Current Edition

current edition

    These past couples of weeks were pretty tough on many of us – we either had to buy fuel or pay taxes. I feel I got the “better bang for my buck” paying taxes, even though Congress is still having the ego trip over the Farm Bill.  Like most of you, I have totally turned off the national election debate and the actions of Congress in my mind for a while.
    Some of the issues we’re all hearing this spring – How dry is it going to be? What will the price of calves and lambs reach? When are fuel prices going to top out? How are we going to live with these high food prices? If you’re in the livestock business, and that business alone, it could be a challenging summer.
    Some glimmers of hope are wind development and the rising prices being paid for mineral rights. At a bull sale last week I heard some mineral right owners in Niobrara County could receive as much as $300 per acre for oil and gas rights. Western North Dakota, with all the interest in the Bakken Formation, is just going nuts. Those wheat farmers are doing better in energy than wheat. A friend told me the wells are flowing at around 2,000 barrels a day. A story I read said there is an estimated 270 to 500 million barrels of oil in the formation. He went on to say “it will make the north slope of Alaska look like a child’s mud puddle. There won’t be too many wheat farmers hanging around western North Dakota next winter.” They’ll surely be off to warmer climates!
    We’re lucky in America to spend only seven percent of our income on food. That’s up to around 10 percent now, but in places like China and India they spend up to 50 percent of their income on food. I’m not sure we could stand that high of a percentage.
    There seems to be a real tug-of-war in the food, fuel and energy markets. Cheap food needs low cost grains, as do some ethanol fuels. Meats really get caught up in the circus, but we’re really lucky cattle and sheep are grazers. Pork and poultry really take the hit with grains.
    The Chinese consume one-half of all the pork produced in the world. What is going to happen when we work our way through our own high numbers of hogs? Right now the Chinese are importing grain to feed in pork production. What happens if one, or more, of the large grain-producing countries has an extended drought?  One can only fertilize so much to raise production. That adds to the cost of grain and, at some point, has environmental consequences.
    I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but we are all going to have to change to live in this new world of high food and fuel costs. At some point in time there has to be a new fuel-efficient engine built to conserve fuel. As fuels keep rising, we all are going to have to change our lives.
    Well, spring is here. Maybe I should say, it’s supposed to be here. In Central Wyoming, along with other parts, we have not seen too many nights above freezing. The irrigation water is just starting to run, which is the good part. We look to have more runoff than we’ve had in a number of years.
      I drove through the Saratoga country a while back. The area was getting more snow and the irrigation ditches were still full of snow. The locals said the winter was brutal. On the other side of the mountain, in the Snake River country, I can’t print the words the locals who toughed it out used to describe it. Irrigation water comes with a price, doesn’t it?
    While we are visiting about water, we all need to keep in touch with the effort by some in Washington, D.C. to expand the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Rep. James Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, introduced legislation called the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007. So far the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), has held one hearing in Washington, D.C. on the legislation. In short, what the bill does is remove the term “navigable waters” from the CWA, making all rivers, streams, irrigation ditches and even mud puddles, fall under federal jurisdiction.
    So, I can see I just ruined your week, didn’t I? It is a serious issue especially for Wyoming where we are looking at finding ways to store more water. Even though Wyoming owns its water, I imagine this action could result in more restrictions if it’s met with approval.
    Rep. Oberstar says the Supreme Court rulings of June 2006 against the Corps of Engineers in their action against two landowners weakened America’s water protection laws. Here in Wyoming, since the CWA was passed in 1972 and conservation districts have devoted countless hours to water quality, we’ve made some true progress. In its 36-year history the CWA has been strengthened, but those efforts haven’t gone overboard like the one being proposed now.
    At the hearing on April 9, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) stated, “This bill, as currently written, will expand federal jurisdiction authority in a way that pushes the outer limits of Congress’s constitutional role. If Congress is to amend the Clean Water Act, any changes must provide clarity and reduce lawsuits. This bill does neither. It will not curtail litigation, but rather increase it, as stakeholders seek legal clarity on what exactly are the outer limits of Congressional authority. We should not propose and pass legislative language that increases uncertainty and increases an already litigious environment.”
    Most of us in Wyoming really get shook up over more federal control. In a state with 48 percent federal lands, we sure don’t need to turn over our water and additional rules to the feds. The good new is that none of our congressional delegation supports the bill. We need to support them and ask friends in neighboring states to help defeat this erroneous legislation.
        As you read in last week’s Roundup, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee of the Wyoming Legislature is discussing Wyoming’s animal welfare statutes.
        As anyone who owns, raises, trades or trains livestock knows, we all have a responsibility to do it right. Therein lies the problem. Those of us who were raised around livestock in Wyoming know the right way to treat animals and how to care for them. Some in our state consider that knowledge a value to be passed on to future generations. In today’s more modern times we have too many people in Wyoming who own livestock, but really have no idea how to care for them.
    Here in Wyoming I don’t think most of the abuse is intentional, but instead a lack of knowledge about livestock. It’s a lack of education, a misunderstanding of the resources and their limitations and oftentimes a desire to own more animals than they’re able to care for. It’s lessons we in agriculture learned on an every-day-basis growing up. So, how do we as a society deal with that? More laws, more law enforcement or more government restrictions, is that the answer?
    To start with we need to better define the roles of the Wyoming Livestock Board. As statute reads, the agency is responsible for “all dumb animals.” I think we can all agree the agency’s most appropriate role relates to livestock. Pet stores and homes overrun with dogs and cats need to fall under the jurisdiction of a different agency or local government.
    As we approach this conversation I think we need to ensure the state’s laws protect our ability to ranch. We also need to make sure there are consequences for those who truly are abusing and neglecting animals and establish such actions as unacceptable in this state.
    Turning an eye toward the national scene, animal welfare is once again at the forefront. If the footage of improper animal treatment at a Chino, Calif. packing plant wasn’t enough, on May 7 the Humane Society released a second video, this time taking aim at livestock market facilities. When the Chino video was mentioned at the early February Cattle Industry Convention in Reno, Nev. the crowd booed. I suspect this latest video, showing some who aren’t doing the best they can to represent our industry, will receive the same reaction from cattlemen. In HSUS’s May 7 statements the group called its recent focus on the livestock sector an ongoing project.
    It would be easy for us to just ignore the subject of animal welfare, but we’d be doing so at the risk of letting anti-agriculture groups enter our state and dominate the discussion. It’s already likely their actions will result in troublesome discussions for agriculture on the national scene. It would be best if we can address this issue here at home without entering the realm of additional federal regulation. We need to keep this a state issue, not a national issue.
      Well, the wolves are ours now. We never wanted them, but found them shoved down our throats in a legal and political sense. That’s all history and today we find the task of wolf management staring us in the face. It’s a good time to be careful with the rifles and refrain from doing anything that would provide the pro-wolf groups with ammunition, so to speak, to use against us.
    It’s one thing if wolves are raising Cain around the calving or lambing grounds, a scenario that warrants a response. I also know a number of Wyoming citizens want to be able to shoot, and in some cases have a taxidermist mount, a wolf before a judge overturns current management. I don’t blame them. It’s been frustrating, a helpless feeling, to watch as the wolf population has grown. With the growing wolf population have come increasing impacts on our livestock and wildlife.
    I’ve not had wolves in my area, but it certainly doesn’t temper my feelings about them. I have heard numerous personal stories from those whose livelihoods have been threatened by the wolf. Many of us have also heard the stories passed down from older family members. Wyoming has been given the task of managing a killing machine, there’s just no other way to put it.
    I was in Jackson last week attending an Ag in the Classroom Western Regional meeting. Early one morning I toured the elk refuge with a wildlife biologist who had some very good thoughts and was not biased against livestock. When we first arrived at the back of the refuge at dawn, my thoughts were “this is really something to see.” There were three large herds of wildlife bedded down. One was a herd of older bull elk, another was the elk cows and the rest were bison. There were around 8,400 elk and around 450 bison. All looked well-fed and waiting for spring to appear. From the back came six wolves trotting through the refuge. I figured things were about to erupt, but much to my amazement nothing happened except a bison or two got up and switched their tails. I was kind of disappointed, but I figured with all of the elk and bison around there had to be a few die each night. Why should the wolves hunt the live ones?
    From one corner, out came a large tractor on treads pulling a large feed trailer. Just like home, all the animals stood up when they heard the tractor and rushed to the feed lines. I learned they feed around 50 tons of alfalfa pellets a day. For me, it was by no means a typical wildlife experience.
    I can see where wolves have a purpose in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, but I find them much less appealing in other parts of Wyoming. They are here, however, and they have become our responsibility. It’s been a hard-fought battle to get to this point and it’s important that we proceed with caution and smarts. This is no time for actions, by ranchers or by sportsmen, that strengthen the arguments and appeals of pro-wolf groups. The whole nation has its eyes on Wyoming as the transition of wolf management takes place. Let’s not do anything that jeopardizes the new management opportunities that have just recently been put in place.