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We are coming up on the centennial of our National Park system this summer, so we are going to read and hear a lot about our parks and what the future should hold for them. There is also talk going around about the need for more national parks, as some would have any scenic lands or open spaces in the West as national parks.

Years ago, I think they did a pretty good job of designating national park lands or monuments. Take Yellowstone Park or Devils Tower for instance. They most likely deserve the status, and both are managed under the National Park system. Both designations most likely didn’t harm any private lands or businesses. Yellowstone was mainly federal lands and was seen as a way to market the railroads in the West, as was Glacier National Park and Yosemite National Park. Devils Tower was small, just a little over two square miles, so it didn’t hurt much, and it allowed those neighboring ranches and businesses to keep on operating as they were, even offering some ranchers the chance to develop some tourist businesses.

There is the big push these days to place more and more land as monuments or even as national parks, especially as our president is nearing the end of his term. A number of presidents have done it before him as they think it is a great way to leave a legacy of your presidency. The big issue there is that we have more presidents leaving office than we have available lands. So in that case, some lands not worthy of the designation find their way as a national monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service, whose mission or reason of existence is to manage lands for multiple uses, not parks or monuments.

These days, the public wants our national parks to be wild and scenic like Yellowstone with all of its wild animals and beauty, but they also want the gift shops, rooms with bathrooms, restaurants with gas stations nearby, cell service and good roads. But the wildlife cannot be managed. That is a no-no in their eyes.

So now we have a modern Yellowstone where all the humans are cushy and comfortable while visiting, and the wildlife and their habitats are going to pot. The wildlife and their habitat get by because 99 percent of the public doesn’t recognize the problem.

First, there is the disease issue, mainly brucellosis, which helps to keep the elk and bison populations down. However, when we look at wolves, we see trouble when they leave the park – big trouble. Brucellosis most likely started with a milk cow a settler brought into the area, and it is no longer a human health issue. It’s also no longer a livestock issue, since the state and livestock producers have eliminated the disease time and time again with much cost. Now, brucellosis is just a wildlife issue, with not many treatment opportunities.

We have the beautiful Yellowstone National Park with way too many bison in poor condition in the northern part, which causes the habitat to be extremely overgrazed and degraded. Even the wolves are so mangy you wouldn’t want them in a picture. That is why we have to manage more than just the people.

Finishing with what we wrote about last week on what we hope the price of calves and yearlings will be this summer and into the fall, we can only hope for the best, but that is what we do almost every year. This year seems to be a little fragile, though.

I guess the expansion in beef cows, the number of calves for sale and cattle on feed as the summer goes on will tell the story, along with the price of feed, especially corn, and what the weather does especially in the Corn Belt and also in South America. So again we are rolling about five dice, maybe more.

The story from The Progressive Farmer written by Vitoria G. Myers, with quotes from Purdue Agricultural Economist Chris Hurt, paints a pretty good picture.

Hurt talks a lot about the shortened expansion cycle, and I think it proves true. Remember, my predictions usually don’t hold true for any further than the bunkhouse, but they are free and are supposed to just give you something to think about to form your own predictions.

There is some positive outlook in the cattle industry, and most of it is based on the shortened cattle expansion. We have been in an expansion phase for the last 24 months. USDA reports the Southern Plains increased beef cow numbers by nine percent. The Central Plains and both the eastern and western Corn Belts by five percent, the Southeast and the Northern Plains increased by one percent. This growth bumped up 500 pound feeder steer and heifers not retained for breeding supplies by four percent. This number may not sound like a lot, but four percent of the total feeder numbers adds up.

Those in the know say the biggest challenges the beef industry we'll likely see this year, in terms of the market, will be focused on the feedlot side. Price fluctuations and market risks for finished cattle could be extreme, depending on the 2016 crop season progresses.

Hurt says, “I am concerned about the size of our crops. We’ve had two near-record years in terms of yield for corn and soybeans, and no one knows yet how this year will work out. We are looking at the lowest prices in nine years on corn and soy meal. Our feed grain markets are set up as though everything will stay cheap, and that can lead to surprises. But, our feeders are used to this, and they have no doubt locked in these low prices. They know how to manage price risks, and these are big price risks.”

The positives are out there, though. As the price of beef lowers at the meat counter, Americans should eat more beef and keep backing the beef checkoff. Also, as U.S. beef producers are turning out more product, around a billion pounds more than in 2015, the export market for beef takes on a new level of importance as prices look for a balance between supply and demand. Global beef production is also expected to rise. Some analysts have suggested another reduction in export sales may not take place, and marginal improvement is even possible. We hope they are right.

To get the best predictions and right information, head to Laramie for the 2016 Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show June 1-4. If the predictions don’t hold up, at least you will have had some great fun.

Those in the cattle business realize just how important exports of beef are to the industry, as we all know that we are in a global market these days. The global market, at times, really adds dollars to the beef carcass, not so much from the prime cuts, but organ meats, short plates and other parts of the carcass that we usually turn our noses up at. Overseas they like those parts, which is all right. It puts dollars in our pockets.

Just as important, though, is finding markets for the prime cuts of beef worldwide. As the standard of living gets better worldwide, more and more people are looking for more diverse proteins to eat, and what better proteins for them than good, American beef? So now, how do we get our beef to them in the complicated, confusing world of international trade and tariffs?

There is a trade agreement slowly working its way through Congress that some members of the body like and some don’t. Some in the beef industry approve of the agreement, and others don’t. Imagine that? The TPP, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other trading partners bordering the Pacific Ocean, including Australia, Brunei, Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. This trade deal will cover a wide range of goods, services, financial services, telecommunications and food safety information.

They say this trade agreement is the largest agreement the United States has ever entered into. It is even larger than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The countries involved in the TPP are responsible for 40 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $88 trillion, 26 percent of the world’s trade and affect 793 million consumers.

Those in favor of TPP say it will boost U.S. exports by $123.5 billion, focusing on machinery, especially electrical, autos, plastics and agricultural industries. They claim TPP will add $223 billion a year the income of workers in all the countries, with $77 billion of that going to U.S. workers.

Those against TPP say most of the gains in incomes would go to workers making more than $88,000 a year because most trade agreements contribute to income inequality in high-wage countries by promoting cheaper goods from low-wage countries. They also say the TPP, regarding patents, would reduce the availability of cheaper generics making many drugs more expensive.

Getting back to beef, TPP would really help us export more beef to Japan, which is already our leading export market. Under current agreements with Japan, the Japanese tariff on U.S. beef is 38.5 percent, and the Japanese tariff on Australian beef is 28 percent. We figure that Australia’s advantage over us in Japan alone costs the U.S. beef industry around $300 million in lost beef sales to Japan in 2015. TPP would level the playing field in regards to beef.

Many think – and I agree with them – that if we don’t pass this agreement, China and India will step in and get their own trade agreement with the Pacific Rim countries. In these agreements, you never get all you want, but the U.S. needs to step up and show some leadership. Our Congressional delegation supports TPP, and we should, too.

This past week I was reading about the range fires that started in Oklahoma and spread into Kansas. Some 360,000 acres of grasslands were affected, along with many cattle, horses, other livestock and wildlife. Some 16 houses, 25 other structures and many hundreds of miles of fencing. Thankfully, there were no human lives lost.

It does seem strange to be writing about range fires as I looked out my office window this morning at around five inches of fresh snow, with more predicted for the rest of the week. I have heard that central Wyoming is now over three inches of precipitation above the yearly normal, and I hope it is that way for everyone else, too.

The fire started in Oklahoma on March 22 and quickly blew into Kansas. It was the worst range fire in history and also the biggest for the two states. As bad as it was, it could have been a lot worse. A number of small towns were evacuated and were saved, along with many businesses. Worst of all, some hospitals and other medical facilities also had to be evacuated, but they were saved in the end.

With winds up to 50 miles per hour, firefighters were lucky to save anything. The fire took a horrible toll on livestock, both those in the pastures and trapped in pens. Small calves just lay down and tried to hide and were quickly engulfed by flames. Their mothers had burnt feet and udders or were just caught up in the flames. I’m not sure anyone yet knows the numbers that were killed. A lot of livestock need to be doctored for illnesses caused by the fire, from burns to respiratory illness. The smoke inhalation was horrible for both livestock and humans.

I’m not sure how the fire started in Oklahoma, but we all know that every spring they burn their pastures, especially around the Flint Hills region, the best grasslands in the United States. Those who graze in the Flint Hills have been fighting with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a number of years over violations of clean air regulations. The smoke has been hard on the big cities in the area including Wichita, Kan. Various other Kansas cities have violated clean-air limits on a handful of days in the past few Aprils when range fires are set. If, under the upcoming EPA rules, the daily violations grow frequent, they could cost the City of Wichita, its residents and businesses close to $10 million annually. The heat’s on, so to speak, and not to burn the pastures. Some environmentalists want the EPA to impose mandatory restrictions, claiming the ranchers only need to burn once every three years.

On the other hand, the ranchers claim that by not burning their pastures annually, grass growth would be stunted, so much so that the average yearling steer would gain around 32 fewer pounds during the summer grazing season. At current cattle prices, that means the fires boost the price that landowners can charge the cattle producers to graze by an average of $40 per head per month. The ranchers are working with online meteorological models to tell them on which days to burn to not only to meet the standards but to establish the days they can control their fires.

Fire is a great tool for managing rangelands, and we’ve used it for many years here in Wyoming, but whoever strikes the match has to be completely sure conditions are right.