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Natural Resources

OSLI Advances Total Program Compliance Initiative by Ryan Lance

The vast majority of our lessees – grazing, oil and gas, coal, uranium and otherwise – are tremendous. They pay on time. They report on time and with great accuracy. They try very hard and appreciate that the work of the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI) is tied to the noble cause of funding K-12 education and the work of other important institutions like the Veteran’s Home and State Hospital. From Stock Growers, Wool Growers and Farm Bureau to the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and Wyoming Mining Association and all of their dedicated members, I have been fortunate to work with folks that are tremendous stewards of state trust lands. 

Several months ago, Anne Harris approached me with a problem. Anne is charged with ensuring that surface impact payments associated primarily with mineral development are paid to the state trust land beneficiaries and our state grazing lessees in accordance with state law and the Board of Land Commissioners’ rules. Her calls to particular companies were going unanswered, and her demands for payment were falling on deaf ears. 

As we talked, I learned that other calls from our office for certain companies to permit and pay for coal bed natural gas reservoirs and other facilities were also being ignored. Short of several dozen lawsuits to recover, in many instances, fairly small dollar amounts, we felt as though we did not have many options to force compliance. This was especially true where facilities, including reservoirs, were already built, and we had limited or no bonding in place to reclaim them. 

Early in my tenure as director, Harold Kemp, then head of the Office’s Mineral Leasing and Royalty Compliance Division, came to me with a similar problem. Several companies were not paying their royalties and other required payments and were delinquent in submitting mandatory documents and reports. Many, if not all of their wells were shut in, with little or no chance of them being restarted given the price of natural gas and the limited production potential for the wells. Despite unpaid royalties and other delinquencies, our primary concern was that we had little or no bonding in place to properly plug and abandon the open well bores. When pressed, several of the companies simply threatened to walk away, leaving the state to clean up the mess. As with Ms. Harris’ conundrum, we seemed to have little leverage.

Many of the issues we were facing involved coal bed natural gas producers. Further, most of these producers were not the state’s lessee, but were actually only assigned the rights to that portion of the leasehold covering the shallow coal seams. As we dug further, we learned that most of our underlying lessees had great interest in retaining their leases, as the deeper rights had become increasingly attractive with enhanced fracking and other technologies that were and are still unlocking thousands of barrels of oil every day in these previously uneconomic production zones. 

Our ability to force compliance was becoming a bit clearer. First, if a company would not pay its royalties, surface impact payments or meet its other obligations, we would simply move to cancel their leases or assigned interests. Pursuant to the terms of our lease and assignment forms, the underlying lessee and assignee are both responsible to adhere to and ensure full compliance with the terms of our lease. Functionally, they are both on the hook. With the increasing value of oil in the deeper zones, and thus the great desire to maintain their lease ownership, we could apply some pressure. 

But there was still a concern that even the most responsible lessee would simply walk away, especially where the deep rights were unproven or known to be of little value. We could file suit to compel compliance, but such an option seemed unwieldy given the number of leases involved. Plus, we still had Anne’s issues to contend with, which would require an all together separate gaggle of lawyers to sort out. 

The answer that has emerged is simple: Total Program Compliance. If you are delinquent with any obligation with the OSLI, the State’s trust beneficiaries will no longer provide any accommodation to you or your company. No easements. No assignments of interests. No suspensions or extensions. No consent to transfer anything to anyone. No favorable recommendation from the director. No preliminary approvals. If you or your company walk away from a lease, do not call OSLI for anything until you clean it up. This applies to all of the state’s lessees – not just oil, gas, coal and other producers. 

While simple in concept, even the most well intended bureaucracy will experience some hiccups in the implementation of nearly anything. To combat the inevitable problems that arise in organizations, particularly in terms of communication, we have merged the surface and mineral leasing operations of OSLI into one division. We are working towards integrating our surface and mineral leasing applications and data. We have sought and received Board of Land Commissioner approval to authorize the director to cancel leases or assigned interests for two currently delinquent operators if the companies do not follow through with their obligations. If no one steps forward, we have informed the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that we may need to tap the state’s orphan well fund to plug, abandon and reclaim deserted wells. Simply put, we are no longer kicking the can down the road on non-compliance. 

As a result, reservoir permits are starting to trickle in, together with other applications, reports and payments. Just last week, I received a check for nearly $35,000 for unpaid royalties, penalties and interest for one of the companies for which the Board had authorized lease cancellation.

Further, pursuant to direction from Governor Mead and the other members of the Board of Land Commissioners, we have initiated a review of all of our agency-issued directives and mandates to see where we might be less bureaucratic. Oftentimes, these edicts were crafted to address the behavior of a limited few (mostly those that Anne and Harold brought forward), but had the unintended effect of needlessly hitting those that play by the rules. Early numbers indicate that of the over 50 internal and external directives that had been issued for mineral royalty compliance alone, we will cut over 20 and pare back most of the rest. At the end of the day, the few bad apples should not be allowed to spoil the bunch. 

But back to my initial statement – the vast majority of our lessees are dedicated and thoughtful. All too often, government can only find the stick – never the carrot. As such, I have tasked staff with identifying those lessees that are doing it right – and I look forward to sending letters of thanks to those folks. It is not much, but it is something. 

To close, I offer my best in the New Year…and my prayers for moisture.

In 2004, The Ruckelshaus Institute at the University of Wyoming began conducting polls to gauge voter interest on conservation issues, specifically those related to wildlife habitat and open spaces, says Kit Freedman, Ruckelshaus Institute project and outreach coordinator. 

The Ruckelshaus Institute released results from the 2018 Public Opinion Poll of Natural Resources Conservation in late October, and results showed broad support across the state for conservation issues.

“These results show that Wyoming voters identify as hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists at much higher rates than the national level. It should come as no surprise then that Wyoming voters in all corners of the state value conservation and oppose efforts that would negatively impact the open spaces and wildlife that contribute to the high quality of life for people in the state,” says Nicole Korfanta, Ruckelshaus Institute director. 

Inside the poll

The poll was conducted Oct. 9-13 by Lori Weigel of the firm Public Opinion Strategies and collected responses from 600 registered voters from across the state. The survey was organized in partnership with Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, as well as new sponsor the Wyoming Conservation Legacy, which includes the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Wyoming Wildlife Federation. 

“This is the fourth time we’ve done the poll since 2004,” says Freedman. “It’s nice to have a diversity of partners, because we think it adds credibility to the poll.” 

The poll is conducted every four years. During each poll, a battery of consistent questions is asked to strategically track changes in voter attitudes. 

“We also add a few questions that are specific to new and emerging topics to engage Wyoming voters in those issues,” Freedman commented.

Take home message

After reviewing results, Freedman said the overall take away was a high level of support for conservation generally among Wyoming’s voters. 

“This year, nine out of 10 survey respondents indicated that conservation topics are a priority and that they consider these topics when deciding whether to support an elected officials,” he explained. “Across the board, there is support throughout Wyoming for conservation.” 

Further, Freedman emphasized, “In particular, issues related to water availability for farming and ranching, the loss of family farms and ranches, water quality and quantity, the decline in big game populations, loss of wildlife habitat and loss of open space were rated as important as issues like education, healthcare, jobs and the economy.” 

Across the board, regardless of political affiliation, rural or urban status or geographical distribution, the survey showed, support across the state for conservation. 

“Another interesting finding was the level of support for funding of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, as well as a willingness to pay local taxes to fund conservation locally,” Freedman says. “These findings also held true across political affiliations and geographically across the state.”

Ag topics

In addition to topics related strictly to conservation, a number of questions address the agriculture industry, including topics related to water availability for ranching and the future of farming and ranching.

“We saw an increase in voters who said loss of farms and ranches, as well as loss of working areas and landscapes as they are broken up by development, were conservation issues of concern,” Freedman summarizes. “Farms and ranches are an essential part of the local landscape and open spaces. While voters might not make that connection, it’s something we’re thinking about when we look at results from the poll.” 

Additionally, Freedman notes that the agricultural industry plays a key role in maintaining habitat for wildlife, as well as other important conservation issues.”

Recreation influence

Freedman also says the rates at which Wyoming voters say they engage in some form of outdoor recreation continues to be high, even reaching levels above what were expected. 

“Wyoming has open spaces and public land, so it makes sense that the people who here are outside hunting, fishing and recreating,” he explains. “The rates at which respondents identified as being hunters or anglers engaged in outdoor recreation are much higher than those seen across the nation.”

Using the results

With the results of the poll, Freedman explains that Ruckelshaus Institute works to engage Wyomingites in issues that are a top concern.

“This poll provides data that are specific to Wyoming and helps us understand what voters are thinking about and to be able to respond with different initiatives or opportunities,” he explains, noting that results are applied to spark conversations related to conservation and natural resources.

“For example, in the 2014 poll, we saw interest in issues related to wildlife habitat and development,” Freedman notes. “From that, in 2015, the Ruckelshaus Institute helped convene an emerging issues forum to bring together stakeholders to hold conversations around the idea of migration corridors for big game.”

The forum is a bi-annual event held by Ruckelshaus Institute that strives to be on the leading edge of important conservation conversations in the state and region, and they are able to utilize the poll to steer topics for important conversations moving forward. 

Freedman emphasizes, “What we see today, though, is a significant level of support among Wyoming voters for conservation issues.”

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

Fort Collins, Colo. – “Soils have a taxonomy, and there are 12 orders of soils,” stated Paul Genho, the retired president of Farmland Reserve, at the International Livestock Forum in Fort Collins, Colo. on Jan. 13.

“Not all soils are created equal,” he added.

Soils are categorized by how they are developed, and some are more productive than others.

Top producing

“Mollisols are the most productive soils in the world. They developed over millions of years under grass and grazing animals,” he explained.

Some of these soils are found across Europe, but many of them are in places where there is very little water.

“We have been blessed in the U.S. to have many of these soils in places where it rains,” he commented.

Alfisols are the second most productive soils in the world.

“These appear in the northeastern U.S. and have developed under deciduous forests,” Genho continued.

Future production

Genho predicted that North and South America will be the breadbasket of the world, based on the basic soil composition of the continents.

“The U.S. has 6.7 percent of the land area in the world, 4.2 percent of the population and 21 percent of the mollisols,” he stated.

This is significant because the major world populations of the world are in areas with poorer soils. Over half of the population of the world is concentrated in China, India and Africa.

“Africa will never feed itself more than a subsistence diet without some major innovation, and China will never be fully self-sustained, because of the soil,” he noted.

Global growth

By 2050, the global population is expected to grow to 9 billion people, meaning that the food supply will need to grow by 70 percent, he continued.

“Globally, we are adding the whole population of Germany every year,” he stated.

Germany, though, is not growing, and neither are other developed countries.

“The birth rate is 1.36 children per woman in Germany, 1.32 in Spain and 1.9 in France,” he commented.

In those countries, young couples are being encouraged to have children to maintain the countries’ populations.

“In order of anticipated population inflation, India is first, China is second and Pakistan is third,” he said, explaining that these countries are growing rapidly.

Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia and the U.S. are also predicted to have rapidly increasing populations. Except for the U.S., these countries have soils with very low productivity.

“The growth in the U.S. will come from immigrants,” Genho added.

Capacity to feed

Starvation, he adds, is already a global problem, with one in seven people who go to bed hungry every night.

“Six million children a year will die of malnutrition,” he stated.

The U.S. has the capacity to feed the world and will likely have the responsibility of doing so, according to Genho.

“There is another interesting thing about the U.S., and that is transportation,” he added.

While he was living in Brazil, he had only one road to get in or out, which could be closed at any time due to weather or politics.

“In Brazil, they can grow a lot of corn, but they can’t get it out once they’ve produced it,” he explained.

America is lucky to have cheap and reliable transportation, which aids in the ability to transport food once it is grown.

Looking forward

“Food has doubled in price in the last 10 years,” he commented.

The impact on American agriculture has been positive, but Genho questions the global implications of this trend.

“The world is going to have a population growth explosion, and Americans are going to have to deal with it one way or another. We are going to help solve it, or we will have to deal with it in other ways,” he said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Nov. 3 directing a more streamlined approach toward mitigation of impacts resulting from natural resources development.

“We all have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave America’s natural resources in better condition than when we inherited them,” Pres. Obama wrote in the memo. “It is this same obligation that contributes to the strength of our economy and quality of life today.”

Inside the memo

While the President noted that each agency within the memo would be responsible for avoiding and minimizing harm to land, water, wildlife and other resources, he also emphasized that the approach should be consistent between agencies.

“Wherever possible, policies should operate similarly across agencies and be implemented consistently within them,” the memo reads.

At the same time, Pres. Obama directed that private investment should be promoted in both restoration and enhancement of natural resources.

The memo additionally directed the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of the Interior to develop handbooks or manuals within their agencies to implement the actions.

From the industry

Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna comments, “There is a lot of rhetoric in the memo that likely masks the real impacts that will be associated with implementation.”

He continues, “The underlying principles of avoidance, minimization and compensation are generally sound and already being practiced at both the state and federal levels.  While the stated outcomes of ‘added predictability, efficient and timely environmental reviews’ are laudable, if achieved, they would mark a complete reversal of the costly project delays that have to date marked the current administration.”

However, Magagna also noted that several new concepts cause him concern.

“When we talk about consistency and making sure BLM does things the same way in every state, or that every BLM, Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service offices does things that same way, we have to ask – what does that do to the ability of local folks to make decisions that truly reflect the realities on the ground?” Magagna says. “It is a two-way street.”

While the memo also indicates a goal to increase private investment, Magagna notes that the tenor of the document, as well as prior actions of the Administration, cause concern that the goal would be implemented through mandated action rather than by encouraging willing investors.

Definitions

The memo also lays out a series of definitions within the context of development of natural resources, including “advance compensation” and “durability.”

“The definition of ‘advance compensation’ as ‘environmental benefits achieved before a project’s harmful impacts occur’ is concerning. Does this go beyond concurrent mitigation, which is the current standard for most mitigation projects?” asks Magagna.

The definition of durability, he continues, is consistent with current definitions, where mitigation needs to at least equal the length of the impact. However, he further noted that the document calls for agencies to address “the resilience of the measures’ benefits to potential future environmental change.”

The directive suggests that agencies should consider climate change in their actions, which is “always a concern,” says Magagna.

Department manual

Two days after the memo was released, the Department of the Interior has issued a new chapter to its manual to establish policy and provide guidance in achieving the goals outlined in the Presidential Memorandum. 

In addition to mandating the mitigation hierarch and landscape scale approaches of the Memorandum, the manual includes an entire section addressing “Climate Change Impacts and Resilience.”

Follow-up

“The memo is a nice sounding but nebulous document,” Magagna mentiones. “The key is in how it is implemented.”

Members of Congress and other organizations are evaluating the memorandum.

He continued, “It is being analyzed, and we are trying to determine what the implications might be.”

To read the entirety of the Presidential Memorandum, visit whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/03/mitigating-impacts-natural-resources-development-and-encouraging-related.

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..

Deadwood, S.D. – Range monitoring is an important management tool on private and public lands to show how the land has changed over years, according to the president of the Society for Range Management. 

Wally Butler was on hand during the Public Lands Conference annual meeting in Deadwood, S.D. last week to discuss the role range monitoring plays in management of public lands. Butler also works as a range consultant near Boise, Idaho.

Butler works with a number of agencies that manage public lands and discussed the importance of monitoring the range for these agencies.

“The agencies really appreciate the additional information they can get from ranchers, if they will do rangeland monitoring,” Butler said. 

Monitoring

“Monitoring is simply a collection, analysis and interpretation of resource data,” he explained. “Most folks collect monitoring information, but they just don’t document it properly.”

Producers can collect short term and long term monitoring data, and both are beneficial, Butler continued. 

Short term monitoring consists of before and after grazing photos. The photos taken after grazing show what plants have been removed from a grazing area, while before-grazing photos show what plants are there and how they have responded to what has happened during prior grazing seasons. 

“To me, the photo producers take in the spring is much more important from a plant health aspect,” he explained. 

Some agencies require ranchers to collect monitoring data for public lands they utilize in order to be in compliance. 

“It is just a written record of grazing events,” he explained. “It might consist of things like what the precipitation was like and what activity took place on that grazing allotment during that year. Producers may have to record grazing utilization based on that agency’s standards.”

Long term

Butler sees even more benefit from long-term monitoring. 

A photographic record over a three to five year period, or even longer, can really show the changes in a piece of grazing land, he said. 

“I like to select areas that are representative of large portions of allotments,” he continued. “Some people will select random spots, but I like to mark a site with some type of permanent marker like a rock or a tree. Then, I use a GPS locator to record that spot and mark it on a topographical map. I also like to identify sites by pasture or something that is a common name.”

He likes to use a 35 millimeter camera and take photos in both the spring and fall using photo points. 

“I am somewhat of a dinosaur, but I can take that film to the processor and get hard copies back that I can place in a book. I can also get digital photos that can easily be sent to the agencies. I can carry a whole set of information in a three ring binder. In some allotments I consult for, I can go back 10 years and see what things looked like then,” he explained. 

Analysis

Butler said he uses these records to analyze and compare years to see how things have changed. 

As an example, he discussed a grazing allotment where changes in spring banks, grazing systems and beaver dams have changed the vegetation and species present. 

In another allotment, he discussed how changes over the years have caused the development of noxious weeds, like Canadian Thistle.

“Photos can also give ranchers an opportunity to show the improvements they’ve made to a habitat, a piece of grazing land, or a riparian area on public lands over time,” he explained. “It gives them a physical piece of evidence to show that they’ve done a good job managing the piece of public land they were entrusted with.”

Butler did caution ranchers who keep land monitoring records to never skip a year, even if it is a tough year. 

“The agency will be skeptical and wonder if the producer didn’t keep monitoring records that year because they are trying to hide something or something happened that they didn’t want the agency to see,” he explained. 

“Whether or not producers need to monitor land for a public agency, they should do land monitoring. Even if it is their private land, it provides credible information on how they are utilizing that land,” he said.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for 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..