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To the Editor:

Sustainability, a big word these days, hard to define and maybe harder to achieve, according to folks in some circles. As an American involved in agriculture I am proud and somewhat amazed at the ability of farmers and ranchers to embrace more “sustainable” production methods.

Whether no-till or strip till, pivot or drip, GPS or auto steer, EPDs, genomics or embryo transfer, we are stepping up to the plate. Although many things remain a constant – soil, seed, sun and water, bull and cow, grass and water, our grandfathers would be impressed at how we put these to good use. No big deal, we’re just “feeding the world.”

Profit, oh that dirty little word to some folks. But I say you cannot define or achieve sustainability without profitability. With few exceptions, all of the improvements in agricultural production have a profit motive. Produce more or better with fewer inputs or less time and cost.

Should we as consumers always reap the benefits of a farmer's cost savings or should we be willing to pay a little more to assure him a profit?

Durability, a little harder to define. How long should we mortals expect anything or everything to last? I think a cell phone should last a lifetime, but Apple makes sure mine “wears out” every year. A concrete ditch sure is durable when new, but in reality, in 40 or 50 years in many areas, they are broken beyond repair. Is this sustainable? Where does the money to repair it come from?

Environmental compatibility, difficult to agree on in most cases. I think the cow is a perfect all-terrain lawn mower with a four-compartment gas tank and automatic fertilizer spreader. A person from Berkley, Calif. hiking on a forest trail in flip-flops may disagree. Are buffalo really any more compatible than cattle once they are fenced in? Are buffalo chips on the trail more compatible than cow chips?

How do we as a society do all we can to keep farmers and ranchers off the “endangered species” list and on the tractor? Is the “inheritance tax” a wise tax policy to support sustainability? The millions or billions we spend on lawyers, accountants and insurance could sure put a nice roof on the old barn, not to mention what Uncle Sam gets. Is our current regulatory environment supporting sustainability?

In the last year or two, we have seen a lot of people and a lot money spent trying to define the sustainability of agriculture. Are “big food,” “big ag” and “big biz” using this as the latest marketing scheme at the expense of farmers and ranchers? Will “Gen X” and “millennial” consumers demand carbon-free beef next year? What do we do then?

I am proud of many things, too numerous to mention, that farmers and ranchers do today to be more sustainable. I also understand the many reasons we are under the microscope to justify why we do and what we do. I hope the time and effort is not spent in vain.

As a citizen, with interest in agriculture and water in the arid West, I wonder if our elected officials have our sustainable self-interests at heart? While reading recent articles about the U.A.E. and their growing farmland portfolio in the desert southwest, it begs the question, is this sustainable? Is this wise long-term policy?

I support free markets and property rights, a fair price between willing buyer and willing seller is a good thing. That being said, I wonder if “mining” our water and soil for a mostly export commodity is sustainable? Should this be treated like other non renewables such as coal, gas and oil with a severance tax?

It will be a damned hard sell in Colorado to spend a million dollars to pipe a ditch to save water and send the saved water down the river, so Arizona can send it overseas in a bale of hay.

I would be the last person to say no, but is this sustainable policy? Who or how should we pay for water sustainability in the West? Better yet, maybe the U.A.E. should raise hay in Ohio with 30 inches of moisture, learn how to rake and ted between rain and bale when it turns black. Just a thought.

Sincerely,

Bill McKee

To the Editor:

I wanted to comment on the article “All-heifer system eliminates cowherd, provides potential for profits.” Wow. Since PETA already feels that, as producers, we exploit our animals, they will really eat this one up. An article of this sort presents the research as coming from someone who does not care about their animals as anything other than factories for meat production.
For those of us who care greatly for our animals, the system seems like it will just add another reason for people to think about their consumption of beef, waste of resources, exploitation, etc.

  Indirect costs according to the article are considered to be “carbon footprint, greenhouse gases and potential pollutants.” I am sure the author is referring to the proposed system reducing a burden to the environment. This type of statement infers that the proposed system will be more environmentally friendly but really? Are other types of producers who enjoy their animals, strive to provide the best care possible and enjoy seeing genetics come to fruition damaging the environment to a greater degree? Or are we damaging the environment at all? 

I don’t think this concept that the author perceives as more environmentally friendly to use these heifer factories benefits other producers who prefer to select a heifer, develop the heifer and strive to produce an excellent product.

While calving ease bulls are used on these heifers, does this continual use of calving ease bulls do anything to improve the quality of the beef produced with muscling and marbling?

Producers face an uphill battle in raising beef at a level that is profitable. We need to maintain or increase quality while providing a product that is viewed as something the consumer will purchase. Does the beef industry want to be viewed with a factory farm view?

I invite you to go to the PETA website to view some of the films and statements. They have gone after the sheep industry with their viewpoints that shearing should be eliminated. They have attacked the leather industry and urge no leather usage. Films are, shown which demonstrate how milk cows' calves are taken from them, and cow chasing after a pickup truck to get her calf back. 

The PETA website even says, “Legality is no guarantee of morality. Who does and doesn’t have legal rights is determined merely by the opinion of current legislators. The law changes as public opinion or political motivations change, but ethics are not so arbitrary. Look at some of the other things that have at one time been legal in the U.S. – child labor, human slavery, the oppression of women.”

I would caution anyone to think carefully about implementing the all heifer system.

“If you call one wolf, you invite the pack.” – Bulgarian proverb

Sincerely,

Bonnie Bath Epler

To the Editor:

Every state in the Union requires that all equines entering their state have a valid 30-day Veterinary Health Certificate before they can enter that state. Keeping the 30-day certificates up-to-date can become a burdensome and expensive requirement for horse owners. There is also consensus that because of the difficulties with the certificates, compliance is spotty at best.

Health certificates do provide two important services to the health and safety of the equine population in Wyoming. First, they assure that the horse was in good health at the time of the inspection, but since they are valid for 30 days, there is no guarantee the horse is healthy even 10 days later. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, they allow the state to track movement of horses when an equine disease outbreak occurs. In Wyoming that has been very helpful in the outbreaks of Vesticular Stomatitus we have seen in the past few years, as well as the outbreak of Equine Herpes that originated in Ogden, Utah and the outbreak at Sunland Park in New Mexico this winter.

In three areas of the nation, states have set up a six-month Equine Health Passport system to replace the 30-day health certificate. All of the southern states from Texas to Florida are working together in two regions with a Passport system, and the states of Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington have formed a Northwest Passport Region.

Each state has slightly different rules, but since Montana is closest to Wyoming, we will describe their system.

In Montana, the horse owner obtains a health certificate from their veterinarian and then submits a form to the Montana Livestock Board for the Passport. The Passport is valid for six months. A lifetime brand inspection and a current EIA (Coggins) test is required, along with a five dollar fee per horse. When a horse with a valid Passport travels to a state in the Passport Region, they are required to notify the state they are entering. In Montana, the owner calls the Livestock Board on a 24-hour hotline and obtains an import number. No additional health inspection is required. The Montana Livestock Board is setting up a database program, so the horse owner will soon be able to obtain an import number over the internet.

The Montana State Veterinarian does reserve the right to require additional health inspections in the event of a disease outbreak.

The Wyoming Horse Council is proposing that the Wyoming Livestock Board join the other four states in the Northwest Region, so Wyoming equines can travel to those four states under a Passport. The Wyoming Horse Council also believes, if we work with the Horse Councils in Colorado, Nebraska, Utah and South Dakota, it would be possible to develop Passport programs in those states also.

The Wyoming Livestock Board is working to revise their import rules this spring, so this effort is timely. Individual or equine organizations that believe Equine Health Passports would be a benefit for Wyoming are encourage to write a letter of support so we can show the Livestock Board that the horse industry would support this change.

If you have any questions contact Bill Gentle at 307-634-1743.

Sincerely,

Judy Horton

Wyoming Horse Council

Editor’s Note: The Western Governor’s Association sent this letter to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze on Jan. 27 regarding the BLM’s administration of the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Director Kornze:

We are writing to request additional information and clarification regarding the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) administration of the National Wild Horse and Burro Program. As stated in Western Governors’ Association (WGA) Policy Resolution 2015-01, Wild Horse and Burro Management, Western Governors believe that burgeoning wild horse and burro populations along with the inability of federal agencies to adequately manage these populations presents an urgent concern for western rangelands and ecosystems.

Western Governors firmly believe that:

Wild horse and burro populations should be managed within established Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs);

AMLs should be developed, monitored and adjusted using a transparent and science-based process that uses the best available population estimates;

Collaboration should be increased between state agencies, federal agencies and private stakeholders regarding population data and monitoring, public education and adoption programs; and

New and innovative management options should be utilized, including fertility control methods and alternative food sources at short-term animal holding facilities.

Attached please find Western Governors’ substantive questions regarding these issues. A similar list was provided to BLM staff in advance of the WGA’s Winter Meeting, held in Las Vegas on Dec. 4-5, 2015.

We are committed to responsible wild horse and burro management on western rangelands and look forward to working more closely with BLM towards that end. We hope that the BLM’s detailed and substantive answers to these questions are a first step toward that goal.

Sincerely,

Matthew H. Mead

Governor of Wyoming

Chairman, WGA

Steve Bullock

Governor of Montana

Vice Chair, WGA

Editor’s Note: This attachment was provided in the letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze.

While the list below is not intended to represent the entirety of western states’ concerns or input, unresolved questions relating to the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Programs include:

The total AML for all western states is set at 26,648 animals. As of March 1, 2015, there were an estimated 58,150 animals on western rangeland – more than double the BLM-determined level. Relative to AML:

What are BLM’s plans to reduce herd sizes to prescribed AMLs?

Given existing and expected budgets, what is the timeframe to implement plans that reduce herd sizes to prescribed AMLs?

How can states be more involved in annual gather planning discussions?

Wild horse and burro populations above prescribed AMLs can cause negative environmental and rangeland impacts. How can these impacts be better acknowledged, measured and incorporated into management decisions?

What are the impediments to BLMs plans to reduce herds to prescribed AMLs and implement fertility control treatments?

What other resources does BLM need?

Does BLM have necessary authority to direct funding based on a prioritization of needs?

The total capacity of all BLM off-range holding facilities is 54,549 animals. As of November 2015, these facilities held 47,303 animals. Given the rapid growth of wild horse and burro populations, is BLM considering adding temporary off-range pastures and corrals?

Wild horse and burro herds can impact the management and conservation planning of other species, such as the Greater sage grouse. How will BLM work with states to expedite the development of herd management area plans for wild horses and burros occupying sagebrush habitat?

What is the status of BLM’s efforts with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fort Collins Science Center to develop methods to achieve greater accuracy in wild horse population estimates?

The BLM has proposed a knowledge and values study regarding the management of wild horses and burros. What is the status of that study?

What does BLM do to actively manage wild horse and burro populations, excluding roundups of excess populations pursuant to lawsuits or experimental fertility control efforts in some areas?

Does the BLM consider or implement sterilization for populations where fertility control has proven ineffective?

In the past two appropriations cycles, congressional report language has encouraged BLM to implement the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) 2013 study, Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward. The NAS recommends the implementation of fertility control programs to limit the uncontrolled growth of wild horse and burro populations. What is the status of these fertility control programs, and what steps has the agency taken to implement the NAS recommendations? How can states assist in the development and expansion of such programs?

Relative to BLM’s adoption program:

What is BLM doing to expand adoption efforts?

Is BLM exploring alternatives to adoption to reduce numbers of wild horses in off-range facilities? If so, what are those alternatives?

Horses placed in an adoption program were recently sold for slaughter. How can BLM and states work to ensure adopted horses are not sent to slaughter?

Many states perform their own wild horse and burro monitoring. How can the data exchange between state and federal agencies be improved?