Current Edition

current edition

Conservation Districts

Casper – In mid-May one of a series of meetings hosted by the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts around the state was held in Casper and focused on the new scrutiny livestock feeding operations are receiving from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as non-point pollution sources.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Watershed Coordinator Nephi Cole was on hand to explain to producers what exactly that means.
“At this point, the laws are the same, but there’s an increased emphasis on and attention to regulations in the Clean Water Act (CWA),” said Cole, noting this has been made apparent in a series of EPA documents.
Two of those documents were the EPA’s Urgent Call to Action and the Clean Water Action Plan, while another was an executive order called the Draft Strategy for Protecting and Restoring Chesapeake Bay. “That was developed by the EPA on how they want to fix Chesapeake Bay, and the reason we care is they’re saying the Bay is a microcosm of all the pollution problems in waters in the entire United States, and if they figure out how to fix the Bay they can apply it to everywhere else and we’re good,” commented Cole.
Cole said he interpreted the documents to mean that EPA thinks it has control over the point sources of pollution in the country through permits, and they don’t think it’s fair that point sources in downstream areas are being “inequitably targeted.”
“They feel the non-point sources upstream should do their fair share of the work, also,” said Cole.
Under the CWA, point sources, or polluting entities that can be pointed out as polluters, are regulated, while non-point sources are not. Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) containing over 1,000 head of cattle, are considered point sources and must be permitted. However, Cole said most agriculture operations are considered non-point source with activities like plowing, fertilizer application and animal feeding operations (AFOs) with less than 1,000 head, although he cautions there is a desire by the EPA to see that change.
“What does that mean to us, as a non-point source upstream state?” asked Cole. “EPA has said they believe regulation of non-point sources is necessary, and they don’t have the authority now, but they want it. They basically threaten states and say the Clean Water Act does not allow them to regulate non-point sources, but the laws of Wyoming allow Wyoming to. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) could regulate non-point sources tomorrow if they chose to, but it’s not their policy, which is that they do not regulate where best management practices are being implemented in good faith.”
In Wyoming the delegated authority for the CWA and its implementation is the DEQ as the first level of regulation.
According to the documents, EPA believes 38 to 80 percent of non-point source pollution is directly attributable to agriculture operations through fertilizer, pesticides, field runoff and manure.
“EPA wants to develop regulatory mechanisms for non-point sources and figure out a way to regulate them somehow,” said Cole. A part of that is numeric nutrient water quality criteria for every water in the U.S., on which Wyoming is already working.
“That means phosphorus and nitrogen will be considered water quality pollutants and will be measured in every state in the nation,” said Cole. “And that’s significant to everybody – from the guy in the city who waters his lawn to the ag producer fertilizing his alfalfa.”
Cole adds the EPA would like to see the numbers really low so they can regulate. “If they’re lax, the water doesn’t become impaired and they can’t write a TMDL (total maximum daily load),” he said. “They would like to see watershed-level monitoring of fertilizer application, so manure or any other fertilizer has to be permitted and recorded so they can see how much nitrogen and phosphorus are on the ground in every watershed.”
Cole said the EPA would also like to expand the regulatory scope on CAFOs in two ways – to designate any AFO with one unacceptable condition as a CAFO and to implement large-scale watershed TMDLs, which can only be set after an assessment is made on where the pollution is coming from.
The EPA has also started a website where “interested citizens” can log on and see everyone who has permits with the agency. “They’ve said they want the information available so interested citizens can pursue legal action,” said Cole, noting the Humane Society of the United States has used the information to get ag operations in trouble with a lawsuit, fine and settlement agreement.
“It’s become evident to us, and to the ag community, that we need to make sure we have our ducks in a row, so when people say we’re the problem we can say we’re really not,” said Cole.
Christy Hemken 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.

Buffalo – Beginning his career in Wyoming conservation in Lusk in 1976, Phil Gonzales now resides in Buffalo and leads projects throughout the Powder River Basin as the Natural Resources Conservation Service Buffalo Field Office District Conservationist.
    Gonzales was recently honored with an Outstanding Achievement Award for Stewardship by the Society for Range Management (SRM) at their annual meeting Feb. 11 in Albuquerque, N.M. The award is given for outstanding achievement in any range management-related area and is divided into two groups – Research and Academia and Stewardship.
  Gonzales says working with a proactive conservation district has been one of most enjoyable things in his career. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with partnerships and do a lot of projects like leafy spurge, Russian olive and salt cedar control, water quality work, watershed assessments and work with sage grouse.”
  After graduation from New Mexico State University with a bachelor’s in range science Gonzales came to Wyoming with a student co-op program. After Lusk he worked in Evanston, starting out as a range management specialist, and his move to Buffalo focused his work in the Powder River drainage, which ranges from Powder River to Miles City, Mont.
    Gonzales also now assists the entire state of Wyoming with sage grouse habitat work, knowledge that he’s learned on the job in Johnson County. “I’m a firm believer in expanding knowledge, and belonging to the Society for Range Management has helped me a lot with that,” he notes. “I’ve been a member since 1974, and I believe that if a person belongs to a professional organization they need to learn from it and be active within it.”
    Gonzales has been involved in the Wyoming and international sections of SRM, and is a past president of the Wyoming Section.
    He says the project in which his district is currently in the midst of is the most enjoyable yet. “It’s a sage grouse habitat restoration project, and we now work with 24 producers and all of them are fully engaged in livestock grazing management for sage grouse habitat.”
    The grazing management strategies are now in their seventh year, and Gonzales says he’s been learning about them for nine years now. There are 340,000 acres involved in the project. “We’ve learned to learn from watching the land,” he explains. “We’ve learned to listen to livestock producers and private landowners, because they’re full of knowledge. That’s been the rewarding part of my career.”
    “Phil has an uncanny ability to bring people together to accomplish great things,” says Nikki Lohse, District Manager of the Lake DeSmet Conservation District, who’s now worked with Gonzales for 18 years.
    “The important thing we’ve seen in the sage grouse project is we’re starting to see an increase in understory, which sage grouse use for nesting and cover from predation,” says Gonzales. “As long as we keep producers on the land we’re all better off. They’re engaged and helping us, and they’re being profitable, and that’s the part I like – we’re working together in a partnership.”
    With the Outstanding Achievement Award, Gonzales says it’s rewarding to be recognized by his peers for stewardship efforts and working with people to implement conservation on the ground. “That’s the reward for living your life for good range management,” he says.
    Of the diversity of projects and challenges, he says, “I never thought we’d be doing the kind of things we are.”
    Lohse says Gonzales was instrumental in a project known as the Double Crossing Integrated Pest Management Project – an eight-year effort to manage primarily leafy spurge on 54,000 acres. “Today the area is managed for 5,000 acres of leafy spurge,” she says.
    Another project in progress is a process that would screen fish from irrigation ditches and keep them in the creeks. The Lake DeSmet Conservation District will continue to work on salt cedar and Russian olive control along the Powder River, and sage grouse are an issue that Gonzales says isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
    “Our conservation district and our producers are proactive, and we’ve built a trust and that’s part of doing good conservation – strong partnerships,” says Gonzales. “I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve done a lot of different things since I’ve been here, but right now the most rewarding thing is when we leave the land and it looks better than when we started.”
    “Phil is a visionary, and he’s always looking forward to ensure through conservation efforts that future generations are able to enjoy our open spaces and natural resources,” says Lohse. ”We’re very fortunate to have a person of his caliber working with our local landowners to protect and enhance our natural resources.”
    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..

New Orleans, La. – Conservation district representatives, government agencies and others gathered from Feb. 1-4 in New Orleans, La. to look toward the future of conservation work in the U.S. at the National Association of Conservation Districts 2015 Annual Meeting. 

The 2015 meeting was themed, “Conservation: Key to a Healthy Nation,” and during the Feb. 3 General Session, speakers looked at the history of conservation and then emphasized the partnerships they have developed that have influenced work across the U.S.

“To do the things we do on a regular basis, we have to have the cooperation and help of many, many people,” commented Barry Mahler, past president of the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts and moderator of the session. “There is so much history here, but there is also so much future.”

In a panel discussion, Karl Dalla Rosa, forest stewardship program manager of the U.S. Forest Service, Ellen Gilinksy, senior policy advisor in the Office of Water at EPA, Kristin Thomasgard, program director of the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program at the Department of Defense, and Cynthia Moses-Nedd of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) all looked at the importance of partnerships for their programs.

On public lands

Dalla Rosa and Moses-Nedd both looked at the importance of working together to maintain conservation on public lands as very important. 

“We are working more with connecting management on state and private land with management on federal land,” commented Dalla Rosa. “We are moving in a direction where we are taking a more holistic approach to managing the landscape.”

He continued that, by taking a landscape scale approach and working with partners, the Forest Service is able to address the pressing resource management challenges present.

“If we look at forest cover across the U.S., it has remained relatively steady,” Dalla Rosa adde,. “but many of us know that a lot of our forests are in really bad shape.”

From wildfires to pest and disease infestations, he mentioned that the Forest Service’s approach has been to address the most pressing and priority resource management concerns by developing statewide forest strategies. 

“The statewide strategies encompass all forest lands – both public and private,” he explained. “The success of these plans depend on partnerships. Partnerships are also key for forest action plan implementation.”

Moses-Nedd added that BLM’s more recent Planning 2.0 Initiative has also focused on implementing partnerships across the country. 

“Our partnerships are our greatest strength, and by leveraging our resources and maximizing the work we do, it will allow us to be fruitful and victorious over those challenges we face,” she commented.
“At the local level, conservation is tough work,” Moses-Nedd continued. “Because we have partnerships, like the ones with conservation districts, we are able to do conservation work effectively.”

Non-traditional cooperation

Partnerships outside the realm of traditional pairings have also yielded positive results for conservation work, added Thomasgard, noting that many folks don’t see a direct connection between her organization, the Department of Defense (DOD), and conservation. 

“Food security, water quality and water availability are as important to the national security of the U.S. as a trained and ready military force,” Thomasgard said. “The DOD and conservation districts are true and very valuable partners.”

Echoing the other panelists, she continued that because of local conservationists who understand their communities, resources and people, the DOD is able to accomplish their goals while furthering conservation on and around military installations. 

“We solve problems on the ground with people who are working on the land and who live in the communities where we are,” she explained, noting that by adding cost-sharing to the equation, they are able to increase their impacts. “It is not as important that we have a handful of big partners as it is to have a lot of smaller partners on the ground. That is where the work gets done.”
Thomasgard added, “Everything happens at the local level. We appreciate that, and we know that. We need local input to be successful.”

Working on water

Gilinksy also mentioned that EPA shares common ground with conservation districts across the U.S. 

“One of the cornerstones of our partnership with conservation districts is our long history of working together from state non-point source and source water protection programs to find ways to improve soil and water quality,” Gilinksy said. “We recognize how key this multi-party collaboration is to land conservation efforts.”

EPA relies on local groups to facilitate watershed working groups and in developing plans, as well as in carrying out source water protection work. 

“Conservation districts are also playing an important role in the National Water Quality Initiative,” she mentioned. “We want to continue these valuable partnerships.”

“We are relying on conservation districts to help get practices on the ground and monitor their effects,” Gilinksy added.

Working together

Mahler noted that, despite the partnerships and relationships that have been built through the years, “A lot of times we don’t have the kind of communication we need to make sure everyone is engaged.”

“One thing I have learned is my life is that having the conversations and developing the relationships is extremely important to move into the future,” he continued.

“A lot of times, we are really proud of our independence as landowners, as producers and certainly as conservationists,” Mahler commented. “We need to make sure that every cog in the drive train on conservation is engaged and moving forward.”

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..

Buffalo – On Oct. 5, elected officials in Johnson County attended the Lake DeSmet Conservation District Annual Elected Officials Tour. The event provided opportunities for those in Johnson County to understand the work of the conservation district in Buffalo and the surrounding area.

“Every district in the state that gets money from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture has to prove that they’re a legitimate district, and this is how we do it,” says Amanda Hulet, district clerk. “Between 20 and 30 people attended our Elected Official’s tour, and we looked at three projects.”

The tour started with an overview of the district’s Russian Olive Removal Project.

“Zach Byram, our district manager, gave an overview on why we chose to concentrate on this area and why removal was important to the habitat in the area,” Hulet continues. “Todd Clatrider of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department also spoke about what these trees do for wildlife and looked at the pros and cons of having them.”

Hulet notes that Wyoming State Forestry’s Kelly Norris also looked at plans for the future.

“This project is an example of what the district does as a community enhancement project,” Hulet says, adding that it also demonstrates their focus on groups working together.

Moving to the Buffalo Golf Course, attendees explored a project by Snider Ditch Company, which has converted an open ditch to pipe.

“The project started as an open ditch that ran through neighborhoods and the golf course,” Hulet explains. “Most of the ditch has been put into pipe, except on the golf course.”

She adds, “They wanted to maintain the obstacles and aesthetic value of open water.”

The group toured the golf course, visiting the site where the pipe drops into a siphon at the course, through the development of the ditch, which flows into a pond and through the course.

“We also went to a neighborhood that had the ditch flowing through it,” Hulet notes. “The ditch was eight to 10 feet wide. It is now all in pipe, so residents have gained more yard and dry basements with this pipeline.”

“This was one of our cost-share programs,” Hulet adds.

Finally, the group toured the Bull Creek Land Exchange area.

“Will Rose of the Wyoming State Lands Trust gave us an update and backstory of the land exchange, and they also talked about what is projected for another exchange,” Hulet says, noting that they also heard about a projected reservoir site on the land.“It was quite informative.”

“Lake DeSmet Conservation District has provided support over the last few years to help study the watershed and determine what can be done to help improve late season irrigation,” Hulet says. “It is an example – rather large and political – of a sponsored project that we do.”

Overall, Hulet says that attendees enjoyed the day, taking the opportunity to network with one another and ask questions.

“We had stops geared to make sure that something was of interest to everyone on the tour,” Hulet comments. “It was a great day, and we are pleased with how well it went.”
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..

Lander – After spending time growing up and attending college in the West and moving to Washington, D.C. to work in the Senate, Department of Agriculture and then the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), serving two-and-a-half years as Chief, Arlen Lancaster is now back in the West, working in Lander with The Nature Conservancy (TNC).
During his time in the nation’s Capital, he worked for Senators from Utah and Idaho, the Senate Agriculture Committee and was appointed by then-President Bush to positions at the Department of Agriculture, which culminated in serving as Chief of the NRCS. As a result, Lancaster had a hand in setting and influencing national farm, forest and natural resource policies for more than a decade. Throughout that time he was thinking of home.
“I left Utah to try to make a contribution in D.C., but my heart never left the West. There is something about wide, open spaces that gives you perspective,” says Lancaster in talking about how he ended in Wyoming. “Living in Wyoming and working for a conservation organization that recognizes people are as important as places is a great fit.”
As Conservation Initiatives Director, Lancaster has spent his three months in the state traveling and forming relationships. He has also been volunteering his knowledge and experience to groups that he feels make a real difference for conservation, such as Conservation Districts.
According to TNC, Lancaster will lead statewide conservation initiatives for the Wyoming chapter to help shape the organization’s overall strategic direction. He will work with a diverse group of stakeholders to develop conservation goals and implement projects that seek to protect Wyoming’s most valuable natural resources, and will also oversee management and stewardship of the Conservancy in Wyoming’s five preserves and ranches, as well as conservation planning, applied research and other technical expertise.
“Not many folks are as fortunate as we are to have a past NRCS Chief sitting at our boardroom table,” says Jeri Trebelcock, Executive Director of the Popo Agie Conservation District, of which Lancaster is now a part. “It’s pretty exciting, and we look forward to tapping his wisdom, experience and insight to further our goals.”
To date, Lancaster has attended two conservation district board meetings as a volunteer. “His wisdom will be valuable to the community and our conservation efforts. On a national level he’s experienced so many things he can bring to the local level, like new ideas, partnering opportunities and programs,” says Trebelcock.
“Our interests are better served with you on the land than off it,” says Lancaster, speaking of Wyoming’s ranching and farming communities. “If we want to protect our grasslands, we need to protect the ranches that steward our natural resources and keep these lands intact.”
Of protecting grasslands, Lancaster says some groups’ opinions are to make all lands national parks, eliminating all grazing and livestock. “But that ignores how those grasslands developed, with the bison and wildlife,” he notes.
On the other hand, he says some ranchers could have shortsighted goals that lead to overgrazing. “Both have a valid perspective, from where they’re at. The rancher wants to make a living, and the other wants to preserve nature. In that situation, it’s a zero sum game – each person wants it all,” he says.
Lancaster says the answer is recognizing it can be win-win. Economic uses of the land can lead to strong production and strong conservation, and a good management system will still put weight on cattle, but won’t overgraze the land. “If you overgraze, eventually you’ll end up with no grass.  If you lock it up, there will be dead grasses in a short time.”
“We need to get folks to care about protecting the grasslands while continuing to have a sustainable operation so they can continue to live and work on the land. There’s not a lot of distance between those goals,” he continues. “I do think that the more we bring people together to talk about solutions, the more we’ll find common ground.”
Lancaster commends Wyoming for its conservation efforts. “There’s such a high stewardship ethic in the state. If we get people around the table with a lot of knowledge and a lot of love for the land, you’ll see good results like the work of conservation districts and the Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust.”
One of Lancaster’s main efforts while with NRCS was to keep technical assistance available, as much as possible, and he says that remains his focus with TNC.
“One thing I want to continue to do is find ways to help get conservation on the ground,” says Lancaster. “Landowners and land managers will do the right thing by the land if they have the right information and the right tools.”    
Lancaster says he hopes his position with TNC will help to identify the policies and tools to enable that on-the-ground work. “I may not be good at very many things, but I’m a guy who will show up, work hard and try to find real solutions,” he says.    
Trebelcock notes, “Arlen really wants to be a part of the community, and we welcome him with open arms, especially as a conservation district.”
Lancaster says he looks forward to visiting with more Wyoming conservationists at the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts annual meeting in Worland in mid-November.
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..