Opinion by Joel BousmanWritten by Joel Bousman
I am very proud of the work that has been accomplished in my two years as President of WCCA, and I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with an update on a number of natural resource related priorities of WCCA.
One of my top priorities as President of WCCA has been to ensure that we had a close working relationship with former Governor Freudenthal, and now with Governor Mead and his staff. When local and state governments work closely together, we are most effective. I greatly value the support and communication that Governor Mead and his staff have provided to my fellow commissioners, the WCCA and me. Together, we have been effective in addressing many issues.
As a commissioner from Sublette County, I greatly appreciate the value of having a seat at the table with the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service as they prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) or planning documents. As my fellow commissioner Doug Thompson from Fremont County is fond of saying, “If you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.”
It is extremely important for commissioners to participate as a partner with the federal agencies in developing federal planning documents that will impact the county, both from an ecological and an economic perspective. As a cooperating agency, county commissioners have an opportunity to provide data and information, review and comment on draft documents, and express the concerns and desires of the citizens they represent to the federal agency making the decision. As an active participant in the process, we are able to work with the federal agencies with the goal of ensuring that their decisions are in the county’s best interest.
During the 2011/2012 legislative session, WCCA worked hard to ensure the successful passage of SF 84, a bill that provided a clearer definition of the counties’ role as a cooperating agency in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process by defining the areas where commissioners have special expertise – a federal buzzword used in the NEPA process – and ensuring that counties have the ability to coordinate their local land use plans with the federal agencies.
To ensure that we all have the tools to be an effective cooperating agency, WCCA hosted a NEPA and cooperating agency training for county commissioners, legislators, conservation districts and state agency employees in Rock Springs in June. With the help of the Governor’s Office, we were able to bring the top NEPA, BLM and Forest Service experts to provide information and helpful advice to the 100-plus participants that attended the training. WCCA will be hosting a second training in late November in Casper, and we plan to hold additional trainings on a regular basis.
Looking back many years from now, I am sure we will all agree that sage grouse was the biggest natural resource issue of our time. Sage grouse have impacted us in ways we might not have imagined 10 years ago, including a legal challenge to the Pinedale Resource Management that could have eliminated livestock grazing and any additional oil and gas development from the Pinedale BLM Field Office.
WCCA has taken an active role to keep the commissioners informed of the latest events and decisions on the subject and to help develop a common statewide position on a number of sage grouse related efforts. From my perspective, it is critical that we keep the sage grouse off the endangered species list, while at the same time preserving our economies and way of life, which may be jeopardized if the sage grouse is listed as endangered. This is an ongoing issue with a lot of work yet to be done.
I feel that it is important for local government to be actively involved in litigation when our economies and way of life are at stake. To that end, WCCA has participated as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, in the state of Wyoming’s litigation effort to overturn the Clinton Roadless Rule. WCCA is also involved as an amicus curiae in the Rock Springs Grazing Association’s effort to ensure that the BLM is properly managing wild horses in the Green River Field Office, and in litigation in Utah challenging Secretary Salazar’s Wildlands Order.
From establishing quarterly meetings with the Wyoming BLM State Director to developing relationships with top federal agency personnel in Washington D.C., I have made it a priority to ensure that Wyoming commissioners have access to the folks who are making the decisions that have an impact here on the ground in Wyoming.
It means a tremendous amount to me personally to have the opportunity to serve as the President of WCCA the last two years. I have had an opportunity to meet and work with some tremendously talented folks here in Wyoming and across the nation. I am very proud of the work we have accomplished on behalf of Wyoming’s counties and their residents. We have worked hard to develop informed positions that we can all support and to push hard to see those positions are reflected in final decisions.
The current makeup of WCCA has changed. Two counties have gone from three to five county commissioners (Laramie and Carbon) in this past election. We now have 91 county commissioners statewide and 19 of those are newly elected commissioners. Of the new commissioners elected, one is a democrat, one is an independent, and 17 are republicans; seven are women and 12 are men. Five counties will have a new chairman, as their current chair will not be returning to their elected seat in January.
My point in sharing this with you is that I encourage you to get to know your county commissioners. They want to hear your input and perspectives on local issues. Consider getting involved in county government.
Even though my tenure as President has come to an end, I remain committed to participating in an organization that I believe in. The county commissioners across Wyoming are some of the finest people I know. I trust them and their judgment. There is much work to be done, and your county commissioners are a tremendous resource, as you can see from all the items I discussed above. The experience of being the President of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association is an experience that I will never forget. I have learned so much about our great state and the people of Wyoming. I appreciate the opportunity to have served.
Opinion by Bob BuddWritten by Bob Budd
By Bob Budd, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Executive Director
Five years ago, the state of Wyoming took an unprecedented step in the arena of species conservation. Rather than waiting for the federal government or the court system to mandate the outcome of an “endangered” listing, we took a proactive approach to address sage grouse conservation within the context of social and economic realities. The result was a statewide plan that focused on protection of birds and habitat where birds do exceedingly well and, at the same time, allowing economic activity in areas where minerals, recreation, agriculture and other enterprises make the most sense.
From the start, no one cared much for this approach. Some environmental groups insisted the bird had been sold down the river, while some industry groups lamented the fact that they could no longer work in Wyoming. Despite the saber rattling at the time, the end result is that we are managing both the species and economic activity today, in a manner that gives equal consideration to both objectives.
There is really no biological reason to believe sage grouse are in danger of complete extirpation. Bird numbers are robust in many parts of the range, though there are many extreme challenges to the species in others. Fire and cheatgrass invasions in California may doom the few birds there, particularly after last summer’s season of hell. Some populations have seen serious declines due to mineral development. And, the impact of climate change and habitat conversion remains largely unknown.
The problem with managing sage grouse is not so much our ability to care for the species and its habitat. Rather, the problem in interpretation of the Endangered Species Act and applications that may either be chosen by the Fish and Wildlife Service or mandated by federal courts. The Wyoming model applies the logic that conservation of any species is best handled closest to home and that the greatest opportunity to make a difference occurs where the species does best. A solid conservation plan in Wyoming will positively impact nearly half the birds in the world, even when using the “core area” strategy that allows intensive economic activity in some areas inhabited by sage grouse.
The alternative to this approach is the heavy-handed influence of the Endangered Species Act, and some people have asserted that they are willing to take their chances with the Act. That may well be, but it is important to understand what that roll of the dice means in the event of a listing.
If listed as “endangered,” every sage grouse everywhere is protected equally under the law. Wyoming will be treated no differently than any other state. Every acre of suitable habitat is protected. Every action that creates a federal nexus (think federal minerals or something as innocuous as a road that intersects a BLM 40) will require formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service. Restrictions on natural resource use will almost assuredly be more restrictive. And, while actions on private lands will not require additional permitting, a “taking” of sage grouse is punishable wherever it occurs, with severe fines and potential criminal liability that can attach, including jail time and additional fines. By the way, the citizen suit provision allows environmental groups to sue to compel prosecution of violations of the Act.
“Take” is loosely defined in the law as any action that “harms” or “harasses” the species – something that should give one pause when thinking about what might constitute “harassment” of a bird that uses sound and color to attract a mate and which may migrate long distances to seasonal range. Finally, the Endangered Species Act is colorblind to the realities of economics, culture and society. The Spotted owl gave us all a clear picture of how that plays out.
The people of Wyoming, working with all interests at the table, have chosen a proactive conservation strategy that is firmly based in the biology of the species and, at the same time, recognizes economics and culture. Industry, agriculture and other primary resource users have assumed a leadership role in creating and implementing strategies that minimize impacts, and in some cases, forego development in deference to conservation. Cooperative efforts to maintain and enhance habitat have emerged throughout the state, and innovative strategies to build mitigation banking and incentives for conservation are currently in development.
At no time in history have so many diverse interests become invested in the well being of a species. Between the actions of private landowners, federal permittees, industry leaders and conservation groups, the future for sage grouse could not be better. While this strategy requires vigilance and some sacrifice, there is little doubt it will work long into the future. Yes, there are changes and tweaks that have to be made, but we have the ability to do so in Wyoming, with a process that is open and inclusive of all interests.
As for the alternative – protection under the Endangered Species Act – all of the action, funding, dedication and commitment to sage grouse conservation by that diverse group of stakeholders will likely be lost. That may be why you don’t see sage grouse rolling dice.
Extension by Scott LakeWritten by Scott Lake
By Scott Lake, UW Livestock Extension Specialist
This past year, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming teamed up to develop the Wyoming Premium Heifer Program (WPHP). The program has drawn a lot of interest from producers looking for a good marketing opportunity for their bred heifers, as well as interested buyers from all over the West and Midwestern regions.
John Henn of the Wyoming Business Council advertised aggressively in trade shows throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas, as well as placed several ads in regional publications, both online and print editions. The sale is tentatively scheduled to sell almost 2,000 head of bred and replacement females between the November and January sales.
Wyoming premium heifers
The objective of this program is to develop and market a source of quality replacement heifer calves and bred heifers that are produced and managed under a set of guidelines to meet the requirements of producers nationally. Through the verification of procedures by documentation provided by participating producers, buyers across the country will be assured that the certified animals are managed, raised, and bred as outlined in the program. The intention of the program is to provide an outlet for producers of all sizes to capitalize on market premiums.
The first sale was on Nov. 14, with nearly 400-bred heifers sold in a special internet video sale run through Torrington Livestock Auctions. Results from the first sale were very positive.
The sale averaged $1,318 per head and ranged from $1,235 to $1,375. The average of Wyoming bred heifers sold through other programs and auctions during the two-week time period around the WPHP sale was $1,295, with a range from $975 to $1,545.
Although this was the first sale for the program, a premium of $20 to 30 per head was realized, compared to other local markets. Additionally, many of the cattle in other sales were not exclusively video sales. Therefore, additional transportation and commission fees were likely incurred. Cattle from the WPHP were delivered as far away as Iowa, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Thus, it appears the aggressive marketing strategy of the Wyoming Business Council had a positive affect. It is our anticipation that as the program grows and gains a reputation and notoriety that the premium will continue to increase.
State of the industry
The beef cattle industry is experiencing the lowest cow numbers since the early 1950s. The 2011 calf crop was the lowest since 1950 and 2012s calf crop was estimated to be 1.9 percent smaller. Currently feeder cattle and calf supply outside feedlots is down two million head compared to two years ago.
The current calf and feeder numbers create an alternative market opportunity for cow-calf producers for replacement heifers and bred heifers. With the limited feeder cattle supply over the next three to five years, several factors will increase the value of heifers.
The feeding segment of the industry will be competing for heifers as cow-calf producers rebuild or expand their herds from the southern plains to the north. CattleFax projects the prices for bred cows will increase dramatically in 2013.
The opportunity and timing is ideal for cow-calf producers to take advantage of this premium market. Adding value to replacement heifers and bred heifers through a structured management and marketing program can provide potential buyers a source of females of known production practices and genetics.
If Mother Nature cooperates and the region gets moisture, the market for heifers next year could be tremendous. Plan now for marketing opportunities, no matter which outlet you chose.
It is difficult to develop a program and guidelines that everyone can meet or agrees with. However, we are continually trying to look at every guideline with in the program and make sure it fits with the best production practices for Wyoming producers. The new guidelines for 2013 are posted at wyobeef.com.
Extension by Dallas MountWritten by Dallas Mount
By Dallas Mount, UW Livestock Extension Educator
What items have the greatest impact on your ranch’s profitability? OK – let’s take the ones off the table that you have very little control over, like weather and national market trends. Now, can you try and put the major items that affect profitability in order from top to bottom on their relative impact on your operation?
Next comes the question that may cause some discomfort. Where do you spend most of your management time? Do the items you spend most of your management time line up pretty well with the items that have the greatest impact on your profitability? If they don’t I’d suggest you are in the majority.
Those of us who work in agriculture usually have the benefit of being our own boss, but with that comes the danger that we spend most of our time working on the things we enjoy, rather than the items that have the most impact on profitability.
I’m not suggesting that we ignore all the things that are not on our top five list or that we completely abandon the items of ranching that we enjoy. I am suggesting that, if you recognize your ranch business is not giving an important area the management emphasis it deserves, you should develop a plan to address this. Perhaps there is someone else on your ranch team that is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to have meaningful input into the management of the ranch? Maybe this is an opportunity to involve this person?
In my experience assisting ranchers in conducting cost of production analysis over the past several years, I believe there are several areas that for most cow/calf producers should be in their list of top five areas.
1. Fed feed – Most people agree that feed accounts for 60 percent of the annual costs of maintaining a cow. In my experience, the more of the feed is made up of fed feed rather than grazed feed, the larger your total feed bill will be. I would challenge you spend a substantial amount of management time trying to reduce your fed feed bill.
2. Replacement cost or cow depreciation costs – These can be hidden costs, since most ranchers don’t write a check for cow depreciation or purchase outside replacements, but even if you raise your own replacements, they make up a major expense. Most ranches can spend $150 per cow per year on this item very easily. Investigating ways to lower this expense by either increasing the value of cull animals or decreasing the cost of developing replacements can be time well spent.
3. Rangeland productivity and harvest efficiency – By improved grazing management, both of productivity and harvest efficiency of rangelands can be improved, and with the current value of forage, this can reap huge financial rewards. Sure, fences and stock water developments cost money, but they can often be paying investments.
4. Other land business ventures – This varies greatly from one ranch to another, but it is not uncommon for a ranch to generate more income annually from non-ag uses of the land business. How are you doing about marketing and managing these income generators?
5. Whole ranch enterprise analysis – This means taking the time to look at the long-run profitability of each major enterprise on your ranch, and perhaps making decisions to eliminate those enterprises that frequently lose money. A whole ranch enterprise analysis can seem like a daunting task the first few times you do it, but there are plenty of resources to help you accomplish this. One online guide is available at bit.ly/THmpxp.
Hopefully my list will challenge you to make your own list. Perhaps your items are quite a bit different from mine.
If my crystal ball is correct, this year and the next few years are going to present some very challenging times to manage the cost side of a ranch business. When you include all the cash and non-cash costs of running a cow, I’m having a very difficult time finding much profit in this business, even with the relatively high calf prices we have been experiencing. I think aggressive business management will be necessary to make these operations profitable in the next few years.
I hope you have a great holiday season and look forward to seeing many of you at the meetings next month.