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Natural Resources

2018 brought many high hopes for Wyoming’s agriculture industry, and the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Wyoming Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Wyoming Stock Growers Association agree that the year was filled with accomplishments for their organizations individually and for the agriculture industry as a whole across the nation. 

Conservation

Within the Wyoming Association of Conservation District (WACD), Bobbie Frank, the organization’s executive director, sees many accomplishments in water quality in the state.

“Our biggest accomplishment this year was the release of our new online report and story map that Cathy Rosenthal created,” Frank says. “The story map provides a quick, easy way to see what’s going on in the state, and it provides accountability.”

As a part of the effort to improve water quality, Frank adds that the removal of the North Platte River from the list of impaired waters is also a major accomplishment. 

However, she hopes for continued movement on water issues across the country, commenting, “We hope to see finalization of the Waters of the U.S. WOTUS Rule. We’ve been working on it for some time, and it would be nice to see something that provides more certainty for farmers and ranchers.”

Farm Bureau

Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton also highlighted WOTUS, noting that one of the biggest accomplishment for the American Farm Bureau Federation was the repeal of 2015’s WOTUS Rule.

“Repealing this rule was important for a lot of folks,” he says.

Also at the national level, Hamilton and the association worked to advocate for the farm bill and worked to prevent over-burdensome regulations from electronic logging devices, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

Hamilton continues, “On a state level, in the Legislature, we continued to push back on tax increases, and we were successful there.” 

On the legal front, Wyoming Farm Bureau was also successful in their challenged to the re-definition of the Wind River Indian Reservation boundary.  

As he looks towards 2019, Hamilton expressed disappointment with a 2018 decision that repealed one section of Wyoming’s data trespass law, saying, “We’ll look to address trespass however best we can.”

Hamilton additionally hopes to see meaningful reform of the Endangered Species Act begin in 2019, though he acknowledges the changes in Congress will make the process more difficult.

“In 2019, Wyoming Farm Bureau is going to celebrate 100 years, and we’re really excited about that,” he emphasizes. “This is a big milestone for our organization, and it’s exciting.”

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Another organization with members in Wyoming, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, says they have seen a handful of big wins at the national level in 2018, also citing the farm bill.

“We spent a lot of time working on the farm bill during the spring and early summer months. Then, we waited this fall to see if they were going to reach a compromise,” says Scott Zimmerman, Rocky Mountain Farmers’ Union government affairs specialist. “We’ll also see if we can get more assistance in certain pieces of the farm bill next year.” 

Zimmerman notes that Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is also particularly pleased with the increase of 3 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land. 

“I think we’ll see enrollment from many of our members who weren’t able to get land enrolled in the past,” he comments. 

“Overall, 2018 was a good year,” Zimmerman comments. “By and large, we had plenty of irrigation water, and while we had some fires, we didn’t see the major impact that other states had. Commodity prices stayed fairly strong, and production was good.”

As he looks to 2019, Zimmerman and his organization will continue to watch trade agreements as they move forward.

At the local level, Zimmerman says the legislative session will new priorities. 

“It’s hard to see what our priorities will be quite yet, since we don’t have text for many bills available yet,” he comments. “Overall, we’ll try to hold the line on tax increases, and we’ll monitor other issues as they approach.”

WSGA

WSGA also saw positive momentum, both for their organization and within the agriculture industry.

“From an association perspective, we have made significant progress towards our 150th anniversary goal,” WSGA’s Executive Vice President Jim Magagna comments. “We made a goal two years ago to raise $1.5 million in an endowment to support the work of WSGA.” 

The funds generated by the endowment will be used to fund non-lobbying issue work, enabling the association to concentrate membership dollars on issues as it moves into the future.

“On a broad scale, I think WSGA has also had a number of opportunities to build resource-based and constructive working relationships with federal natural resource agencies,” Magagna continues. “Those relationships have expressed themselves in many ways.” 

As an example, he cited the Forest Service’s work to revise grazing regulations, as well as Bureau of Land Management’s similar upcoming efforts. 

“We hope to continue building strong working relationships into 2019,” he comments, specifically noting that building relationships with Wyoming’s new governor, new agency leadership and new members of the Wyoming legislature are a particular highlight.

Magagna explains, “I put a high value on relationship building.”

Tangibly, WSGA will continue to work on efforts initiated in 2018 around Wyoming beef. 

“We hope to see meaningful success in our efforts to build marketing opportunities for Wyoming beef,” Magagna says.

Read the Roundup through 2019 for updates from the activities of Wyoming’s agriculture organizations. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Big Piney – Montana logger Bruce Vincent noted, at the 2013 Annual Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association meeting, that agriculture must continue to work toward advocating for our industry in order to be successful.

“My family is also in ranching,” Vincent said. “When they moved to Montana in 1904, half of them started doing beef cattle and the other half started forestry – part of us kill trees and part of us kill cows – we’re really popular.”

Logging history

Vincent noted that the logging industry came under fire over 30 years ago.

“We operate with the same concept as you are,” he told the cattlemen. “We practice stewardship, and we operate only with the consent of the public. We just started losing our consent before you did.”

Vincent noted that 30 years ago, he noticed that the media started attacking forestry.

“We had 100 years of great history in managing trees,” Vincent explained. “Then, loggers started showing up on the front page of Montana newspapers that we were destroying our streams – we were destroying Montana’s water.”

He noted that in the 70s and 80s, loggers had recognized that some of their practices weren’t perfect, so they began to adapt.

“We developed the first self-conducted, certifiable, riparian management best practices,” he explained, adding that even opponents of the logging industry admitted that loggers were not a large contributing factor in water quality issues.

“Michael Scott, head of the Wilderness Society in Montana, was asked to address 700 loggers,” Vincent said. “We asked him how much of Montana’s water quality problems are being caused by logging – he said three percent.”

Only 20 percent of the three percent was based on current practice, dropping the logger’s contribution to water quality problems to 0.6 percent.

“If 99.4 percent of the water quality issues lie elsewhere, why were we making the front page?” asked Vincent. “He said, ‘You are visible, and you are easy.’”

Easy target

Vincent further noted that politicians have begun to write off the rural communities, and as a result, they become more of a target. 

When talking to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Vincent noted that reintroducing the grizzly bear in the areas they were logging was important because historical populations of bear had been there.

“‘We have to restore it back to where it used to be,’” he said. 

Vincent asked, then, about reestablishing the Golden Bear in the heart of Sacramento – after all, that is historical habitat, to which the FWS said, “Can you imagine the public outcry?”

“It was laughable to try a reintroduction with an urban setting with the political ability,” Vincent explained. “They were going to do it in our rural areas  because we were perceived to be politically impotent. They were going to steamroll us because they could.”

He also marked that the five percent of the industry that isn’t meeting the same expectations that the rest of the industry has are detrimental.

“Ask yourself, where is your industry right now?” Vincent said, adding, “and we have to understand that crazy can happen at home.”

The opinion of the public is constantly shifting, but Vincent noted that the opinions of the populations on the outskirts – the crazy – will never find the middle.

“A pendulum always finds the middle,” he explains. “It swings one way for a while, and the other way for a while, but it always find the middle. These moral and ethical decisions that people are making about earth will not get to the middle.”

Public opinion

However, he added that the truth will prevail, if the truth has a champion.

“The truth is what the public believes,” he said. “We have got to be out there stating our facts and stating the truth.”

He also noted that it isn’t enough to rely on leaders of agriculture organizations and interest groups to get the word out.

“They can’t do this for us – they can equip us, and they can help us understand, but they can’t do the battles,” he explained.

Vincent also added that it is important to answer the questions that consumers are asking, rather than playing “reverse jeopardy.”

“We started answering all the questions that the public wasn’t asking,” Vincent said of the logging industry. “We were telling them what we wanted them to know.”

And occasionally, Vincent noted that the advocacy for the timber industry was at the sacrifice of other industries.

“We beat up our friends, and we missed what the public was asking about,” he said. “We didn’t spend one dime on the stump, and that is what they wanted to know about.”

The moral of the story, Vincent said, it is important to be in the public’s eye and to be advocating for the industry in a positive manner that answers the public’s questions.

“You are on the frontlines now for agriculture,” said Vincent. “You are leading the pack and doing a number of things that I wish the timber industry had done sooner.”

“We need to be talking to the public,” commented Vincent, “and we need to be winning in the Court of Public Opinion, because ultimately, The Court of Public Opinion defines the law.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Laramie – Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Executive Director Bob Budd called “not warranted” two of the greatest words in the English language, especially when put together, during a presentation at the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Society for Range Management Wyoming Section and Wyoming Weed and Pest Council joint convention, held Nov. 3-5.

He noted that, while sage grouse were not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act, there is still work to be done, particularly when looking at implementation of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service Resource Management Plans (RMPs) released at the end of September.

“I often hear that the RMPs are a new set of standards for what rangeland management is going to be,” Budd said. “That is not the case. What the RMPs have done is said that these are the desired conditions for sage grouse based on everything we know.”

Range capabilities

Delving into the RMPs, Budd noted that the desired condition of a seven-inch screening cover during the sage grouse nesting season is often the first number targeted by concerned producers.

“If we have the capability to produce a seven-inch screening cover, the birds will select that area first, is what the RMP says,” Budd explained. “It doesn’t say we have to produce it.”

He continued, “In fact, in most of Wyoming, I’d guess we can’t produce it.”

As an example, Budd targeted the Upper Green River Valley, where snowdrifts are common during the sage grouse nesting season of April through June.

“That grass height isn’t something we can achieve,” he said. “That is one of the challenges we are working on right now as we work through implementation.”

Rather, Budd commented that producers should focus on what is right in the areas in which they live.

“Right now, the way the RMPs are laid out for Forest Service and BLM is that the desired condition has to be consistent with the ecological capacity of the site and the normal variability of climate, rainfall and other things,” he said.

Gathering information

Budd noted, however, that is it important to have the necessary information to determine ecological capacity of a site to establish the desired condition.

“The capability to produce grass at a specific site is what should guide us,” he said. “To get that, we better make sure to have the soil survey, and we need to have an ecological site description that is correct for the site. We have to be prepared to sort out the anomalies within that.”

In addition, Budd said that the whole environment in an area must be considered, rather than just small segments because sage grouse is a landscape species.

Prioritizing work

Budd also said that improvements and work have to be prioritized.

“It is logical that prioritization is going to follow this kind of rigor in the areas that are specific focal areas for sage grouse,” he said. “We are going to look at the places that have the most birds and the best habitat first.”

Allotments meeting desired conditions and ecological objectives are likely to be lower on the priority list for projects compared to those areas that need improvements.

Expectations

“Do we have a radical change coming as a result of the RMPs? I think the answer is no,” added Budd.

He also noted, however, that there are several anomalies that “slipped through the cracks” and need to be fixed.

“We are working on fixing those things now, and we are doing it in a willing atmosphere,” Budd said. “It is not an adversarial atmosphere.”

Forest Service and BLM have been willing and open to making several changes, and all parties are working together willingly, he noted.

“We have to constantly remind ourselves to bring this back to reality,” Budd said. “It is too easy to throw out a big net and talk in generalities, but the true test for all of us will be to get it right where we live.”

Executive Order

Budd also referenced the Governor’s Executive Order and recent changes made in July to the Order.

“There are two changes that relate to grazing,” he said.

First, the July amendments to the Executive Order added several areas that had very high sage grouse productivity in core areas.

“Most of those areas were analyzed in 2008 and 2010 when we did the mapping,” Budd explained. “There wasn’t the data at that time to make them core areas, but this time they came back with the data, and these areas needed to be added.”

At the same time, core areas that did not meet the definition were removed.

As a result of the July changes, amendments will likely be necessary in the RMPs to reflect the core areas.

“These aren’t radical changes, but they will need to be resolved,” Budd said. “That will require plan amendments.”

The other change is that a biological review will be required if there are potential impacts to a lek from improvements.

Budd noted that the standard is open-ended and gives increased protection to landowners to say that their improvements were looked at for their impacts.

Moving forward

“I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it here. This is not going to be smooth sailing,” Budd commented on implementation. “It will be a bumpy ride. We need to prepare for that, be open-eyed and honest as we go into this.”

Despite the challenges sure to be ahead, Budd said that the state of Wyoming have developed positive relationships with BLM and Forest Service that has allowed open dialogue grounded in the best science.

“This is a biological, ecological discussion, and I want to keep it there,” he said. “If we do that, our concerns will resolve themselves relatively easily.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Innumerable microorganisms below the soil surface are imperative for maximizing soil heath and productivity.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) West Regional Soil Health Team Leader Jennifer Moore-Kucera noted that effective management strategies are critical to promoting a healthy soil micro biome.

In a presentation hosted by No-Till Farmer, Moore-Kucera discussed the vital role of soil life, as well as approaches for management.

“The question is, how do we manage and tap into this life force that is below ground and is really operating behind the scenes to keep the whole system going?” said Moore-Kucera.

Viewpoint

According to Moore-Kucera, the way soil specialists view organic matter is changing.

She noted that the traditional view relies on the formation of stable humus products.

“It observes organic matter properties and alkaline extracts that really don’t exist in nature when we get to the molecular level of organic matter,” said Moore-Kucera.

Now, scientists are transitioning to an emerging view that focuses on microbial access to soil organic matter.

“Overall, it emphasizes the need to manage carbon flows rather than carbon pools,” she commented. “What fuels the microorganisms and the biology below-ground is the flow of carbon in different forms, different labile or active pools of carbon that stimulates that microbial population.”

While the more passive pool of carbon is important and aids in carbon sequestration, Moore-Kucera explained that the flow of the labile pools of carbon is the most important in stimulating the microorganisms.

“By focusing on how to maximize this flow of carbon through soil and through the life and death cycles of the soil organisms, we’re better able to create healthy soils and sustainable land use systems,” she continued.

Protection

Moore-Kucera explained that NRCS created four general soil health principles to achieve the goal of optimal soil health and sustainability.

“These include to minimize disturbance, to maximize soil cover, to maximize the duration of living roots and to maximize diversity,” she said.

Moore-Kucera further condensed them into two basic principles, which are to protect the home and feed the system.

  “We’re minimizing disturbance and maximizing soil cover, which protects soil aggregates and soil organic matter,” she commented.

Moore-Kucera continued, “These actions also reduce erosion and runoff risk. By covering the soil, we’re buffering temperature, keeping water and nutrients in the root zone and reducing leaching losses.”

She noted that these principles primarily focus on protection of the microbial habitat.

Feeding system

The two principles that feed the system are maximizing the presence of continuous living roots and maximizing diversity in the system.

Maximizing diversity can be through the addition of crop rotations and the use of cover crops, as well as the integration of animals on a landscape.

“These principles aim to provide those diverse, labile carbon sources throughout the year, as well as the bio-chemicals that fuel the organisms and stimulate the plant-microbe interaction,” said Moore-Kucera.

Because of the stimulation of the plant-microbe interaction, several results can be seen, including breaking disease cycles, increasing soil organic matter and improving nutrient cycling.

“We enhance that internal nutrient cycling when we capture more of the nutrients that are applied and hold onto them for future use by plants, keeping them out of the groundwater and surface waters, for example,” continued Moore-Kucera.

Increased diversity also results in increased predator and pollinator populations, she explained.

“Doing this promotes the complex food web to enhance nutrient cycling. It stimulates the microbial population and increases predators that deliver organic matter,” noted Moore-Kucera.

Management

The overall goals of management systems are to feed the soil organisms and protect their habitat, while applying practices in a purposeful manner, said Moore-Kucera.

“Being in agriculture, we may need to add inputs to the soil, or we might need to address a pathogen or a disease pressure,” she commented.

Moore-Kucera continued, “We always want to make sure that whatever choice we’re making, it has a purpose. We should make decisions because we’re reacting to a different system, and we want to stimulate an internal resiliency within the system.”

Rather than focusing on single issues, she advised developing soil health management systems.

Examples of how to develop a comprehensive management system include enhancing crop diversity, reducing soil disturbance and integrating the use of inoculation with beneficial organisms or nitrification inhibitors.

“We can couple how we choose plants and above-ground inputs with soil management practices that reduce tillage and reduce disturbance,” she noted. “Mulching can also be a practice that sustains soil organisms and leads to organic matter formation, habitat formation for biological communities and advanced nutrient cycling.”

Moore-Kucera concluded, “These all lead to enhanced nutrient use efficiency, reduced nutrient losses, plant health, plant resistance and drought resistance.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – Farmers and ranchers can’t afford to lose soil anymore than they can afford to lose livestock or crops, according to Caitlin Youngquist.

  At a soil health workshop on Nov. 28 during the 2017 Wyoming Natural Resources Rendezvous hosted by Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, multiple presenters discussed the foundation, evaluation and bottom line for soil health. 

Caitlin Youngquist, University of Wyoming agriculture and horticulture Extension educator, presented an introduction to soil health and why farmers and ranchers should take care of their soil.

Basics

Youngquist told attendees there are a few ways to define soil. The first definition is that soil is a living system with plants, insects and microorganisms.

Soil can also be defined as really old rocks that serve as inherent characteristics in current soil. 

“Inherent characteristics can only be changed over thousands and millions of years,” noted Youngquist, adding dynamic characteristics can be changed within a season or several years.

“As land managers, producers work within the constraints of inherent characteristics to improve dynamic characteristics to the best of their ability,” she stated. 

The process of turning rocks into soil takes millions of years, noted Youngquist because the rocks weather over time and break down into smaller particles. Eventually, the rock particles become a living system with plants, insects and microorganisms. 

“Based on the best estimates, the process takes 500 to 1,000 years or more for one inch of topsoil to develop,” stated Youngquist, “Topsoil is very valuable, precious and fragile.”

“Producers should consider how long it takes to recover any little bit of topsoil that might blow away,” she added. 

Inherent characteristics 

Youngquist described inherent characteristics of the soil as the factors producers cannot change and need to be aware of. Inherent characteristics include soil texture and soil type. 

“Soil texture is the percentage of sand, silt and clay in soil and dictates the strengths and weaknesses of any soil,” she said.

The type of soil is also important, noted Youngquist, who explained there are 12 soil orders across the globe and over 15,000 individual soil types around the world. 

“Depending on the size of a ranch or farm, producers could have a few dozen soil types to manage,” she stated. “Having a better understanding of the type of soils producers are working with will help them manage land better, in terms of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their soils.”

She also explained that soil formation isn’t random and takes millions of years based on several factors.

Factors include where the soil is on the landscape, like a hilltop or river valley, the climate and parent material. 

“Cold, dry or hot climates affect soil type, and parent material, like glacial soil or volcanic ash, all influence the soil types,” Youngquist said. “All of these factors impact the strengths and weaknesses of the soils producers deal with.”

“Understanding the soil, the strengths and weaknesses of the soil and how to manage the soil are really important in terms of being a good soil manager,” stated Youngquist.

Soil health 

Soil health can be thought of as the ability of the soil to function and be resilient, stated Youngquist.

“Whether it’s livestock, humans or land health, they need to have a high capacity to function,” she added. “If producers have healthy land, it needs to be able to adapt and self-manage in the face of challenges, or be resilient.”

Producers should determine if their soils are resilient to compaction, disease and erosion, noted Youngquist.

According to Youngquist, plant roots and water are largely responsible for creating healthy, productive and profitable soils.

“In grassland soils, there is four to five times more biomass both below than above ground, and up to half of the biomass is recycled every year,” she said. 

Recycled biomass includes roots that die back or slough off and turn into carbon organic material in the soil, explained Youngquist.

She stated biomass recycling is why high grass prairies have deep and fertile soil because all the grass and grass roots have been recycled for thousands of years. 

The plant roots take carbon dioxide out of the air and put it into the soil where it is useful and productive, also known as carbon sequestration, she added. 

“The process supports soil microbial life, which in turn helps the plants and soil develop,” noted Youngquist.

Building soil

To increase soil health, producers need to increase soil organic matter and soil carbon. 

“Carbon is the system driver and comes from the plant roots into the soil,” Youngquist explained. “To increase soil organic matter and soil health, producers need to get carbon in the soil and keep it there.”

Roots are a big part of increasing organic matter and soil health, especially on rangeland. When looking at increasing soil health on hay fields or cropland, Youngquist suggested adding compost or manure.

“Once producers get the carbon in the soil they need to keep it there, which means minimizing soil carbon loss, like tillage,” she stated. 

“Getting the carbon in the soil and keeping it there is key because the carbon feeds the microbes,” added Youngquist. “So, get carbon in the soil, feed the system and let it work the way it was designed to work.”

Soil characteristics 

During a soil health workshop on Nov. 28 in Casper, Caitlin Youngquist, University of Wyoming Extension educator for agriculture and horticulture, stated there are three important characteristics of soil.

“When the chemical, biological and physical characteristics of soil are all considered, that’s when soil health is achieved,” she stated.

Scientists have been practicing soil chemistry for a long time, according to Youngquist, which includes measuring pH levels, acidity, salts, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, macronutrients, micronutrients and carbon in the soil.

Biological characteristics of soil are assessed using crop condition, disease pressure and the amount and type of microorganisms.

“Physical characteristics are things like like erosion, compaction, infiltration and soil structure,” noted Youngquist. “Scientists are really good at the chemical and physical side of soil and need to learn a lot more about the biological side.”

“If producers are missing one of the three factors, soil health decreases, which is not profitable,” she concluded.

This is the first part in a four-part series detailing soil health and managing soil. Look for part two in the Jan. 20 edition of the Roundup. 

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..