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By Leanne Stevenson, Natural Resources and Policy Division, Wyoming Department of Agriculture

As I sat in the legislative committee meetings during the legislative session, I listened to the continuing saga of bark beetle infestations in our forests. There is a loud public outcry asking: “What can we do about these dead trees?”

As a result of discussions and the need for urgency to address this issue in the state, Senate Enrolled Joint Resolution 0004 was signed, supporting continued efforts to combat the bark beetle infestation. So here we sit, looking back, asking what happened and what we can do to get the timber industry back in Wyoming. As I sat there, I started reflecting on my perception of what happened to the timber industry, and what we can learn from the mistakes we made leading up to where we are today.

At one time during the rich history of Wyoming, the timber and agriculture industries were sustainable, thriving and crucial to Wyoming’s rural economy. These industries were the lifeblood of many communities.

As time passed, the timber industry saw more regulations, more litigation and additional limits on the tools available for managing forests. Each one individually didn’t seem that bad, but the combination of restrictions and lack of proactive actions led to the demise of an industry, the lack of active forest management and the eventual situation we face today. Today, the industry is non-existent in most of the state, with the only remaining sawmill in the northeast corner of.
As I see it, there are many similarities in the two industries – timber and agriculture. They both rely on natural resources in ecosystems under heavy scrutiny by those who want to save everything except the industries that put a roof over our head and food in our stomach. In many ways, I believe the agriculture industry is facing the same situation the timber industry faced the last 30-plus years – more regulations, more litigation and more restrictions on proactive management to the point of unintended consequences. I just hope the agriculture industry doesn’t have to be crippled to an equivalent state of existence before we take a firmer stance. I don’t want to look back 20 or 30 years from now, asking, “How can we get our agriculture industry back in Wyoming?”

I know the saying “hindsight is 20-20,” but aren’t we also supposed to “learn from our mistakes?” Ok, then. The mistake we see looking back is that, since our ecosystems are heavily influenced by humans (and, by the way, there is nothing within our scope of human control that allows us to remove the human influence on ecosystems), we need to maintain industries that provide food and fiber for the world because it is much harder to bring them back once they are gone. We can’t change the past, but we can influence the future.

I firmly believe we are capable of sustaining the agriculture industry in our great state. The combination of knowledge and determination of those in the agriculture industry, Wyoming’s citizens and the state’s great leaders are a wealth of resources and the full force in utilizing these resources is yet to be seen.

The adversarial regulations and litigation in the agriculture industry are more prevalent than ever. Those of us who work in the “agriculture policy” world are doing the best we can to address the issues, but we need each of you to join in the battle and act as reinforcements to strengthen the effort. Remember another saying: “strength in numbers.”

There are many things each of us as individuals can and should do to protect an industry critical to our local communities, state, country and world. Let’s work together to fight smarter, not harder. Each person doing a little can make a difference.

If we all take a stand in the fight to keep agriculture sustainable, we won’t have to look back and ask what happened with the demise of the agriculture industry in Wyoming. Let’s learn from our mistakes, fight to maintain proactive agriculture management practices and maintain this vital industry. Don’t wait until it is too late to protect the agriculture industry. Let’s learn from our mistakes and influence the future.

    From the heights of the Wind Rivers to the expanses of the High Plains, Wyoming ranchers continue to produce not only high quality livestock, but also conservation. Sand County Foundation, through its Leopold Conservation Award, strives to highlight the conservation efforts put forth by leading agricultural producers across the country. All too often ranchers and farmers are criticized as abusers of the land rather than praised as conservationists who continually seek to make conservation improvements.
    Private landowners combine environmental sustainability with economic success.  They are the engines that drive modern conservation improvement. There is no shortage of these landowners in Wyoming, which makes us excited and proud to be heading into a fourth consecutive, successful year in our partnership with EnCana Oil & Gas USA and Wyoming Stock Growers Association as part of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program.  We present the Leopold Conservation Award to Wyoming individuals and families who demonstrate enduring and outstanding conservation leadership. These people have made decisions, often difficult, to incorporate conservation into their operations out of their own personal sense of right and wrong.  
    Aldo Leopold wrote, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” He believed that farmers and ranchers were best suited to understand how to nurture the land that gives so much back to them. His perspective is as important today as it was during the 1930s and 1940s. Agricultural lands are in danger of encroaching development and need to be managed for profit and conservation achievement. One simply needs to look at the three previous winners of the Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming to realize that improvements to grassland, water quality and wildlife habitat can, indeed, go hand in hand with a successful ranching business. These agricultural producers are a credit to themselves and a lesson to be learned elsewhere in the state and nation.
    The 2006 Wyoming winner, Barlow Livestock Inc., is a family owned and operated ranch located 20 miles west of Gillette. It was started in 1898 by L.H. Barlow. Barlow Livestock Inc. is owned by Glenn and Joy Barlow, who operate the ranch with Glenn’s mother, Gertrude, and their children, Duce and Trey.
     The Barlow family believes in carrying out ranch tasks in a manner that suits and complements the surrounding environment. They implement stewardship practices such as matching the genetics of their cattle to the environment in which they live in order to utilize natural forage.  They employ a cell grazing and water pipeline system to lower the risk of overgrazing.
    Paul and Catherine Kukowski’s Golden Willow Ranch near Sheridan won the Wyoming award in 2007. The Kukowskis’ many conservation practices keep their operation economically and environmentally sustainable. One major project was installation of a water delivery system. This allowed a change in livestock grazing patterns, which enabled them to withstand drought conditions without drastically reducing herd size. As a consequence, native plant life, riparian areas, and wildlife habitat were all seen to improve. Their ranch now shows growing populations of mule deer, pronghorn, elk, and many kinds of birds.
    This year’s winner, Norm and Barbara Pape, along with their sons Fred and David and their families of Pape Ranches, near Daniel, emphasize grazing management and manipulate sagebrush to increase forage production for cattle and wildlife. The family also uses fencing to maintain naturally occurring windbreaks.  And to allow for the passage of wildlife, the Papes participate in a program with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and Wyoming Department of Transportation to install wildlife friendly fencing along U.S. Highway 191.
    This year’s Leopold Conservation Award winner, Rocky and Nancy Foy and their family’s Foy Ranch, near Glendo, are conservation pioneers, always looking for ways to better utilize the resources available to them as well as leave the ranch in better condition for the next generation. For example, the Foys implemented an effective grazing plan that maximizes carbon storage and results in tradable carbon credits. They provided critical leadership in the formation of the Glendo Wind Energy Association to harness clean power while preserving open space. And they were among the first to use goat power to help manage increasing brush cover. In addition to sound conservation, these projects have helped sustain the ranching operations economically, as well.
     The Barlows, Kukowskis, Papes and Foys have a lot in common. They believe that conservation plays a vital role in agriculture. They have a deep sense of responsibility to take care of the land to the best of their abilities. They also are leaders in their respective communities and are committed to agricultural education. So, how can this responsible approach to agriculture be expanded? One major part of the answer is communication. Landowners must have the ability to freely exchange ideas with one another. Sand County Foundation is working to make this possible through our award program.
    Since its inception in 2003, 24 families have won the Leopold Conservation Award in seven states: California, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. We believe that one of the most critical outcomes of the Leopold Conservation Award is that it gives landowners a forum to discuss conservation and agricultural issues within their respective states. In October of this year we expanded to a nationwide approach.
    Sand County Foundation brought together eleven Leopold Conservation Award winning families, including Paul and Catherine Kukowski, for the “Generations on the Land” landowner symposium at Texas A&M University. The symposium provided these award winning families with opportunities to share their stories and philosophies of land management and conservation with other landowners and students. Discussion topics, which affected all of the landowners regardless of their geographic location, ranged from conservation easements to death taxes, from private property rights to carbon credits, and from ethics to water.
    The discussion was robust, and, I think, went a long way in advancing the idea of a land ethic in agriculture. We plan to repeat the symposium in another location in 2010.  Until then we will continue to seek out and recognize those families who understand that conservation has a rightful place in agriculture.
    The Leopold Conservation Award honors those who are doing “good work.” By shining a bright light on an individual or family’s accomplishments each year, we also recognize the good work of all of the families in Wyoming and nationwide whose love and dedication for the land goes, all too often, unnoticed.
    As a reader of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, you likely know someone who deserves to be recognized in this manner. I ask that you take the time to honor their good work by nominating them for a Leopold Conservation Award in 2009. You will be doing your part to ensure that agricultural and environmental success continues to flourish in Wyoming.
    Dr. Brent Haglund is President of Sand County Foundation.
    The greater sage grouse, how can a medium sized bird cause such a commotion? Doesn’t Wyoming have more of the birds and their sagebrush habitats than anywhere in the USA?
    Well, yes. Much of the wild, open character of Wyoming’s rangelands is still intact and support a large, well-distributed population of grouse, but due to longterm declines throughout its western range, although Wyoming has seen a strong overall increase the last ten years, there is considerable concern about the bird’s future. Last year Governor Freudenthal asked a group of residents to bring their diverse understanding of sage grouse needs in Wyoming to bear on this issue.
    As most of us have heard there is considerable debate to list the sage grouse as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The only way to ensure a listing is not warranted is to demonstrate the population is not threatened and that adequate data and management practices are in place to restore numbers where needed or to maintain numbers where the grouse are doing well.
    The Governor’s Sage Grouse Conservation Implementation Team recommended that a principle need to improve management decisions in the future is to develop a better statewide map of sage grouse habitat using aerial photography and satellite images. A good habitat map of Wyoming will allow wildlife managers to focus their efforts more efficiently on places that could really help the birds while minimizing human conflicts.
    Ground samples are essential for improving interpretation of aerial imagery because they allow remote sensing scientists to understand what they are seeing in the images. Volunteers from across Wyoming will be crucial for collecting as much ground information as possible, because of the size of our state and because local knowledge of the land is so valuable.
    Samples will be needed across the entire state. Some of the sampling sites will fall on private land. Sampling private land sites will only occur with the concurrence of the private landowner. Landowners will be contacted in advance to determine willingness to participate by providing access and/or by collecting the vegetation data themselves. The assistance of the private landowner will add significantly to the success of the project. Landowners can help produce the best statewide map possible and learn more about their individual ranch by contributing to the ground sampling effort. The primary field data that will be collected at each sample site will include primary species of shrub, grasses and forbs present, percent canopy cover of shrubs grasses and forbs present, percent ground cover in terms of litter, rock, and bare ground, terrain features, such as slope, presence of cheat grass and other weeds and dominant soil color. Any data collected on private land is proprietary, only ‘generalized’ maps of the lands surveyed will be public.
    For a complete set of the sampling method and forms, information on training sessions, or to volunteer or provide habitat information that you have already collected from your own ranch vegetation inventory program, please contact the project lead – Eli J. Rodemaker, Remote Sensing Scientist, WyGISC, University of Wyoming. The first training to be held as part of this effort will begin at 9 a.m. on June 4 and stretch into June 5 in Laramie at the WyGISC offices. Rodemaker can also provide additional information on this event. Rodemaker’s contact information is 307-766-2794 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Those who can’t attend the training, but are interested are also encouraged to call. If enough requests are made additional trainings will be held in other areas of the state.
    Article provided by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department on behalf of the state’s sage grouse team.    
    Public collection of range monitoring data is a developing issue in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) range program. It is undeniable that the BLM needs additional monitoring data. Every grazing permit we authorize must be analyzed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and issued with a decision the public can appeal. We need information to defend our decisions. However, the scope of the Wyoming range program makes it difficult for our range mangers to generate the monitoring data necessary to fully support the volume of permit renewal decisions we issue. The Wyoming BLM manages 18,000,000 acres of public land, and issues around 380 permits a year. Consequently we’re not in a position to say no thanks to willing cooperators, and we can’t be perceived as not wanting valid information.
    The problem with relying on outside source cooperators is that rangeland monitoring lends itself to a wide range of interpretation and complexity. Simply requiring cooperators to stick to “established protocols” doesn’t address the complexity, because the issue transcends just collecting data. Let’s say for example, a rancher and I agree to limit utilization to 50 percent. The meeting ends amicably with the rancher thinking the use cap is an average for the pasture, and me thinking it’s about use levels on green needlegrass (a cow favorite) along a transect right near the best water source in the pasture. Hopefully we’d get on the same page soon, because that is a very substantive difference. But what if the rancher and I never talked about that use level distinction, and the issue was left to a cooperator who would make that determination by the way the monitoring program was designed? Clearly, that scenario must be avoided.
    Data collection is just a component of a comprehensive monitoring program. The study design and evaluation process are equally important. Furthermore, monitoring is not the starting point of an effective range program. How do we choose what to monitor? First rate goals and objectives are the foundation. On a loamy site in the Bighorn Basin, my goal might be to increase the abundance of bluebunch wheatgrass, because bluebunch has the potential to produce both the most forage for cattle and hiding cover for grouse nesting. That is a good goal, but it is not measurable. Before I can specify a measurable objective, I need to establish where and how the data will be collected and evaluated. The where, what, and how part of a monitoring program links the BLM’s land use goals with the measurable objectives in a specific allotment. This is the critical function the BLM cannot delegate to the public.
    A permittee is not required to collect monitoring data. Anyone with legal public access is free to record their observations, and free to send their findings to the BLM. However placement of infrastructure (such as utilization cages), gets to the “how and where” part of the study design. If the BLM accepts cooperator data but fails to evaluate it, does it become part of the official record anyway? Clearly we need to formally accept or decline cooperator data in a timely manner, and communicate our intent to both the cooperator and the grazing permittee.
    The BLM’s challenge is to take advantage of offers of support, and honor the concept of public participation, without abdicating our responsibility. In the near future the Wyoming BLM State Office will issue guidance to the field offices designed to assure that we steer a steady course in our efforts to work with cooperators. I need to thank Kathleen Jachowski for her critical help in sorting out these important issues.
    This editorial was reprinted from the Guardians of the Range newsletter, March 2008 issue. A related news article appears on this page. Jim Cagney is Wyoming Range Program Lead for the Bureau of Land Management.