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      Parents lead you to believe their excitement about grandchildren hinges on the little joys of kids around at Christmastime, cute sayings and the wonders of childhood. I’m here to tell you they have a much bigger motive…it’s a chance to get even for your own childhood misdeeds.
    While Christy and I were in Weston County doing interviews for the Winter Cattlemen’s Edition this past December, we stayed in Sundance with my folks. My son Joshua came along and spent the days with my dad while I was off “working” (this is the part where Dennis pays me to come to your house and visit with you!).
    Like I said, while I was off working, Joshua and Dad were doing what grandpas and grandsons do while mothers are away. They fed the cows and Joshua, at four, “drove” every vehicle with four wheels on the place. For a more “urban mother” that would be a startling occurrence in and of itself. It is a bit of an inconvenience – once we arrived back home it took us a few weeks to help Joshua realize there are limits to when and where he can drive. Note to the mothers of all four-year-olds – TAKE THE KEYS OUT OF THE CARS!
    After feeding on day one it was back to the house for lunch, after which Dad fell asleep in his recliner. Joshua meanwhile unwrapped the Christmas presents. I guess it’s been a few years since Dad spent the entire day with a four-year-old. Number one rule — no napping allowed.
    By day two Dad, prompted by the wrath of Grandma (Dad, not the grandson, was held fully responsible for the unwrapped Christmas packages), skipped his after lunch power nap. Joshua had discovered Dad’s coin stash…the jars in his closet he’s been saving his pocket change in since sometime in the early 80s. Joshua is convinced Dad’s a millionaire…if you can be a millionaire in pennies that statement appears true.
    Amazingly, Dad agreed to help Joshua count the money to see just how much there is. When they were done counting, Joshua’s payments for his services — $55 in pennies. Before in this column I’ve admitted that I have trouble keeping my millions, billions and trillions straight. I know exactly how many pennies are in $55 — enough to fill a vacuum cleaner bag.
    Once we have these pennies, Chris and I begin the daily routine of living with a “penny millionaire.” In stores our conversations go something like this:
Joshua: “Can I get this?”
Mom/Dad: “No, you don’t need it.”
Joshua: “I’ll pay you back when we get home.”
Mom/Dad: “In pennies?”
Joshua: “Yes, I’ve got a lot of them.”
Mom/Dad: “We know.”
    I tried to convince Joshua to take his pennies to the change counting machine and cash them in. He’s not ready to give up his millionaire status so we continue to tackle the problem with the vacuum cleaner one penny at a time.
    I do, however, have another clever approach. Joshua, who believes pennies are the greatest gift one can receive, gave Dad a cardboard heart filled with, not chocolate, but pennies for Valentine’s Day. I’m not sure what we’re filling for Father’s Day, but an iced tea jar seems fitting for a summertime holiday.

     Early May, I made an evening trip north to Wright to join a group of locals as they watched the documentary film The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth. There was a healthy crowd in attendance and I’m told that on the previous night a crowd of about 130 people gathered at the Camplex to watch the film about livestock grazing and soil health.
    I’d already seen the movie, as I’d watched it prior to writing an article late April about the early-May film debuts. I’m not usually one to watch the same movie twice, but I was interested in seeing this film a second time.
    Beyond the film itself, I had a couple of other reasons for attending the event. I wanted to show my support for area rancher John Flocchini, whose Durham Buffalo Ranch was included in the documentary. I also wanted to ask the movie’s producer Chris Schueler what drove him to make a documentary about livestock grazing. The answer wasn’t what I expected.
    Mr. Schueler teaches classes on documentary film production to college kids in New Mexico. One of his students invited him to lunch with a gentlemen involved in holistic resource management. Schueler found the discussion so interesting that it launched him into the three-year process of creating this film in some not-often-visited corners of the world. With urban roots, he was able to see this story’s importance and with it the importance of range resources and their stewards.
    I walked out the door of the Wright City Hall building glad I’d attended for yet a third reason, one that didn’t occur me until I visited with Mr. Schueler. I’ve long believed mainstream media too often portrays rural residents as naïve and simple-minded. By allowing livestock producers to tell their stories and the planning and thought processes that go into animal husbandry, Mr. Schueler shone a light of sophistication and intelligence on the people who make their living in agriculture around the world.
    While visiting Wyoming Chris Schueler was joined by Mr. Flocchini and Roland Cruise, who helps with grazing management on the Durham Ranch, in speaking at area schools. It was the second time some local students had the chance to meet the documentary film producer. Some of them, along with other children from the world, were featured in the video talking about the importance of stewardship and our soil resources. Visiting with a wide array of students, including a film class at the High School in Gillette, I couldn’t help but see the trio’s travels as a PR boost for ranchers.
    As I watched the film my mind also hearkened back to the carbon sequestration discussions taking place in parts of Wyoming for several years now. Touching on the value of good carbon cycles to healthy rangelands, the film drives home the point of agriculture’s ability to make a difference in the amount of atmospheric carbon. Regardless of whether or not one believes in global warming, the benefits of managing for increased litter cover and organic matter have benefits that hit home more closely and quickly than the gaseous content of the atmosphere. One person in the film describes plants as the bridge between atmospheric carbon and soil carbon.
    The movie will show on PBS beginning next month in its roughly hour-long format. I’m anxious to see hear how Main Street America reacts.

A breakdown recently resulted in me having my dad’s ranch pickup in Douglas for the week while ours was at the mechanic in Gillette. With Father’s Day just around the corner and my dad’s pickup in desperate need of a clean up my mom suggested she, along with my sister and I, pitch in and take the pickup to the detail shop. Since I had the pickup and am the daughter with an inability to say “no” it only made sense, at first blush anyway, that I make the arrangements.

Anyone who has seen the inside of my car knows I don’t do a lot of business at detail shops. So, like any 30-something, I typed in “detail shop Wyo.” on Google. They had a website, must be legitimate, right? So I scheduled an appointment.

Arriving in town, not thinking to first clean out my dad’s pickup, I located what now appeared to be a detail/pawn shop and soon realized the only requirements for running a detail shop are a hose and a vacuum. Standing amidst the 1970s televisions I found myself asking what seemed like a question from high school. “Is it really a good idea to leave my dad’s pickup at this detail/pawn shop?” Consistent with my high school mentality I threw caution to the wind and handed over the keys.

“Come back at noon,” said the detail/pawn shop owner as I headed out the door. Looking back I wondered if they’d spend their morning using my dad’s Hydrabed for entertainment, loading and unloading the compact car parked behind it. I was certain the syringes, Skoal cans and vaccine bottles in the console would bring some definite questions to mind. There weren’t a lot ranch trucks at the detail/pawn shop.

With the consequences of my decision weighing heavily on my mind I was back at 11:30 a.m. They evidently don’t detail a lot of ranch pickups as the gentlemen doing the cleaning commented, with a thick southern accent, “This thing is full of mud and the MANURE!” As I left this time there were no specific instructions on when to retrieve my dad’s pickup, but just a, “We’ll call you when it’s done.”

The call came at 3 p.m. and I was off to retrieve what was to be a shiny red Dodge. How much I asked? “A lot,” the detail shop owner joked. I paid the bill and was on my way. Two blocks down the road it occurred to me the pickup was EMPTY…bringing my worst fears to life. Back to the pawn/detail shop I went to get my dad’s belongings.

There was a simple explanation. They normally put people’s belongings in a small box, which is then placed on the seat of the vehicle. The detail/pawn shop owner went into the room where he keeps the 1970s television sets and returned with a box. Unlike their normal customers, this was no small box. It was the box a Craftsman shop vac comes in and protruding from it were overshoes, coveralls and everything else a rancher might need, EVER might need that is. I smiled, thanked them for the great job, took the box of my dad’s belongings and thought to myself, “My dad is kind of like McGyver from the old television show, only rancher style.” As for the detail shop, when customers call from now on they’ll be asked, “Is it a ranch pickup?”

When we presented the “gift” to my dad, along with the story of getting his pickup detailed, he just started through a list of things he’d been keeping in his pickup, before even so much as saying thank you. I just told him not to worry that he’s getting hubcaps for Christmas.


    “Money” was the theme of discussions in the nation’s capitol late February. Will the stimulus package work? Is a budget with another trillion dollars in deficit spending the answer? On Tuesday Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union and on Thursday he rolled out his first budget, which includes a “trillion” dollars in deficit spending.
    I’ll be the first to admit I have trouble keeping my millions, billions and trillions straight. I hope I don’t see the day D.C. starts talking in quadrillions, quintillions and sextillions, or I’ll be lost. At some point, maybe around a million, it becomes rather abstract in my mind. One thing I do know is that a trillion is a lot of money, even in Washington, D.C. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack put it in perspective for me when he said a trillion seconds ago was 30,000 years B.C. I counter that we may be at least a trillion seconds, or maybe that’s a quadrillion seconds, away from paying this whole project off.
    Just two days after the State of the Union, and simultaneous to his first budget unveiling, the nation’s agricultural leaders were gathering in the nation’s capitol to discuss their economic future. A reported 1,700 people were in attendance for the annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. Attending from Wyoming were Grant Stumbough with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Southeast Wyoming Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) president and rancher Jack Pugsley of Goshen County and myself.
    While it’s not all wine and roses, agriculture’s economic outlook sounds pretty good amidst the more general discussions surrounding the economy. As Obama Administration Economist Larry Summers talked about how to stave off more foreclosures, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack didn’t overlook agriculture’s challenges, but they were much smaller in magnitude.
    Grant, coordinator for the Southeast Wyoming RC&D, was invited to D.C. to speak at the annual gathering on the landowner associations he’s helped develop in southeast Wyoming for reasons of leasing wind development rights. A strong audience turned out for the presentation and Grant received numerous questions afterwards. It was quite an honor for Grant to be invited to speak at this event that highlights the most exciting developments in American agriculture.
    Grant’s message of how landowner associations have helped achieve market discovery and better leases was well received by an audience comprised of everyone from lawyers to consultants to economists. Before leaving the event he added to his ever-growing list of speaking engagement invitations. We’ll undoubtedly see more landowner associations in the nation’s windier areas in the months to come.
    Presidential stardom has struck D.C., Barack Obama’s picture is everywhere. On the plane ride home a younger D.C. resident told me, “I bet you can even buy Obama waffle irons.” That same young man told me that D.C. folks applaud the fact that the new president is getting out to D.C. events like a local basketball game and eating at local restaurants. He didn’t mention millions, billions and trillions.

Written for the Powell Tribune, April 15, 2008

It’s no secret that the road to establishing state management authority over Wyoming’s wolf population has been a hard-fought battle. It’s been a balancing act of meeting federal requirements and environmental community wishes while protecting those resources we in Wyoming hold near and dear.

In recent weeks we’ve all read the headlines as the state’s dual classification system has been implemented. Wolves in a large section of northwestern Wyoming are being managed as trophy game while those in the remainder of the state are managed as predators. Hunting has begun in the predator area and is something we can all hope will be handled with good taste and responsibility.

With hunting underway in the predator area, Wyoming’s wolf management plan is doing what it was intended to do – maintain wolves in the trophy game area while keeping them out of the predator area to the extent possible. Given the demographics of the predator area, it’s better for wolves and people if they maintain a fear of humans. It also allows residents of the predator area to protect their private property, a right set forth in this country’s founding documents.

Wolf discussions need brought back into perspective. Wolves are one part of the larger picture, ecosystem if you will, and must be managed in accordance with other resources. Wyoming’s plan does just that. Wildlife managers agreed to what they believe to be a workable wolf population for the state. Thresholds set forth in the plan also offer protections for maintaining the state’s wolf population. Before looking to the courts, I wish the environmental community would sit back and watch the plan work for a while.

As the state takes on this management we need to keep in mind those individuals whose livelihoods have been impacted by the wolf’s presence. There’s a kid in northwest Wyoming who lost his steer to wolves last year. There are also outfitters who’ve wondered about the future of their businesses. We as a state have the opportunity to move forward with a plan that puts forth a level of sensitivity to make sure those people receive consideration while maintaining the wolf population we’ve agreed to. We need to keep  open spaces, wildlife, hunting opportunities and the economic and natural resource “bigger picture” in mind.

Let’s make sure what’s good for Wyoming, not just wolves, is the dominating discussion of the day.

Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, on-line at She can be e-mailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..