safety inspections, the Hostetlers were sued by a neighbor claiming that the dust particulates, mold and other “contaminates” were “physically trespassing” on her hobby farm and had caused her almost $600,000 in lost property value, medical expenses, annoyance and discomfort and past, present and future bodily injury. A local jury, however, found that none of her claims were true and preserved the property rights of the Hostetlers and Western Slope Layers, LLC. Brandon L. Jensen of the Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC represented the Hostetlers in this case.

While this case is an important vindication for this Colorado agriculturalist and private property owner, it is still troubling. The case has lingered on against the Hostetlers since 2011. The first suit came when Delta County, Colo. approved the permit for construction of the Hostetler’s egg laying barn. That Delta County permit included requirements for construction of the facility, air and water testing, and other environmental and health protections required by the County’s regulations. The neighbor sued Delta County for granting the permit. The case ended in 2015 when the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the County Commissioners’ determination to grant the permit and the Colorado Supreme Court refused to take the case.

Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC represented the Hostetlers in their intervention on the side of the county arguing that the county had properly granted the permit and that terminating the permit would cause irreversible injury to the Hostetler family business.

Unsatisfied with that result, the neighbor persisted by filing a case against the Hostetlers and Western Slope Layers personally for physical trespass by dust, mold and other contaminates. The problem was that the neighbor had absolutely no medical tests to prove that the existence of the enclosed egg-laying facility was causing her any physical problems. All of her medical tests were normal, and she had never been hospitalized for asthma. With regard to her claims for trespass, expert witnesses for the Hostetlers proved that all “emissions” claimed to be from the Hostetler’s enclosed facility were well within normal levels for all agricultural settings, and there was no proof that these emissions came from the Hostetler’s barn.

Additionally, these emissions even were present on her property during the two-year period that the barn was closed, and there were no chickens present.

While this case does show that a family farmer can fight and win the right to continue the agriculture use of his property, it does make one wonder. According to a 2016 Harris Poll, about 3.3 percent of the American population are vegetarians and half of those also exclude eating dairy or eggs. Thus, an overwhelming majority of the U.S. population depends on meat, eggs and dairy for survival. The problem is that there is a growing number of the population who do not want to live near an agriculture operation – including a self-contained, fully permitted, family-owned, cage-free, organic egg-laying barn, with baskets of flowers hanging from the porch of the facility. Americans enjoy the safest, healthiest and cheapest food as a percent of consumer expenditures over any other country in the world.

However, a large percentage of Americans do not understand the basic process of who grows their food or how it is grown.

There is also a percentage of people who simply do not like agricultural production and the families who make it happen. This mindset is the antithesis to the roots of this country. Whether you are a soccer mom in Denver, a ski instructor in Vail, an accountant in Grand Junction or a family living on 10 acres with a couple of horses in Golden, we all need to support agriculture. The Hostetlers were able to persevere and win their case, but in a place where the “Right to Farm” means the right to grow food, these kinds of cases should not even happen.

The stock market has historically been an excellent place to invest your money. Since 1926, the U.S. stock market, as measured by the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500, has risen at an average rate of about 10 percent per year.  Deciding how to invest in the stock market, however, can be challenging, given the amount of information on investing and the number of investment products available.

The financial media, Wall Street and the investment brokerage industry disseminate information on investing that is often designed to entertain, to sell advertising and to move money so they can generate fees and commissions. Once you understand how destructive listening to some of their advice can be, you will learn to ignore much of what you hear from the media and Wall Street. 

Another source of investment information comes from academia. Academia refers to the people and institutions dedicated to the activities of teaching and learning, including research and discovery. This would include schools, colleges and universities. 

Over the past 60 years or so, academic research has discovered and established the most effective ways to invest.   You can benefit from their research and improve your odds of having a successful investment experience.

Active versus passive

While there are many strategies for investing in the stock and bond market, they all boil down to two basic investment philosophies – active management and passive management. 

Active management attempts to “beat the market” through a variety of techniques, such as stock picking, sector rotation and marketing timing.

In contrast, passive money managers avoid speculation and subjective forecasting. They take a longer-term view and attempt to deliver market returns using index or asset class funds.

Active management assumes the market is not completely efficient – that some securities are over- or underpriced and that it is possible to figure out which ones they are. 

On the other hand, passive investment managers avoid speculation and attempt to capture the market’s returns by investing in index funds without regard for future forecasts.

To a large extent, the investment media and brokerage industry would like you to believe that the key to successful investing is picking the right stocks, sectors or asset classes and getting in and out of those stocks, sectors or asset classes at the right times. Wall Street and the brokerage industry try to create the impression that their superior investment insight and ability to pick stocks, sectors and time the market will help you attain better performance. 

A 2008 study by Dartmouth Finance Professor Kenneth French estimated investors in the U.S. pay roughly $100 billion per year in fees and other expenses in an attempt to “beat the market” rather than investing in low-fee index funds that track the broader performance of the stock market.

Another study by French and the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics winner Eugene Fama determined only one percent of active managers outperformed the market due to skill.

Can active manager outperform?

Many people are under the false notion that, to be a successful stock market investor, you need to hire someone who is continually monitoring the market and who will use their superior insight, knowledge, resources and abilities to get in and out of the right stocks and/or investment sectors at the right times. It assumes you need to be able to forecast what will happen in the economy and accurately predict the market’s direction in advance.

Active money managers try to sell you on their superior stock picking and market timing ability to justify the higher fees they charge.  The measure of successful active management lies in the ability of a manager to deliver above-average returns consistently over multiple years. Demonstrating the ability to outperform repeatedly is the only proven way to differentiate a manager’s luck from skill.

A comprehensive study was performed to determine the percentage of actively managed mutual funds that outperformed their passive index benchmark. From Jan. 1, 2000 through Dec. 31, 2015, of the mutual funds that survived this period of time, only 17 percent of stock funds beat their benchmark index and only seven percent of bond funds beat their benchmark index. The results of this study demonstrate how difficult it is to beat the market using active management and why more and more people are turning to passive index fund investment strategies.

The idea that you need to hire an investment guru to have a positive investment experience is simply not true. You can have a successful experience investing in the stock market without working with such an individual. In fact, by investing in the right mix of index or asset class funds and avoiding emotional reactions to the market, you will likely beat the vast majority of active money managers over time.

Chris Nolt is the owner of Solid Rock Wealth Management, Inc. and Solid Rock Realty Advisors, LLC, sister companies dedicated to working with families around the country who are selling a farm or ranch and transitioning into retirement. For more information, visit solidrockproperty.com and solidrockwealth.com.

After a year of hard work and preparation, the Wyoming State Fair (WSF) serves as the culminating statewide event for 4-H and FFA members across the state. Much like the Wyoming State Science Fair Competition, All-State Music Groups and others, the State Fair is the final competitive event for 4-H and FFA kids in Wyoming. It is also the only statewide agricultural event that showcases the industry and the work being done on farms and ranches across Wyoming.

A lot of time and hard work by youth who qualify to participate in the State Fair goes into the projects they showcase. With a focus on youth competition, the Wyoming State Fair provides a setting to showcase the career skills young people developed working on their projects like time management, organization, responsibility, public speaking and confidence. The skills these kids develop will not only help them succeed at the Wyoming State Fair but in their chosen career and workplace down the road.

Along with this, the Wyoming State Fair fills an important role in the agriculture industry by providing educational opportunities for participants and the general public alike. Sectors of the agriculture industry, such as cattle and hay, are major components of the fair, and being showcased in August supports the advancement of those and many other industries.

Even in a more rural state like Wyoming where a large portion of the population still has some connection to agriculture, the general public continues to moves further and further away from the industry. The fair is a hands-on and tangible way for the general public to connect with agriculture on a personal level.

Consumers can see where their food comes from.  Visitors can still see, touch, taste and smell agriculture. They can see a market steer on the hoof and begin to connect the steak on their table with the animal and the producer who raised it. Visitors can see beautiful fruits, vegetables and crops lined up for display and learn that all of it was grown right in their own backyard. It is an opportunity to showcase Wyoming’s agriculture industry to the public and allowing members of the industry to advocate for their own future.

The State Fair is a vital thread in the fabric that makes up Wyoming’s culture and heritage. The intrinsic value of the fair to young people, the agriculture industry and the culture of Wyoming is easy to see, even without taking in the significant economic impact of the Wyoming State Fair on Converse County.

We encourage you to make the trip to Douglas this year to walk through the barns to visit with some of the great kids who are the future of the agriculture industry in Wyoming, eat some of the great food from our vendors on the Midway, and experience the overall fun of the fair. See you in August.

The 2017 Wyoming State Fair, with the theme “Fair Skies,” is set for Aug. 12-19. For more about the Wyoming State Fair, visit wystatefair.com or call 307-358-2398.