Opinion by Bryce McKenzieWritten by Bryce McKenzie
Bryce McKenzie, Wyoming FFA Association State President
Recently I was asked what it means to be a Wyoming State FFA Officer and to describe some of my personal goals for the year. I am Bryce McKenzie, the 2012-2013 Wyoming FFA State President, and being a state officer is the highlight of my life so far. The truth is, state office is not about the title on our jackets or the chain, but is about service to the FFA, and more specifically, the Wyoming FFA Association. State office is a higher level of dedication to the FFA, and service through agriculture is the main point behind the office.
Some of my goals this year are to get to know the members in Wyoming and across the nation and serve communities and the FFA. Even more so, I hope to stay Bryce McKenzie, and not let the title I was given determine where I go.
However, I can’t write just about myself. Simply, state office is not just an individual experience – it is a team effort. My team of state officers is amongst the best young people across Wyoming, and I am honored to be a part of the team and the Wyoming FFA Association itself. Never before have I had such a bond with a group of people who I can rely on, and I know that the FFA can rely on us for great service as well.
Wyoming FFA is in the top 10 percent of the nation’s FFA Associations, and the state officer team for this year has a goal to keep Wyoming’s 2,400 members in that margin, also hoping to make them even better.
Another goal of ours is to keep service to each other, our communities and our nation in the forefronts of our minds. Since FFA is built upon agriculture and service, we plan to reach our goals through helping our communities within the state and making a difference in the lives we lead.
Upcoming events for the state office team include the National FFA Convention held in Indianapolis, Ind. on Oct. 24-26. The Wyoming State Officer team will be traveling to Indianapolis to help support Wyoming’s members who are competing and to serve as delegates to bring new ideas to the national association.
While in Indianapolis, we will be participating in the “Rally to Fight Hunger.” This is where service falls back into play, as we are not just affecting our nation through FFA, but also the world.
Visits to all the different chapters across the state are also right around the corner, coming up in December.
We hope that everyone in Wyoming FFA is doing well this fall and getting prepared already for state convention in the spring. If anyone has questions for any of the state officers about community service, our travels or upcoming events, feel free to visit wyomingffa.org, contact us through email or give us a call. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have and hope agriculture and service stay as the heart of Wyoming.
Extension by Rachel MealorWritten by Rachel Mealor
Racheal Mealor, UW Extension Range Specialist
Rangeland science and management has evolved in the development of management strategies that are sustainable for our arid landscapes. This has impacted the way livestock are managed and ecological services are valued. We have witnessed and implemented numerous strategies to maintain healthy vegetative communities while considering livestock production. However, managing our landscapes for multiple species at one time can be complex and at times contradictory. Take for example, a grassland bird species, the mountain plover, Charadrium montanus. Mountain plover’s nesting habitats usually consist of areas with vegetation that is level to the ground (prostrate) along with high amounts of bare soil. Mountain plovers are cryptically colored, so they blend in and look like bare soil when viewed from above and frequently stay motionless when an avian predator is present. Long-standing range management practices tell us bare soil is an undesirable characteristic for long term rangeland health. So, how does one deal with such a paradox?
A recent study in a short grass steppe community in northeastern Colorado characterized various types of disturbances in relation to suitable habitat for breeding mountain plovers. Breeding mountain plovers were primarily located on black-tailed prairie dog colonies or areas that had been burned during the previous dormant season. Vegetation surrounding plover nests and foraging sites were primarily patches of vegetation low in stature, or those plants less than four centimeters tall, interspersed with greater than 35 percent bare soil. Mountain plover nesting habitat was examined in relation to the following disturbances: prescribed fire, grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs and cattle grazing. Sites with bare ground created by prescribed fire or black-tailed prairie dog colonies were favored by these grassland birds. Yet, intensive grazing at twice the recommended stocking rate during spring (March to May) or summer (May to Oct) for six years did not produce enough bare ground desired by mountain plovers. Therefore, intensive cattle grazing did not substitute for fire or prairie dog grazing in terms of how vegetation structure was affected for mountain plover habitat. The disturbances considered in this study can be manipulated and used as tools to reach management goals. If providing habitat for breeding mountain plovers is a management goal, grazing as a tool may not suffice. Managing for prairie dog colonies or using prescribed burning could be considerations to add to the management toolbox in order to reach the goal of increasing habitat for a desired wildlife species.
Wildlife habitat continues to be an important consideration for many landowners throughout Wyoming. Whether that be providing habitat for a species of concern or maintaining wildlife populations for a hunting enterprise, understanding habitat needs can be crucial to the sustainability of an operation. This again exemplifies the need for an overall management plan that includes clear goals and objectives for the property.
Understanding the resource that is being managed will allow landowners or managers to match the resource with the most suitable animal to more efficiently, effectively and responsibly utilize the land. For example, the emphasis in the study mentioned above was to determine the situation resulting in the most suitable habitat for mountain plover in regards to prescribed fire, grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs and grazing by large herbivores, including cattle. It is interesting to point out the characteristics of the site in which the research was being conducted (the resource). In terms of plant productivity, cover, and species composition, the short grass steppe is among the most resistant grasslands worldwide to grazing by large herbivores (Milchunas et al. 2008).
So, within this community, it was determined that even intense cattle grazing could not match the amount of bare soil that was found on prairie dog colonies and burns. Looking closer at the resource, short grass steppe is dominated by warm-season grasses, mostly blue grama and buffalograss, which have adaptations to aridity and intensive herbivory. These grasses have a prostrate canopy, minimal stem investment, a large amount of biomass belowground (stolons), and rapid growth results after defoliation and small pulses of precipitation (Milchunas et al. 2008).
So, now that we have identified the resource, how about the consumers? Due to the mouth structure of cattle, they only graze short grasses to a little less than half an inch above crown height, allowing regrowth to occur. Much differently, however, is how a prairie dog would use this same resource. Prairie dogs remove plant leaves more often and, in contrast to the mouths of cattle, these little critters can graze closer to the crown level. As expected, these circumstances combined with defoliation occurring year-round will result in a loss of vegetation dominance and an increase in bare soil on colonies. Therefore, it is not hard to believe that prescribed burning and prairie dog colonies are effective ways to maintain habitat for mountain plover in short grass steppe. Grazing on the contrary would not provide the same situation or reach the same goal. Knowledge of the differences on how each disturbance would affect the resource could determine the success or failure of individual goals.
I think many would agree that there are times when management goals seem complex. It can seem hard to imagine how they will all be incorporated into an overall management plan. Having a good understanding of all the available tools that can be used to meet these goals can help assist with such complexity. As shown in the highlighted study, the use of grazing alone will not result in ideal mountain plover nesting habitat. This illustrates the need to recognize the strengths and limitations of each tool and consider combining certain tools to provide the desired result. This, in my opinion, is why there is the saying that range management is more than just a science, but also an art.
Opinion by Ryan LanceWritten by Ryan Lance
Ryan Lance, Director of Office of State Lands and Investments
Nearly 500,000 acres in Wyoming were impacted by wildland fires this year. Because many in Wyoming were so heavily affected by these fires, with even more impacts on the horizon in the absence of active post-fire rehabilitation efforts, Governor Mead and the other members of the Board of Land Commissioners asked state agencies to develop a plan to set Wyoming on a path to renew these lands.
In the past, the Office of State Lands and Investments has worked primarily to provide assistance to grazing lessees affected by fire through grazing fee reductions. With the scope of the damage from wildfire this year and potential for even more devastation from erosion and weeds going forward, members of the public addressed the Board and asked if something more could be done. With the assistance of the Wyoming State Forester Bill Crasper, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Executive Director Bob Budd and other key players, including Wyoming’s conservation districts, we were able to present a plan, which was endorsed by the Board of Land Commissioners, to start the long process of reclaiming and repairing not only state trust lands, but also private lands.
With the health of our watersheds already impacted by the fires and an even greater risk of damage going forward, a great deal of discussion focused on priority areas where erosion, sedimentation and degradation could influence our water.
As private landowners are keenly aware, the extensively burned areas include drainages with live water, which will deliver sediment directly into adjacent water bodies. Excessive sediment delivery has the potential to adversely affect the water quality of communities that depend on these waters as a source of drinking water, irrigation and livestock water and wildlife and fish habitats. Heavy rains in some burned areas have already resulted in significant localized erosion and sedimentation in some drainages. Because of Wyoming’s long history of leading in the realm of active natural resource management, it will come as little surprise that significant efforts have already been undertaken to help to limit erosion. Smokebuster crews worked diligently, following the Oil Creek and other fires, to implement control measures that will serve Wyoming well into the future.
During agency discussions, Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser regularly expressed his concern that natural plant recovery is expected to be slow in many areas due to the extensive amount of land that was so intensively burned with a near complete loss of vegetation. He noted that the addition of hydrophobic soil conditions will cause the water to run off instead of infiltrating into the ground only further hampering re-vegetation in some areas.
As I noted earlier, grazing lessees utilizing state lands that have been impacted by wildfire can be eligible for a rental reduction on fire-affected parcels. Understanding that such reductions were only part of the equation and that other resources would be required to protect and reclaim trust lands, the Board of Land Commissioners approved $901,395 from the Trust Land Preservation and Enhancement Account to be dedicated to such efforts.
In addition to the funding allocated by the Board, the Wyoming State Forestry Division has also received a 319 Grant from the Wyoming Department of Environment Quality and the Non-Point Source Board. This grant will help staff implement post-wildfire rehabilitation efforts on Wyoming forest lands to help mitigate nonpoint source pollution to surface waters. The Division has already started the process to secure 319 funds for fire rehabilitation efforts next year as well. Further, the Forestry Division has applied for a U.S. Forest Service State and Private Competitive Grant that, if funded, will provide monies for landowner assistance for post fire restoration.
The Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Board also recently took action that would allow conversion of certain funds for use to help rehabilitate wildfire-affected lands. The Board acted quickly to move funding that had previously been awarded for prescribed fire projects to post-wildfire erosion and weed control efforts. The Trust Account Board also allocated “emergency” funds for restoration efforts for the Squaw Peak fire of 2011.
According to Bob Budd, executive director to the Trust Board, the Board acted promptly and decisively to have funds available to assist with processing outside funds and working to award grants to get projects underway as soon as possible. I very much appreciated that Board’s understanding that the work we must engage is time sensitive to get ahead of erosion, the spread of invasive species and other issues. The beauty of the Trust program has proven to be the ability of the Board to act in a timely fashion to address these and other issues.
To access the funding approved by the Board of Land Commissioners for trust lands, the 319 and other funding awarded to the Wyoming State Forestry Division please contact Bill Haagenson or John Crisp at 307-777-7586. For funds approved by the Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, please contact Bob Budd at 307-777-8024. I would strongly suggest that you work with your local conservation district to develop projects for funding, as they can work to ensure that we configure projects that most efficiently, practically and scientifically address impacts with these limited resources.
While these grant proposals and approved funds will not satisfy all needs, it is a start. Thankfully, Governor Mead and the Wyoming Legislature robustly funded emergency fire suppression efforts to ensure that state and local firefighters had the resources they needed to protect and save lives, homes and private, state and even federal lands. Further, their investment in the State Helitack Program stopped most fires before they could cause significant damage. Absent such investments, the damage caused by wildfires this past year would have been more severe by several orders of magnitude leaving us with even more daunting reclamation and rehabilitation efforts.
Opinion by Bobbie FrankWritten by Bobbie Frank
Bobbie Frank, Executive Director, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts
Water quality and addressing water quality issues and concerns have been a high priority for local conservation districts and the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) for some time. Local watershed groups have dedicated untold hours to developing watershed plans for those waters that have been identified as impaired or threatened by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). These efforts are nothing short of impressive. A summary of the watershed implementation efforts can be viewed at conservewy.com/Attached%20Files/2011WatershedReport%20video%20files/2011WatershedReportIntroS.pdf.
One of the biggest issues facing the local districts in terms of successfully addressing water quality priorities is the proper and accurate classification of our surface waters. Classifications are determined based on what uses, referred to as designated uses, any given water can support. For example drinking water, contact recreation uses and fisheries are a handful of designated use classifications.
The Department of Water Quality’s Chapter One Water Quality rules and regulations, Surface Water Quality Standards, contain the designated uses for which Wyoming’s waters are protected, as well as the method utilized to determine any given water’s ability to support these uses, the various pollutants and the limits of these pollutants that can be found in waters for them to still attain their uses.
Last fall DEQ issued a public notice for the scoping process for revisions to Chapter One regulations. The Clean Water Act requires states to conduct a review of these water quality regulations every three years. In August, the Department issued a draft revision of Chapter 1 and solicited comments. The comment period closed on September 24. The Association focused our comments on two primary areas.
The first of those changes are the proposed revisions to the E. coli standard. This standard is utilized to determine use attainment for contact recreation uses. Currently the sampling methodology for this criterion requires five samples to be collected in a 30-day time frame, with each sample collected at least 24 hours apart. DEQ is proposing to change the five in 30-day requirement to a 60-day requirement.
The number and spacing of the samples will then be addressed in DEQ’s sampling methodology document. The intent of this change is to ensure that sampling is representative of the time frame in which contact recreation activities will be occurring. WACD strongly supports this change.
A second priority change in the proposed Chapter One revisions addresses a challenge that both DEQ and districts have been grappling with for some time – the accurate and appropriate recreation use designations for Wyoming’s waters.
Wyoming has two recreational use designations – primary contact recreation and secondary contact recreation. Currently, all waters in Wyoming are designated and protected for primary contact recreation uses, such as swimming, kayaking, etc., with the exception of a few in Goshen County that went through the Use Attainability Analysis process in the past year. Primary contact recreation uses are activities determined to have a higher likelihood of someone ingesting water. The E. coli standard that applies to primary contact recreation water is obviously more stringent than the standard that applies to secondary contact recreation waters, due to the fact that secondary contact recreation activities do not typically involve immersion into the water. Examples of secondary recreation uses include wading and fishing.
DEQ attempted to address this issue in prior revisions to Chapter One, through a default classification method, meaning those waters that are on DEQ’s Table A, which includes typically larger rivers, streams and lakes, would be protected for primary. Those not on this list, or the typically smaller waters that are intermittent or ephemeral, would be protected as secondary. However, EPA has not approved this approach in the past.
After the last revision of Chapter One, when the approach wasn’t approved, districts across the state were beginning to gear up to collect the necessary data and information, referred to as a Use Attainability Analysis (UAAs), on the waters that are likely to be inappropriately and inaccurately classified. As one can imagine, this is a huge undertaking given the number of waters that information and data would need to be collected on.
Not only is this a huge undertaking for districts, an equally enormous task would face DEQ, as each one of the UAA’s submitted for re-classification triggers the administrative rulemaking process, including public notice and comment.
To their credit, the folks in the Watershed section at DEQ realized there may be an approach that would still result in a vast improvement in the accuracy of our recreation designations in a manner that was streamlined, yet rigorous and defensible.
DEQ has developed a geographical information system (GIS) based model to address this issue. This model uses a number of criteria to “shake out” those waters that should be protected for primary and those that are appropriately designated as secondary. The criteria are consistent with that contained in the UAA process in determining designations, including criteria such as parks, distance to public schools, campgrounds, etc. To assist DEQ in this effort, in 2010 the districts across Wyoming conducted field verification on nearly 800 randomly selected sites – no small undertaking to be sure. This data and information was utilized by DEQ to calibrate their model and identify any areas that may need tweaked.
The proposed revisions to Chapter One discussed the use of this model in determining recreation use support designations. This model is now in the final development phase and will also be published for public comment in the coming months. When that happens, I hope the folks across Wyoming take a look at the results. The model may not result in 100 percent accuracy, but as I have explained to our districts, it will get us a lot further down the road at a lot less time and expense to the people of Wyoming. For those waters that may still be in question, the UAA process is still available.
DEQ really needs to be commended for taking this innovative approach to a more accurate designation of primary and secondary recreation uses on our waters. The model is still undergoing review and will again be submitted to EPA for approval. This is a really important step to ensuring that Wyoming’s local and state governments, our communities and our landowners and land managers spend their time and resources addressing the highest priority water quality issues.