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Federal Lands

Cheyenne — In early February results from the 2007 Census of Agriculture were released after the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) surveyed and quantified information from 2,204,792 U.S. farms and ranches.
    One of the most interesting figures, says Wyoming NASS Director Glenda Shepler, is the increase in the number of U.S. farms. Nationwide the increase was four percent, while in Wyoming the number of farms increased 17 percent to 11,069 farms from 9,422 farms in 2002.
    “One of the things you can see in the survey is a line of states from Montana to Texas and Louisiana where the number of farms increased,” says Shepler. “From 2002 Wyoming has gained 1,500 farms, although land in farms went down about four million acres.”
    Wyoming’s land in farms dropped from 34 million in 2002 to 30 million in 2007, a 12 percent decline. The state’s average farm size decreased from 3,651 acres in 2002 to 2,726 acres in 2007, a 25 percent change.
    One thing she thinks contributed to the dramatic increase in numbers was undercounting in 2002. “We continue to try to do a better job of building our list and finding all the small farms,” she notes. “The big ones are easy to find – it’s the small hobby ones that are harder to track.”
    She says NASS finds those small farms in any way they can, and they’re constantly seeking to build the list.
    Nationally, the latest census results show a continuing trend toward more small and very large farms and fewer mid-sized operations. Overall, the majority of U.S. farms are smaller operations with more than half characterized as residential/lifestyle or retirement farms.
    According to the report, in Wyoming the largest increases were in the farms with less than 180 acres. The large farms – greater than 2,000 acres – decreased six percent.
    Wyoming has 30,169,526 total acres of land in farms, with an average farm size of 2,726 acres and a median farm size of 230 acres. Fremont County has the most acres in farmland with an average farm size of 1,394 acres, while Hot Springs and Teton counties tie for the least at 180 acres on average per farm.
    The average value per acre was the least in Sweetwater County at $179, while an acre of land in Teton County goes for $1,825 today.
    In terms of livestock, Fremont County is home to the most beef cattle at 60,731 on 586 farms, while Teton County has the least farms producing beef cattle at 18 and the least beef cattle at 1,788.
    The total inventory of cattle and calves in the state is 1,311,799 on 5,625 farms. There are 111,477 cattle and calves in Goshen County, which is the highest county in inventory, on 417 farms, while Fremont County has the most farms at 650.
    The 2007 Census also counted almost 30 percent more female principal farm operators in the U.S. Hispanics grew by 10 percent, while American Indian, Asian and Black farm operators also increased. According to NASS, Wyoming’s number of farms operated by American Indians increased 61 percent to 235 farms, while women operated 1,604 of 11,069 farms.
    Again in the 2007 Census it was found that the average age of farmers across the U.S. continues to creep upward, from 54 in 2002 to 57 in 2007.
    Of the scope of the Census, Shepler says, “The Census helps illustrate growing trends throughout agriculture, both nationally and in Wyoming. This is an exciting time for the entire agriculture community because the census is the voice of every farmer and rancher – regardless of size or type of operation.”
    Complete results of the 2007 Census of Agriculture, including new numbers about organic farms, on-farm energy generation, community-supported agriculture arrangements and historic barns are available at www.agcensus.usda.gov.
    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..
Sheridan — In an Aug. 31, 2009 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer upheld the Big Horn National Forest Plan Revision. In the case, Western Watersheds Project (WWP) v. United States Forest Service, et al., WWP’s primary focus alleged the Forest Service failed to consider livestock grazing alternatives in the revised Bighorn National Forest Plan.
    Represented by Attorney Dan Frank, the defendant interveners in the case included the counties of Bighorn, Johnson and Washakie, the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Muddy Creek Grazing Association and Joe Foss. Other supporters in this lawsuit were the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and Guardians of the Range.
    “The counties worked very hard to obtain cooperating agency status to gain the Forest Service’s cooperation in the Bighorn Forest Plan Revision and wanted to ensure the hard work and resources they put into the several-year process encompassed by the Plan Revision would not be undone by the Western Watersheds Project lawsuit,” says Attorney Dan Frank. “The Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Muddy Creek Grazing Association and Joe Foss also wanted to protect the counties’ work and protect as much as they could of livestock grazing on the Bighorn National Forest, which seems to be under continual pressure from groups like Western Watersheds Project as well as the Forest Service itself.”
    “The interveners were not confident the Forest Service would protect their interests, so they intervened to protect themselves,” he continues. According to the court decision, WWP asserted the Forest Service failure to consider grazing alternatives was arbitrary and capricious. To support this assertion, WWP had requested the Court look at Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) from different forest plans. The Court upheld the decision denying this request, stating EIS’s from other national forests are unrelated and would provide no useful information.
    Judge Brimmer wrote in his ruling: “To use an EIS piecemeal in the fashion requested by WWP is disingenuous, and the Court refuses to utilize portions of those EIS’s absent the context in which the alternatives were considered.”
    According to the court decision, another assertion by WWP was that since the Forest Service had considered grazing alternatives in the 1985 Bighorn National Forest Plan, then they should have again in 2005. According to the document, the 1985 plan called for an output of 143,000 AUMs each year with a projected annual output of 144,000 AUMs for the years 2000 to 2030.
    In the 31-page ruling Judge Brimmer wrote: “…what the Forest Service did 20 years prior to implementing the Revised Plan is irrelevant to the question of whether the Forest Service complied with NEPA in 2005.”
    “Livestock grazing on the Forest has evolved to be based upon a desired condition, rather than an output of AUMs. By focusing on the desired condition of the Bighorn National Forest, instead of a specific output of AUMs, the Forest Service is better able to determine which areas need additional conservation and which areas can sustain higher levels of grazing,” Brimmer continues.
    The court ruling also affirmed the Forest Service met the “hard look” requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Judge Brimmer wrote: “The Court is convinced sufficient information existed in the administrative record regarding the detrimental and advantageous effects of livestock grazing for the Forest Service to make an informed decision. Simply because WWP may not like the ultimate outcome does not mean that the Forest Service was in violation of the law.”
    “The Forest Service did vigorously defend the Bighorn Forest Plan Revision as did the defendant-interveners and the State of Wyoming through a friend of the court brief,” Frank states. “I am pleased that we were able to show Judge Brimmer the livestock grazing aspect of the Forest Plan Revision was thoroughly analyzed and the alternatives were considered. That is what the law required and the counties and Forest Service met that requirement. Everyone’s efforts paid off.”
    “The counties and users of the forest will still have to hold Forest Service’s feet to the fire to make sure they implement the Plan Revision, but it was nice to be able to cooperate with the Forest Service in beating back the Western Watersheds Project’s challenge,” Frank concludes.
    It is unknown at this time if WWP will appeal this ruling. They have 60 days to make that determination.
    Article by Kerin Clark, courtesy of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.

After the National Academy of Science issued a report on wild horses and managing the species, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a proposal to conduct surveys and discussions to gather feedback from both stakeholders and the general public on how to proceed. 

In their Federal Register notice, the Department of the Interior noted, “Stakeholders and the general public hold a variety of views on how wild horses and burros should be managed. The BLM has determined that conducting focus groups, in-depth interviews and a national survey will lead to a better understanding of public perceptions, values and preferences regarding the management of wild horses and burros on public rangelands.”

The 2013 report, “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward,” is the basis of the decision to learn more about public preference.

Comments

The BLM is requesting comments on the proposal in four areas. 

First, the agency seeks comments on the need for collection of information for performance functions of the agency. 

Secondly, they are seeking comment on the accuracy of the burden estimates provided in the notice, as well as ways to enhance the quality, utility and clarity of the information collected. 

Finally, BLM is hoping to obtain comments on ways to minimize information collection burden on respondents.

Documents

“BLM put out a series of three draft documents of how the interviews would be done,” explains Jim Magagna, executive director of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. 

Each discussion draft document details questions that should be asked in the interviews with each group. 

“For the general public, for example, the discussion guides look at talking about allocation of animal unit months for horses versus cows and sheep,” Magagna mentions. “I’m not in favor of that. If one isn’t close to this issue and doesn’t understand it, how can they have an informed opinion?”

While there is guidance for interviewers to inform those uninformed members of the public, Magagna notes that it is impossible to absorb all of the facts related to such a complex issue in a few minutes. 

“There is no way to correct all the misinformation that has been presented,” he says.

Comment period

The documents are out for a 60-day comment period, which ends May 11.

“Once this is finalized, it says the BLM will determine the focus groups, in-depth interviews and a national survey which will lead to a better understanding of public perceptions, values and preferences for management of wild horses and burros,” Magagna says. “The primary respondents for the focus groups will be individuals belonging to a variety of organizations that have lobbied, commented or otherwise sought to influence the BLM and wild horse and burro programs.”

Nine focus groups in three locations are planned, as well as up to 12 in-depth interviews with individuals from stakeholder groups, such as ranchers and wild horse groups. 

These sessions will be followed by four focus groups in two locations with the general public. 

“After the focus groups and interviews, the information will be used to help design a national survey, which will help design the final phase of the research,” he explains. 

He continues, “The management of wild horses is supposed to be guided by statute – not public perceptions, values and preferences.”

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..

Nashville, Tenn. – Robert Bolton, senior rangeland management specialist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), shared some issues BLM is working on during the Federal Lands Committee business meeting at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Convention, which took place in Nashville, Tenn. on Feb. 6. 

Bolton looked at updates to agency policy and wild horse management issues, in particular.

Updates

“We are updating several grazing policy handbooks, along with our politics preference handbook and youth authorization handbooks,  and we are just about ready to issue the grazing management handbooks,” said Bolton. 

Bolton mentioned the grazing handbooks in particular have not been updated since the late 1980s. 

BLM, Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also completed and released an ecological site description handbook in 2013. 

Ecological site descriptions

Ecological site descriptions (ESDs) provide a consistent framework for classifying and describing rangeland and forestland soils and vegetation by delineating land units that share similar capabilities to respond to management activities or disturbance. 

“These descriptions incorporate information and data we find out in the field,” said Bolton. “The goal is to get ESDs done for the nation and use them as a predictive tool to tell us what the plant community is going to do if there is a disturbance – be that fire, grazing, invasive species or drought.” 

“They give us some predictability about what we need to do for management,” he added. “About 70 percent of the programs we work with either deal with vegetation management or soils. We are encouraged to utilize this tool in our decision making.”

Wild horses and burros

Bolton also touched on the controversial subject of solving the overpopulation issue of wild horses and burros on BLM lands. 

“BLM is committed to the well being of the wild horses and burros, both on and off the range,” commented Bolton. “We are also committed to the health of the western public rangelands, which not only benefit these animals but wildlife and livestock, too.”

Bolton stated wild horse gathers are going to be decided on a case-by-case basis, and there are no planned gathers in fiscal year 2014, other than one potential roundup in Wyoming, which was decided on in a previous agreement. 

Assessments

The BLM commissioned the National Academy of Science to perform and prepare an independent assessment related to the agency’s management of the wild horses and burros on the Western public rangelands. 

One area BLM found in the study that they could improve on is their animal population control surveys. BLM has partnered with the U.S. Geologic Service (USGS) to develop a better survey. 

“We are trying to ensure there is human care, financial sustainability and ecological balance on the range,” explained Bolton. 

“There are a number of projects that we are interested in working with through the scientific, as well as the veterinary, communities to develop longer-lasting population control tools,” commented Bolton. “BLM is open to permanent sterilization.” 

BLM is also seeking help from veterinarians, scientists, universities and researchers to help develop innovative techniques and protocols in implementing population growth suppression methods. 

Holding facilities

Off-range holding facilities are reaching their full capacity to house wild horses, and BLM is trying to develop more efficient contracts for eco-sanctuaries and strengthen their adoption program. 

“Holding these animals in long-term facilities costs $1.30 a day, and in short-term holding facilities, it costs $4.78 a day,” described Bolton. “About 61 percent of the horse program budget went to holding animals from short-term to long-term.”

Bolton explained that they have invigorated the inmate training program to help horses become more adoptable and have also increased options for lower cost off-range holding facilities. 

“Each of these efforts are trying to be grounded in good science and incorporate interest of stakeholders in all of these.” 

Challenges

With the challenge of drought, the carrying capacity of BLM rangelands is being exceeded and will likely lead to the decline of health in the wild horses and burros, predicted Bolton. 

The executive leadership team of state directors for the agency will discuss all of the issues of the wild horses and burros sometime in March 2014.  

“We are committed to making improvements,” said Bolton. “It’s not easy, and we are trying to think outside of the box with opening the door for population control methods.”

Madeline Robinson is the 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..


SIDEBAR:
Fire strategy

In the next six months, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans on releasing the Cohesive Fire Strategy, a collaborative process of all levels of government and non-government organizations, as well as the public, to find land solutions to wildland fire management issues.

This effort is the result of the Federal Land Assistance Management and Enhancement (FLAME) Act passed in 2009. Many congressional members and organizations interested in solving the ongoing and increasing problem with wildfire suppression emergency costs sponsored the act. 

“In this cohesive strategy, we will talk about how to address fire in our communities, restore and maintain landscapes and respond to fires,” explained Robert Bolton, director of range management for BLM. 

 

Casper — Legislation that would designate an additional 24 million acres of wilderness in five states and 1,800 more miles of “wild and scenic” rivers, as well as biological corridors, made its 19th appearance before Congress on May 5.
    According to Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis’ office, “Another less known but equally troubling section of the bill would create new federal reserved water rights that would preclude future development upstream of any Wilderness area created in the legislation. Not only are these federal reserved water right provisions in the bill ripe for numerous lawsuits from impacted states, they are in fact inconsistent with the language of the original Wilderness Act itself.”
    In a hearing before the House Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Lummis revealed that the legislation’s sponsor, Carolyn Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) visits to Wyoming had only brought her within a six hour drive of the area of the state her legislation would most greatly impact. While H.R. 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act,” called NREPA by its supporters, has nearly 75 co-sponsors, none of them are from areas where the designations would be made.
    According to an Associated Press article following the hearing, the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman said no additional action has been scheduled on the legislation at this time.
    Sublette County Commissioner and Boulder rancher Joel Bousman represented Sublette and Lincoln counties at the hearing. At a meeting in Pinedale just days ago he said a capacity crowd filled the local auditorium in opposition of the H.R. 980.
    “This proposed legislation would seriously change the very custom and culture of our region,” said Bousman. “Existing land management emphasizes multiple use; it provides for a healthy local economy and tax base. We already have an effective land management scheme, but this bill would take away many of our management options by eliminating multiple use.” Among the many numbers Bousman used to counter the legislation he said it would increase the amount of wilderness in his area from 430,000 acres to 1.6 million acres.
    “Because of these human activities, this land in our opinion does not meet wilderness criteria and thus is not eligible for consideration as wilderness,” said Bousman. He said the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) outlines a locally driven process for wilderness designation.
    “This bill usurps the public process by seeking a congressional mandate rather than a well conceived plan at the local level,” said Bousman. He estimated that the economic losses resulting from the legislation could amount to $1.2 billion. “Nothing about this legislation is good for our citizens or our economy.”
    After listing a lengthy list of Wyoming organizations that oppose the legislation, Lummis told the legislation’s sponsors that the bill could very well preclude them from visiting the very areas they’re working to “protect.”
    Among the opponents is the Wilderness Society’s Wyoming chapter. In a late April statement at Pinedale On-line the group’s representative says local land planning made with local support is a better approach.
    Maloney, on the contrary, pitched the legislation as “grassroots” with “local support.” Among the supporters are the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Endangered Species Coalition and the Humane Society of the United States. Keeping with popular Congressional phrases Maloney said the legislation would create “green jobs,” stave off climate change and eliminate wasteful spending subsidizing the timber industry.
    “It’s a homegrown, grassroots bill that by necessity had to go elsewhere for a sponsor,” said Maloney.
    Representative Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) said that of the 10,000 pieces of correspondence he’s received on the legislation, very few supported the bill. He said the legislation isn’t even in the best interest of the ecosystem it professes to protect. For the Montanans who utilize the land, he said land conservation is a daily choice.
    “This recycled bill has been reintroduced every Congress for nearly two decades, never once passing the House or Senate,” Lummis said in a prepared statement following the hearing. “Not one member of Congress whose district is impacted by this bill is currently a cosponsor of the legislation. More importantly, I don’t know of one locally elected official, municipality, or even public land manager in Wyoming who has been approached by the sponsors of this legislation to seek their input, discuss the bill’s sweeping impacts, or find ways to work together.”
    Lummis said, “The most basic governing principle upon which our nation was founded is: ‘by the people, for the people.’ The sponsors of H.R. 980 have either forgotten this edict or have simply chosen to ignore it.”
    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..