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Conservation Districts

Lander — “Coordination, at first glance, sounds similar to cooperation, collaboration, consultation or any of the other words that have similar meaning,” says Jim Allen of Lander. “But, in a legal sense, coordination is much more defined and stronger. It’s equal, not subordinate.”
    Allen, a wilderness outfitter and rancher who chairs the Natural Resource Planning Committee (NRPC) in Fremont County, says local governments have a little used tool at their disposal. “Congress recognized that counties have the authority to control local functions and have a real interest in what happens at the local level in terms of tax base, economic viability, social viability, police power, the general welfare of the citizens they represent at a very, small local level.” Allen continues, “Congress then codified local control by expressly granting coordination authority in several federal laws like the Federal Land Management and Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Rangeland Renewable Resources Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and more.
    Allen and DeLoyd Quarberg, who is vice chairman of the NRPC in Hot Springs County, believe coordination is the key to local communities having a stronger say in the decisions made on the federally managed lands that surround their communities. In the case of Fremont County, Allen points out that 85 percent of the county’s land mass is comprised of federal lands. “What happens there is vitally important to the people who call Fremont County home,” he says.
    With a local land use plan in place, Allen and Quarberg say local governments have the ability to call upon the federal land management agencies to comply with local documents. “We’re not declaring a sagebrush rebellion,” says Allen, “We’re simply using federal statutes that define coordination and recognize the authority counties have in dealing with these federal agencies if they’ve adopted land use plans or they have a planning policy.”
    Fremont County’s first attempt at coordination came during the Shoshone Forest Plan Revision. Allen says what made the news were the county’s resolutions opposing wolves and grizzly bears. The bigger story, he says, “It was an expression to the federal government that the federal plans and the planning policies of the county government were inconsistent.”
    Since that time Allen says Fremont County’s NRPC has continued working to get federal officials to understand the importance, and legal requirement for, coordination with local governments. “None of the federal agency staff that are on duty now were on duty in the 1970s when these statutes passed. They were, however, working for the government when cooperating agency statutes passed. They understand cooperation, but they don’t understand coordination. They’re starting to come around and we’re starting to assert our legal planning and management authority.”
    “The difference between cooperating agency status and coordination,” says Allen, “is that with cooperating agency status the local government has the opportunity to provide economic analysis and data, but the agency retains exclusive decision-making abilities. Under coordination the burden of proof is on the secretary of agriculture or interior, to make their decisions consistent with local government.”
    “It puts the local government on a level playing field with the federal government so that those local values get carried through,” says Quarberg. “Without it, you can make your case, but they go back to their office and shut their doors.”
    Quarberg says the commissioners in his county haven’t fully grasped coordination yet, but that the nearly 30-member NRPC continues to gather information. Part of the problem, he says, has been federal officials convincing commissioners that “cooperation” is better than “coordination.” He says, “The commissioners see the federal agencies as the experts on this.”
    Allen says recognition of the coordination tool could also leave the federal land management agencies better positioned on the many issues they find themselves in court over. As it stands, he says they can claim local involvement based on cooperation, but it’s a weak argument. “Under cooperation agency status you can bring stuff to the table, but under coordination you bring it to the table and it stays there until it’s resolved,” he explains. “They work out the inconsistencies and then present a draft document.”
    “It took the wolf and grizzly in Fremont County to slap us up alongside the head so we’d realize it had gone too far,” says Allen of the effort to seek out what they believe to be better tools for local communities. “The federal decisions were inconsistent with what the people of Fremont County wanted.”
    Allen’s NRPC is comprised of around 30 people who represent a broad spectrum of the community. Quarberg says an equally diverse group comprised of 22 individuals is meeting in Hot Springs County.
    Of Fremont County’s land use plan, Allen says, “We were flexible without specifying numbers. If you had to sum it up, it would be to protect multiple use. We allow for recreational and commercial values. It would be unfair as an advocacy group to characterize our plan as having any one dominant use.”
    “The tool is there if counties will utilize it,” says Quarberg. “If they don’t utilize it they won’t have much of an affect on natural resource policy in their counties, not as much as they would if they used coordination.”
    Jennifer Womack 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..

Evanston – The state’s local natural resource conservation district leaders, staff and state and federal natural resource partners will be meeting and hearing about top priority resource challenges and working on policy issues for the coming year.

  The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts annual convention will be held Nov. 14-16, 2018 in Evanston at the Historic Roundhouse and Rail Yards. A detailed schedule, pre-registration, vendor and sponsorship information is located online by visiting conservewy.com or calling 307-632-5716 to request additional information.

The Best Western Dunmar Inn and Holiday Inn Express are both serving as host hotels for the event, and they can be reached at 307-789-3770 and 307-789-7999, respectively. Be sure to ask for the convention rate.

  On Nov. 14, attendees will get an update on the efforts of the ENDOW Rural Council from Conservation District Representative Jaime Tarver of the Campbell County Conservation District. 

That afternoon will include a Wyoming Roundup highlighting Conservation District projects from across the state. These will include the Acme Power Plant Reclamation project in Sheridan County, Invasive Russian Olive removal on Clear Creek in Johnson County, Old Refinery Remediation in Albany County, Restoration of the North Platte River in Natrona County and local Conservation District roles in National Environmental Policy Act in Sublette County. 

  Speakers on Nov. 15 covering Farm Bill reauthorization and national conservation programs available to Wyoming communities include Jimmy Bramblett, Natural Resources Conservation Service Deputy Chief of Programs for Conservation Planning and Program Delivery, and Coleman Garrison, National Association of Conservation Districts Government Affairs director.  

Following will be an afternoon of committee meetings where several updates and policy issues will be discussed. Committee meeting agendas are available at conservewy.com.

  During the evening of Nov. 16, the annual Live Auction and Social, benefitting the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation’s support of community driven conservation efforts, will be held. 

Convention wraps up on Nov. 16 with the business meeting, including an election of new Association leadership.

The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, which is made up of 34 Conservation Districts and 170 elected officials in Wyoming, is dedicated to conserving, enhancing and protecting the natural resources of our great state. Conservation Districts across the state assist local communities and both public and private landowners and managers to maintain, sustain and continue to improve Wyoming’s natural resources.

The upcoming joint convention of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) and the Society for Range Management Wyoming Section (SRM) will feature a full schedule of items that are currently facing conservationists and rangeland managers.

With board meetings, workshops and awards, both organizations’ agendas are full of opportunities for land managers to learn new information and receive updates on ongoing legislation and projects. The convention will be held Nov. 14-17 in Lander.

On Nov. 15 the convention officially kicks off with a joint workshop on Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs).

“That workshop will be interesting to producers and agency people who are dealing with Ecological Site Descriptions as they work on range management and range monitoring,” says WACD Executive Vice President Bobbie Frank.

Incoming SRM President Ben Bonella says the ESD workshop is one of the highlights of the convention for his group.

“We have national SRM President Jack Alexander coming to make presentations on ESDs, and Wyoming State Range Conservationist Rick Peterson will give an introduction to and the history of ESDs. Alexander’s portion is called ‘ESDs 2.0,’ and he will talk about what the new ESD will look like,” says Bonella, noting that the new ESDs will be much more inclusive than what’s already in existence.  

A joint luncheon that same day will feature a project update from Encana, as well as a highlight on the Pathway to Water Quality on the Wyoming State Fairgrounds in Douglas.

That afternoon there will be leadership training, followed by an opening reception at the Fremont County Pioneer Museum.

The following day, Nov. 16, Chad Pregracke, who grew up on a river as a clam diver, will give the convention’s keynote address. He began by simply picking up trash with a boat, then moved to a barge and he then started the Living Lands and Waters organization, of which he’s now president.

The WACD awards luncheon will be held over the noon hour on Wednesday, with committee meetings to follow that afternoon.

“We have a number of speakers lined up, dealing with the big issues we’re facing,” says Frank, continuing that a few of those topics include a resolution that would exempt ag and private land data from disclosure under the public records act, an update on the Big Horn Resource Management Plan, the status of the state’s soil survey and discussion on the black-footed ferret/prairie dog initiative in the Thunder Basin Grasslands.

Frank also says a new WACD video project will debut that afternoon.

“Our tree educational materials have been hard copy brochures, but we’ve been turning those into videos on the history of the living snow fence program, the purpose of snowfences and windbreaks and how to plant seedling trees,” says Frank. “Our goal was to modernize the brochures so that, in addition to the handout, there will be a place to watch someone demonstrate how to do it properly.”

Wednesday evening the two organizations will join for a fundraising auction, which will include online bidding again this year.

“Anyone who can’t attend the convention can participate online, and people can bid on items in real-time,” notes Frank.

To participate online, join the live audio cast at 7 p.m. at proxibid.com/wynaturalresource.

The following day, on Thursday attendees will have the choice of two blocks of five concurrent sessions, the first of which will cover small acreages, range monitoring techniques, the Rangeland Health Assessment Program, the black-footed ferret initiative and cooperation and coordination of local governments with federal agencies, which will be addressed by Joel Bousman of the Wyoming County Commissioner’s Association and Cheyenne attorney Karen Budd-Falen.

The second round of sessions will include the Utah Grazing Improvement Program, the Sage Grouse Executive Order and its implementation, a producer forum on range improvement challenges, vegetative treatments and range improvement and the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative.

Of the sessions, WACD President Shaun Sims says, “We have a full schedule of things on which we need to be updated and find out where we’re at, so everyone knows the most current updates. It would be a good opportunity for people to attend to get that information. With all the things going on with the range on the west side of the state, it would be a good place to have some good discussion. The convention will be a good interchange between the conservation districts and the Society for Range Management.”

“There’s a good mix of sessions on technical on-the-ground topics combined with program and policy issues,” adds Frank. “There’s a good mix that will appeal to a lot of folks.”

Bonella says the 10 breakout sessions will encompass many topics of interest to and commonly experienced by both landowners and professionals.

“There are many really neat topics that would be very beneficial to any landowner, large or small,” he adds.

The WACD portion of the convention will wrap up with its annual business meeting, while SRM will end with a board of directors meeting.

Early registration deadline for the convention is Nov. 2, although participants can register up until and through the convention at a higher rate. Frank says they expect around 250 attendees.

Bonella invites anyone who has an interest to attend.

“Being the SRM, we are always open to including new people, as one of our goals is education about rangelands and their use,” he says.

For more information, visit either the WACD website at conservewy.com or the SRM website at rangelands.org/Wyoming. Christy Martinez 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..

    In response to budget crises from the federal level, four conservation districts in Wyoming are seeking to establish mill levies within their areas on this fall’s ballots, while two others are seeking to renew in November.
    “Those budget crises trickle down and ultimately affect the local entities that depend on those sources,” says Sheridan County Conservation District Manager Carrie Rogaczewski of federal funding. “We decided the time was right to get moving and to stabilize our local funding.”
    Sheridan County Conservation District, Cody Conservation District, Crook County Natural Resource District and Hot Springs Conservation District are those seeking a mill levy. Laramie County Conservation District and Niobrara Conservation District will bring a mill levy renewal to their constituents.
    Rogaczewski says without the assurances of local funding they’ll have a hard time keeping help and keeping the program viable, a sentiment echoed by other districts around the state that are both with and without mill levies.
    Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank says local funding is irreplaceable for districts. “The local funding is what grounds the districts with their local constituents and it gives them the flexibility to be involved in a broader scope of projects,” she states.
    Eighty-eight percent of the Sheridan County district’s funding currently comes from outside sources. “With the outside funding it’s hard to be accountable and flexible enough to address local issues as they come up. It weakens the program because you’re not basing projects on local resource needs but on the grants’ requirements,” says Rogaczewski.
    “Grants are a great tool, but they can come with their own set of restrictions or requirements,” she adds.
    Currently the Sheridan district receives grants from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality through the Clean Water Act and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. Partnerships with the Natural Resources Conservation District have ceased due to budget cuts within that federal agency.
    Rogaczewski says last year the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust awarded her district a grant, while the Game and Fish Department provided funding for fish passage projects. Wyoming State Forestry has supported the living snow fence program.
    “We have a local membership program that generates $2,500 each year, and the County Commission gives us some funding. We also receive some small appropriations from a few towns in the area,” she says.  
    Small amounts of funding from so many different sources means the district has to get creative, says Rogaczewski. “One of the downsides is personnel stability. It’s hard to pay people competitively and encourage them to stay here when our funding is up in the air,” she adds.
    “Districts that operate on minimal state funding whatever grants they can obtain find it very difficult to operate,” says Frank. “Those districts do their best but they don’t have the base resources to cover their operational costs.”
    The Laramie County Conservation District’s District Manager Jim Cochran says his county’s mill levy, in place since 1988, has been the funding base for operations within the district. “Without it we don’t have matches for grants, and every grant we have requires matching funds,” he says.
    In 2008 the Laramie County district’s budget was composed of 55 percent mill levy money and 45 percent funding from grants and contracts.
    Rogaczewski says her district is “trying to be optimistic” about the upcoming vote. “The response we’ve had through visiting with local organizations and groups has been positive. We’re receiving a lot of support,” she says. Right now her biggest concern is reaching enough people.
    “It’s important for the local people to know how important they are to conservation districts,” she continues. “The amount of resource issues we’re asked to address doesn’t get any smaller just because our budget does.”
    “I think once the taxpayers are aware and informed and understand what the mill levy is for there’s generally a lot of local support,” says Frank, but she adds it’s hard to get the word out on minimal funds and volunteer hours.
    The Sheridan County district is asking for up to half a mill, which would generate $300,000. That amount could be used to leverage an additional $750,000 through matching grants.
    The tax in Sheridan County would cost the average homeowner only $12 per year. In Laramie County the mill levy costs $7.50 per year for the average homeowner. “That small amount makes a lot of difference in what we’re doing with natural resources,” says Cochran.
    “The amount it costs compared to the benefit it could generate is quite different,” says Rogaczewski. “We’ve been trying to hit that point home.”
    “For those districts that do not have mill levies, receiving even a minimal amount of base funding from the local level would make all the difference in the world,” says Frank.
    Cochran says his district never takes anything for granted, so they’re also getting the word out about their renewal.
    “The biggest thing for us is to have the flexibility to address local resource issues and have accountability to local people rather than outside sources,” notes Rogaczewski.
    Christy Hemken 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..

Cheyenne – During the Nov.  21-22 meeting of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee of the Wyoming Legislature, members of the Committee took under consideration several bills having to do with special districts in the state of Wyoming.

The three bills that affected ag-related districts, such as conservation districts and irrigation districts, among others, include Special districts task force – continuation, Special districts budget requirements and Special districts – dissolution by commissioners.

Sen. Larry Hicks of Baggs said that the bills brought much discussion during the meeting, but ultimately, the only one moving forward is the bill concerning budget requirements in special districts.

Dissolution bill

The bill proposing a method by which county commissioners would be able to dissolve a special district if they violate some statutory requirement.

“For the dissolution bill, Sen. Charlie Scott made a procedural move and moved to lay the bill back indefinitely,” explained Hicks. “After several hours of testimony on that bill, it was pretty apparent that the legislation wasn’t going anywhere. There has never been majority support on either the House or Senate side on the dissolution bill.”

Passage of Scott’s motion effectively killed the bill for sponsorship by the Corporations Committee during the 2017 session.

Task force bill

The Corporations Committee also opted against sponsoring legislation to continue the Task Force on Special Districts.

“My major concern with that bill was that it had no sideboards,” Hicks explained. “The bill didn’t say what the Task Force would study, and after the results of this year’s Task Force work, I think the majority of the Committee was uncomfortable with moving forward without any specificity on the topics of study.”

Hicks said the Committee could not justify a bill to spend $21,000 to continue a task force without any specific details, sideboards or direction.

Budget bill

One bill that was passed, with significant amendments, was the bill identifying budget requirements for special districts.

“We took quite a bit of testimony on that piece of legislation, and there was quite a bit of uneasiness with it,” Hick said. “I used the same procedural move that Sen. Scott had used and asked for the bill to be permanently laid back. It passed.”

However, following passage of the motion to indefinitely postpone the bill, Committee Chairman Sen. Cale Case asked the group to reconsider the bill and give it one last chance for a honest hearing.

“Some of the committee members felt that we had put in this much time that we should reconsider it,” Hicks explained. “On Nov. 22, we started heavily working that bill. Hospital districts, conservation districts and any court-administered special districts were exempted from the bill, and several sections were pulled out dealing with other entities.”

The special districts budget requirements bill passed on an 8-6 vote, with the amendments applied.

“It’s got a long way to go,” Hicks said. “I think the bill has a chance of passing, but the proponents of the legislation have a lot of work to do.”

Words of caution

Hicks noted that every few years, a bill comes forward that targets special districts in one form or another, which is problematic.

“What most legislators don’t understand is that there are 670 special districts, over 2,000 appointed and elected special district board members and 28 types of special districts,” Hicks said. “When a person casts a broad net and uses that nomenclature, pointing out one particular entity that has some problems, they capture all 670 districts.”

He continued, “It should be very cautionary. When we cast broad nets, we can expect a lot of push back.”

Hicks added that the majority of Wyoming’s special districts are run very well.

“The vast majority of Wyoming specials districts are fiscally conservative and run well, and we owe them gratitude,” he said. “If we do have problems, it is incumbent upon us to work with those entities to come into compliance, rather than coming in to dissolve them.”

Rather than attempting to broadly legislate issues, Hick suggested, “If we are going to fix problems, we need to identify where issues exist and be surgical in our approach.”

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..