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Navigating Policy and Rangeland Science

Written by Glenn Owings

Over the past year, University of Wyoming (UW) Extension has partnered in an effort to increase knowledge in the agricultural community regarding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and grazing permit renewal on public lands. Four educational workshops have been held to date in Sublette, Uinta and Washakie counties.

State and county partners have been essential in facilitating outreach and making these seminars a success. Many speakers with vast experience have volunteered time to share their knowledge about public land grazing issues. In collaboration with UW Extension, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Natural Resources and Policy Division has published a very user-friendly handbook for navigating NEPA and permit renewal. It is available digitally at wyagric.state.wy.us/divisions/nrp. You can call also call WDA for more information at 307-777-7321.

UW Extension is planning additional permit renewal workshops over the next 12 months. Locations are being finalized, but permittees in and around Carbon, Fremont, Natrona and Weston counties should be looking for announcements. In the meantime, please consider some of the following highlights that have surfaced from this educational series.

Good communication with your agency rangeland specialist is essential. Virtually every success story we have hear from ranchers about their permit renewal centered on good communication. It didn’t always start that way. Many permittees and agency staff came from a place of disagreement to understanding. Arriving at an understanding doesn’t mean compromising values. It is about building a relationship around the common goal of permit renewal and a functional grazing plan.

Know what is in your allotment file – including photos, data, narratives, etc. – and have your own copy on hand. It is recommended that, at least every two to three years, you sit down with your range staff and review allotment files to ensure that you are familiar with the contents. Outside entities may be submitting data or photos to the file without your knowledge.

Keep good records of actual use numbers, annual precipitation and meeting notes. This information will avoid assumptions and mistaken recollection of how grazing seasons went. When a new range specialist takes over management of your allotment, you can help fill in knowledge gaps with your notes. Most allotments will have many rangeland specialists, field office managers or district rangers over the course of one generation on the ranch. While this adds complexity for ranching families, it is a reality that can be addressed to great extent with careful record keeping.

Cooperative rangeland monitoring improves communication among parties and makes rangeland management decisions more defensible. It is a way to show your commitment to the land, build mutual trust and understand how decisions are made. Many cooperative monitoring programs start off with a simple phone call or visit to the office. Don’t feel intimidated by monitoring methods. There are effective protocols for photo monitoring and simple vegetation sampling that can be learned in just a few hours in the field. If you don’t understand the methods being used on your allotment, ask your range specialist and reach out to other qualified entities for help.

Take the initiative to be active in the planning process, and it will pay off as time goes on. NEPA, permit renewal and development of allotment management plans may seem like a hindrance, it can also be an opportunity. First, it’s a chance to show how much you care about the health of your allotment. Productive rangelands are tied to your bottom line, and your voice can be heard about the strategies you use to maintain long-term viability.

Second, it is a perfect time to identify range improvement projects that would benefit your operation. If you need a fence or water development to spread out grazing use and better manage your livestock, the policy process can be a place to get that prospect analyzed while all the necessary parties are already at the table. If you don’t include a desired range improvement at the time that NEPA is completed for your allotment, it may be years or decades before permitting can be completed for that single project.

NEPA and permit renewal can seem like a daunting topic, but there are many resources available to help. No single entity can assist perfectly with the breadth of science, policy, and social issues that arise. However, with help from partners across the state, we hope to increase knowledge and understanding toward the shared goal of land management success.