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Federal Lands

Cheyenne — Working his way up through the ranks of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in January of this year Don Simpson took the job as acting director overseeing the agency’s Wyoming offices. More recently Simpson was named Director of BLM in Wyoming.
    “I go back to about the time the British were coming,” laughs Simpson of his time with the BLM that began in 1975 with seasonal work as a firefighter. He is a graduate of Colorado State University’s forestry program. After being stationed in various western offices Simpson spent a stint in D.C. before returning west to Wyoming about a decade ago to serve as the Deputy State Director for Resources.
    Simpson’s arrival in the top Wyoming job comes in unison with several issues of great importance to those ranchers who graze livestock on BLM lands. Feral horses, in areas of the state where they are present, are a top concern given recent BLM and legislative actions.
    “That’s our goal,” said Simpson when asked if feral horse populations in the state are going to be kept at Acceptable Management Levels (AML). “Right now we have a good commitment that this fall we’ll be doing gathers in a couple of areas around Lander. It’s always a trick with budgets and what we do with the horses once we gather them,” said Simpson.
    With Alan Shepherd leaving the state’s wild horse position, Simpson said he hopes to have that position and the state range conservationist position filled by fall. Jim Cagney, formerly the state range con, has accepted the position as director of the Lander Field Office of BLM.
    Like much of the state, Simpson said BLM is seeing an increased interest in the construction of wind turbines and the associated transmission lines. “Right now I believe we have just over 100 applications for testing, which means they want to put up meteorological towers and test wind speeds.” Simpson said about one-third of the applications have passed the approval process.
    With project applications beginning to arrive, such as one for a 1,000-turbine project near Rawlins, Simpson said BLM in Wyoming is forming a renewable energy employee group. With positions located primarily in Rawlins, Simpson said a portion of the biologists, archaeologists, realty people and project managers will also be positioned in Rock Springs and in Cheyenne where they can coordinate with the Governor’s state-level efforts.
    “It’s an issue we need to look at,” said Simpson when asked about the timeline on which permit holders in areas to be developed are notified. On the Gateway West project specifically he said the agency is looking for ways to back the process up and gather additional public input. They’ll also be considering alternative routes.
    When it comes to sage grouse Simpson said his agency has a representative on the Governor’s sage grouse team and is now part of the effort to map grouse habitat and model the bird’s life cycle.
    “Right now we as an agency are part of a team including the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, the Wyoming Stock Growers and others to develop best management practices for grazing,” said Simpson. “We want practical management practices that protect the bird and the habitat, but that are reasonable for our operators.”
    Wyoming agriculture’s largest challenge may be the same as BLM’s largest challenge — the onslaught of challenges from groups that oppose domestic livestock grazing on federal lands. “We need to make sure we have the data to show that what we’re doing is appropriate,” said Simpson. He said cooperative monitoring efforts need to be “stepped up.”
    Simpson said, “I look forward to a lot of good years working with the agricultural folks. I know quite a few from the past and hope we maintain a great working relationship with the conservation districts, the Wyoming Stock Growers and all the folks who are out there getting the work done on the ground. We’ll be working to enhance those partnerships.”
    Jennifer Womack 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..

Orlando, Fla. – With warm temperatures and sunny skies in sight, Wyoming Society for Range Management (SRM) members and college and high school students attended the SRM Annual Meeting from Feb. 8-13. 

“This year’s meeting was hosted by the Southern Section of the Society for Range Management,” says Wyoming SRM President Brian Mealor. “It went really well and was a great conference.”

Over 60 Wyoming representatives were present at the various levels of the conference, including more than 30 college students from the University of Wyoming and Sheridan College and two high school students.

SRM activities

The SRM Annual Meeting provides an array of technical presentations for rangeland professionals.

“There were four or five faculty members from UW who either presented research or worked with students to present research,” Mealor says, “and there was a lot of discussion about how to increase involvement from producers.”

SRM has previously seen high levels of involvement from producers across the country, says Mealor, adding that the participation has decreased in recent years.

“We talked about how we can reengage producers and provide tools to help them make rangeland management decisions on their property,” he says. “There is an effort across the organization to get more producers involved.”

Mealor further noted that Joe Hicks, who works for the U.S. Forest Service out of Cody, will join the SRM Board at the national level, replacing Misty Hays, who works for the U.S. Forest Service in Douglas. 

In addition, Ucross Ranch won the Excellence in Range Management Award at the national level after presenting a poster on their rangeland management programs.

Hot topics

SRM members also discussed a number of important issues during the meeting, including wild horses, invasive species and overall management.

“There was a lot of discussion about management of wild horses on rangelands and trying to find a balance in humanely achieving correct stocking rates and not degrading the rangeland ecosystem,” Mealor comments.

He notes that SRM is moving towards bringing awareness to over-objective wild horse populations in the West.

“We can’t continue to support wild horse populations at 500 to 600 percent of the carrying capacity of the range,” he adds. “If the drought continues farther West, some experts predict large-scale die-offs in wild horse populations, and no one wants to see that.”

Continued development and improvement of ecological site descriptions across the West was also discussed.

“This is a topic that has been around for a fairly long time, but cooperators are working to refine these descriptions and make them a management tool, rather than just a hypothesis for what might happen on the landscape,” he says.

Invasives

Invasive species continue to be a big concern for rangeland managers across the country.

As outgoing chair of the Rangeland Invasives Committee, Mealor says, “Everything related to invasives, from the ongoing expansion of feral hogs to new invasive weed populations, was discussed.”

Mealor also notes that invasives encompass a much larger spectrum than what we normally consider.

“We had a hands-on workshop where we learned how to handle invasive pythons,” he says, as an example. “Anything that can potentially impact wildlife populations in a range-type situation is important to SRM.”

College involvement

The collegiate level offers opportunities for undergraduate students through a host of competitions.

“Usually UW takes the most students and has the most involvement from students in the various activities that occur at the national meeting,” Mealor says, adding that UW saw success again this year.

“There are whole suite of competitions for undergraduate students,” Mealor explains. “A plant identification contest is held, and students can take the Undergraduate Range Management Exam (URME).”

The URME is a two-hour test covering a wide variety of topics related to range management and range science. 

This year, 153 students from around the country took the URME, and UW’s team placed fourth overall. Additionally, Kate Richardson of Worland took fifth place individually.

“Students also create a student chapter display, and UW students won second in that event,” he adds, noting that an extemporaneous speaking contest and Rangeland Cup event are also held annually. 

Graduate opportunities

Master’s of Science (M.S.) and PhD students are also provided the opportunity to participate in the annual meeting through the poster and oral presentation judging. 

“This year, Shayla Burnett got second place in the M.S. poster competition, and Cara Noseworthy received second place in the oral presentation at the M.S. level,” Mealor says. “Leticia Varelas got second place poster at the PhD competition level.”

“Our graduate students did very well,” he adds. 

High school student opportunities

Each year, high school students from Wyoming are also provided the opportunity to attend the national SRM meeting.

“There is a program called the High School Youth Forum,” Mealor explains. “Each section can send high school students to the annual meeting to learn more about the Society, range management and natural resources.”

Wyoming representatives are selected by participating in a speech contest at the Wyoming Section SRM Annual Meeting held each November.

“We hold a speech contest for high school students, and the top two finishers from that contest were funded to go to the national meeting,” Mealor says. “Augi Richards and Buck Butterfield from the Worland area were our two delegates.”

Students attend tours and participate in a variety of different events during the entire course of the meeting.

“Wyoming, for not being a very populous state, has a strong level of engagement in SRM overall,” Mealor comments.

Next year’s SRM Annual Meeting will be held in Sacramento, Calif. on Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, 2015. Look for more information on the Ucross Ranch’s national award win in upcoming editions of the Roundup.

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..

SIDEBAR:
Wyoming focus

Wyoming Section of the Society for Range Management (SRM) President Brian Mealor says that Wyoming will continue to focus on rangeland monitoring, invasive species and wildlife habitat concerns  through the next year.

“We will continue to work with cheatgrass here in Wyoming,” he comments. “We will also look at increasing and continuing the cooperative permittee monitoring programs that are relevant to Wyoming rangelands.”

“Anything related to sage grouse will also be an issue for Wyoming SRM moving forward,” he continues.

Mealor notes that Wyoming SRM is planning a Range Management School to be held in the southwest corner of the state in June.