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.
Extension by Scott LakeWritten by Scott Lake
In the past two calendar years seed, feed, fuel, fertilizer and equipment costs have increased dramatically. For beef producers, high corn and hay prices have challenged us to consider alternative strategies to lower cost of production and/or increase income to improve profitability.
Each operation has its own goals and unique set of resources, which include basal feeds, labor, storage and feeding flexibility and animal numbers, among others. No one approach is right for everyone, but a plan needs to be formulated for each operation that makes the most sense and provides the best opportunity for the operation to be profitable.
There’s lots of ambiguity, volatility and complexity in the marketplace, so producers need to focus on being objective about their business and the environment they’re operating within, and they need to remain well informed to make good decisions.
Culling the herd
Feed cost represents somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of the annual cost of keeping a cow. This year the annual cost, which includes both summer and winter, to feed a cow could easily exceed $500 per cow or more, depending upon the operation.
The point here is that when we figure total cost to keep a cow for the year, it is going to be expensive. This year especially, is a good time to cull hard and keep only productive cows. Hence, only productive cows that provide the greatest opportunity to generate a profit should be retained in the cowherd.
To be productive, a cow must first, be bred, preferably in the first 45 days of the breeding season, and secondly, have the ability, including the milk, genetics and soundness, to produce a heavy calf at weaning. Cows that fail to conceive, or have any problem(s) that will prevent her from weaning a heavy calf next fall, should be considered a cull candidate.
Pregnancy checking and culling cows earlier versus later can add value to the cow. Cull cow prices have a seasonal cycle and are typically above average in August, but drop as we progress through September to November. Seasonally cull cow prices tend to peak in the February to March time frame.
Forages, including hay, corn silage and haylage, are the typical basal feed in most cow operations. Each year, the two big variables facing producers are forage quality and quantity. With the high price of feeds, producers are often challenged to harvest or buy forages that can provide a large portion of the nutrients needed by the animal. Forages can be highly variable in their nutrient profile, and thus the recommendation to sample and analyze forages for nutrient content is justified this year.
When forages are analyzed and it is determined that the available forage cannot meet the animal’s requirements, then a cost-effective plan can be developed to provide the deficient nutrients to economically optimize productivity. Typically this means utilizing feeds that are high in one or more nutrient categories (energy, protein, vitamins, minerals) that the forage is not meeting. Compared to a year ago, many areas of the region are in worse shape regarding hay inventory, as weather this year has impacted our ability to produce, harvest and store high quality forages.
Feed the lowest quality forages to animals with the lowest nutrient requirements. Nutrient requirements are lowest for cows shortly after weaning when they are in mid-gestation. Requirements increase significantly as the cow enters late gestation, and increase again after calving. Young cows, have a requirement for higher quality feeds than older cows at every stage of production, thin cows have higher requirements than fatter cows, and cows experiencing winter wind chill factors below 30 degrees Fahrenheit have higher requirements than cows with shelter or wind break.
The recommendation is to divide the cowherd into management groups by nutritional requirements. In cowherds where a limited breeding season of 45 to 75 days is used the management groups might be replacement heifers; young cows plus thin older cows; mature cows in moderate and above condition; and bulls. If the breeding season is significantly longer than 75 days, the number of management groups should increase to allow economical delivery of feed to cows according to their requirements during gestation as compared to lactation.
Limit feeding hay
Recent research at Purdue University has shown that limiting cow access time to large round bales for one, two or four hours reduced forage disappearance by 72, 50 and 22 percent, respectively, compared to estimated free choice hay intake.
With these limited access programs, when the hay consumed is properly supplemented, cow performance, or weight and body condition, is not negatively impacted. The ingredients and level of nutrients should be used to supplement these cows will be determined by cow requirements and forage quality.
The take home message is that if we are feeding cows to the point of them leaving a little, we are probably feeding too much. Investments into a bale processor, while a large initial investment, will save a lot of feed and money by reducing waste and increasing digestibility of the forage.
Commercial supplements are an option to add needed nutrients and to stretch limited forage supplies. In most cases, these commercial supplements will contain a combination of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
The challenge for producers that are buying commercial supplements is to first find the correct supplement that will meet, without significantly exceeding the nutrient requirements of the animals they are feeding, and second to make sure it is cost effective compared to other alternatives. Many commercial supplements have been created to reduce labor, such as tubs and tanks, and the value assigned to convenience must be evaluated by each producer.
High input costs are stretching our resources and stressing our minds. As we enter the last quarter of 2012, we need to make sure we have a feeding and management plan in place that will allow us to minimize our feed costs, optimize herd performance and maximize profit.
The ability to manage costs is dependent on the ability to define the source of these costs and make decisions accordingly. Identifying opportunities to add value and improve management and genetics is dependent on a good record keeping system. It is clear that controlling costs and deriving the most value for our product needs to be the focus for all beef cattle operations. Each operation is unique, and consequently strategies, such as those outlined above, need to be evaluated within the context of their application to an individual operation.
Opinion by Slade FranklinWritten by Slade Franklin
Slade Franklin, Wyoming Weed and Pest State Coordinator
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part guest opinion. Look for part two later this month.
In 2011 at the request of the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council, the Wyoming legislature updated the state’s weed and pest laws. One of the least debated recommendations from the council was changing the name of the law from “The Wyoming Weed and Pest Control Act of 1973” to a condensed “The Wyoming Weed and Pest Control Act.” The simple change was not contentious with the legislature, nor did it represent any significance beyond shortening the name.
It did however remove the false implication that the law has its roots in 1973. Most weed and pest control district employees, along with many other residents, are already aware that the state’s fight against noxious weeds and pests dates further back than 40 years.
Some of them may argue the 1957 weed and pest control law as the beginning; others may argue the year was 1937 when the state held the inaugural “Pest Control Conference,” and others may suggest the state’s 1905 horticulture law, which was created to protect Wyoming’s orchards and fruit trees, was the forerunner to the program we have today.
Although these events represent important milestones, none of them truly represent the state’s first weed law. Instead that distinction goes back 117 years to 1895, only five years after the territory became a state.
The state’s first weed law was a reaction to one weed in particular, Russian thistle (Salsola tragus), or what many would recognize as the tumbleweed. In 1895 Russian thistle found the scorn of not only Wyoming, but many of the Midwestern states including North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The invasive weed became such a burden to Midwestern agriculture that in 1893 the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent their Chief Botanist Lyster Hoxie Dewey out West to investigate the extent of the issue.
Dewey published his findings and testified in 1894 to the Congressional Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in Washington, D.C. His report opens by calling Russian thistle, “…one of the worst weeds ever introduced into the wheat fields of America.”
The report went on to state that this one weed was responsible for inflicting $2 million worth of damage to crops in 1892 and $5 million worth of damage to crops in 1893. Mr. Dewey even suggested in his report that in 1873 when Scotsland, S.D. introduced Russian thistle through imported flaxseed, they did so purposefully in order to, “…inflict injury on an enemy.”
Using Dewey’s testimony and recommendations, western republicans attempted unsuccessfully to secure $2 million in federal funding for the “extermination” of Russian thistle. The billed failed on the lack of support from southern legislators, who challenged it showed favoritism toward the western agricultural producer. One southern representative suggested if western farmers expect Congress to help them rid their fields of weeds, shouldn’t southern farmers expect Congress to help them rid their fields of sticks and stones.
In Wyoming, Russian thistle made its first documented appearance in the summer of 1894 near Cheyenne. A specimen was collected by local resident F.J. Stanton and identified by the Wyoming Experiment Station. Quickly, news of the find made it into newspapers statewide. Certainly, the level of concern over the invasive plant both regional and nationally, helped mark its initial discovery in the state as newsworthy, and additional discoveries continued to be reported over the next few months.
In October of 1894, the Cheyenne Daily Sun Newspaper blamed the railroad for the invasion stating, “The thistle is said to be most plentiful along the line of the road from North Platte to Cheyenne.” The state’s newspapers quickly made use of the negative cogitation associated with Russian thistle in their weekly opinions and banter:
“The man who sees a Russian thistle and allows it to stand is an enemy to his state and the community in which he finds the weed growing.” (Cheyenne Daily Sun – Sept. 26, 1894)
“‘Whatsoever a man soweth shall he also reap.’ Colorado has been sowing populism and now she is reaping a big crop of Russian thistle.” (Laramie Weekly Sentinel No. 22 – Sept. 29, 1894)
“…it is clear that it has invaded the state and that unless some precautionary measures are taken, we shall have this state overrun by it as are already some of our neighboring states.” (Natrona Tribune No. 23 – Nov. 8, 1894)
“The Derrick says that a new weed is becoming quite plentiful about Casper which is said to be the much despised but genuine Russian thistle. The Derrick urges its immediate extermination.” (Carbon County Journal No. 12 – Sept. 29, 1894)
“Aid has been asked of the government to assist in ridding the Dakotas of Russian thistle, a noxious weed, capable of doing almost as much harm to the agricultural interests of the country as a democratic majority in congress.” (Laramie Weekly Sentinel No. 46 – March 17, 1894)
“Mrs. J. Ellen Foster says, ‘An anarchist is merely a populist gone to seed.’ The seed they scatter is worse than the Russian thistle.” (Laramie Weekly Sentinel No. 14 – Aug. 4, 1894)
With public awareness and concern over Russian thistle soaring, the Wyoming Legislature decided to act during the 1895 session. The House introduced House Bill 174, titled “Russian Thistle” which passed the House unanimously and the Senate on the last day of session with only one “No” vote. It was signed into law by Governor William Richards.
The purpose of the law was to, “…provide for the destruction of Russian and Canadian thistle and kindred pests.”
For the era the law was rather strong handed. Section 1 stated, “It shall be the duty of every person, company, association of persons, railway company, corporation and municipal or public corporation in this state to destroy or cause to be destroyed on all lands or premises owned, leased, occupied, controlled or used…the noxious weeds hereinafter mentioned, namely: the Aaesola kali tragus, commonly known as the Russian thistle, and the Canadian thistle.”
The statutes went on to allow stiff penalties for non-compliance.
“Any person, company, association of person or corporation…who shall fail or refuse to destroy or cause to be destroyed any of the noxious weeds mentioned…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined in any sum not to exceeding five dollars for each day that any such noxious weeds shall remain living…”
Five dollars per day in 1895 would equal $130 per day in 2012. Yet, there is no documentation that suggests anyone ever paid the fine for non-compliance.