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“Since 1987, Defenders of Wildlife has paid out more than $1 million in livestock compensation to ranchers throughout the West,” says an early April article appearing on the cover of a statewide daily newspaper. “Wyoming stockgrowers have received more money over the years – $331,642 – than stockgrowers in any other state.”

The shortsightedness of the paragraph made me cringe, as has the Defenders of Wildlife program in recent years. I cringed again when I saw the program was being continued in the predator area now that wolves are under state management in a dual classification system.

First, let me admit, that I’m coming at this from a public relations standpoint and haven’t personally lost livestock to wolves. For those people who have, I think the opportunity to get fully compensated for their losses to a predator forced upon them by the federal government makes sense. If I turned a pack of dogs lose on your ranch and it killed your sheep or calves, I suspect you’d hold me responsible and rightfully so.

I don’t, however, think the Defenders program is about Wyoming ranchers. For starters….$331,642 for a predator that’s kept western Wyoming ranchers up nights and will spend the summer chasing their cattle across mountain grazing allotments? While wolves have become part of life in parts of Wyoming, we all know the losses by the ranching community far surpass a few hundred thousand.

“Not all ranchers just want to kill a bunch of wolves,” Suzanne Stone, regional representative of Defenders of Wildlife, said. “A lot of ranchers are working hard to make sure they can coexist with wolves. We want to help support those ranchers.” I haven’t talked to a single rancher that “just wants to kill a bunch of wolves.” What they wanted was the right to protect their livelihoods. The federal government turned wolves loose on their private property for Pete’s sake!

To be eligible for compensation under the post-delisting Defenders program, stockgrowers must try to employ nonlethal methods of avoiding conflicts with the canines. Those include removing dead or dying animals from grazing areas in a timely manner, doing more range riding when possible and corralling the livestock at night when practical.

At first blush, those measures seem okay although not practical in much of the state. But, here we are trying to measure up to criteria set forth by an entity that really doesn’t understand our industry.

I question a program that encourages wolf populations to establish at any significant level outside of the current trophy game area. Wouldn’t this be further encroachment of a program that has already more than surpassed its requirements on the State of Wyoming? Plus, if one rancher agrees to “wolf-friendly management” to meet the Defenders’ requests, what about his or her neighbors?

On one hand I have to give the group credit for putting their money where their mouth is so to speak. On the other hand I predict modification of an old problem. Up until now Defenders has been able to stand up and say that the state’s ranchers are compensated for their losses even thought that’s fallen short on most occasions. I fear the message to the unsuspecting public moving forward will be something along the lines of good ranchers are being compensated for their losses. Looks to me like Defenders has launched another PR campaign to gain footing for expansion of wolves to more areas, not an effort to help the state’s ranchers.

Jen
    Campaign 2008 coverage officially begins for us in this edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.
      In the coming months we’ll bring you as much news and information as we can about each of the candidates for the three congressional seats. We’ll also key in on some of the more interesting races for the Wyoming Legislature, especially those of greatest significance to the agriculture industry. Candidates in even-numbered districts are up for re-election in the Wyoming Senate, while all candidates in the State House are up for re-election. It will undoubtedly be a busy summer with numerous picnics, ice cream socials and meet-the-candidate type gatherings. Aren’t we lucky to live in a state where we have a chance to meet people one-on-one before placing a check next to their name on the ballot?
    Some newspapers choose to endorse candidates. While that’s their decision, it’s not a practice we plan to put in place at the Roundup. Dennis, Christy and I have had several conversations on this subject. We agree that our duty as a newspaper is to provide you with the best possible information on which to base your decisions. Voting is a personal decision and the values we hold dear in judging candidates may differ from your own. If we can ask the questions we feel are important to agriculture and let you know how the candidates answered, we can hopefully aid you as a voter in your effort to make a wise choice. You won’t find us telling you how to vote.
    We’ve begun visiting with the candidates, having completed interviews with both Mark Gordon and Cynthia Lummis. We’re in the process of scheduling additional interviews as more candidates announce their intentions. By offering about an article a week, we hope to bring you the information you need without making you feel like there’s little going on in the world beyond elections ‘08. I’ve personally had that feeling as of late in some of the publications I read and every time I talk the kids into letting me watch something other than cartoons.
    We write a specific list of questions for each candidate based on their history and things we know about their campaigns and past experience in politics. It’s interesting to have the opportunity to visit with each candidate one-on-one and find out what he or she finds most important.
    As summer sets in, we’ll be asking the leading candidates to write guest editorials. This is an approach that allows them to tell you what’s important to their campaign and what they know and believe about your industry.
    We hope this is an approach that allows us to provide the kind of campaign coverage you find useful and applicable.
    I also want to remind our readers that we’re posting a new poll each week at www.wylr.net. It’s been fun to learn more about our readers’ viewpoints on topics ranging from packer concentration to calving dates. We have a goal to continue increasing participation in that aspect of our website. “Stop by the website” and let us know what you think. If you register as a member to the site we’ll let you know when new on-line polls are posted.
    See you at a campaign picnic or candidate forum somewhere along the trail this summer!
-Jen

    With the 2008 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature just a few weeks away, now is the perfect time to visit with your legislators. Assuming they’re not a member of the Joint Appropriations Committee that’s been meeting in Cheyenne for several weeks running, you might be able to catch them for a quick chat before they leave for the Capitol City.

    We in Wyoming are lucky to have a legislature designed for public involvement. In all my trips to Cheyenne I’ve yet to see anyone turned away at the Capitol doors. The most frequent limiting factor at a committee meeting is the small rooms in which the gatherings are held. I’ll also admit that the wooden, library-style chairs can test one’s endurance, but the discussion is almost always worth hearing. There’s a lot of thought and debate that goes into this state’s laws.

    Bills have already begun appearing on the legislative website at http://legisweb.state.wy.us. You’ll also find contact information for your legislators, committee meeting schedules and more within just a few clicks. Progress of legislation can also be tracked via the website.

  When temperatures reach into the negative digits we in Wyoming agriculture often find a trip to Cheyenne next to impossible. Luckily, the industry has a team of lobbyists working on its behalf. If you’re not already associated with one of the state’s ag organizations, I’d encourage you to consider joining to ensure your voice is heard. Some of the groups host a legislative meeting providing a chance to visit Cheyenne and be part of the process.

    For those of you who are members, don’t forget to make contact with your executives. Personal stories about how laws have worked, aren’t working or need to be changed, provide them additional tools and effectiveness in their lobbying efforts. One of the things I enjoy most in my visits to Cheyenne throughout the session are hearing Wyoming’s ag lobbyists at work on our behalf.

    There are some key issues for Wyoming agriculture to come before this year’s session. Some, you’ve already seen on the pages of the Roundup. Others will appear in the weeks to come. Predator funding, large-acre subdivisions regulations, a reallocation of the state lands office loan programs and conservation district funding are top of my mind in issues of importance this session. I’m particularly excited about the bill that would add dollars to the young and beginning producer loan program offered by the Office of State Lands and Investments. Hopefully this will give more young people another tool if they’re looking to enter agriculture or return to the family farm or ranch.

    We at the Roundup welcome your calls leading up to and throughout the upcoming session. Let us know what’s important to you, where we should focus our time and any concerns you have.

    If you’ve never attended a session of the Wyoming Legislature, load up the family and make the trip to the Capitol City. From the balcony above the chambers you can watch the legislature in action. Walking the halls you can see numerous historical artifacts. And, my favorite, on the front lawn of the Capitol is a playful calf that reminds us all of the important role agriculture continues to play in the Cowboy State.

   I hope to see you in Cheyenne this session.
        Jen

USDA’s National Animal Identification System may be the most widely discussed, or maybe that’s the mostly widely cussed, topic in American agriculture today. It looks like Wyoming ranchers will have a chance to discuss it further when the Wyoming Livestock Board hosts a public hearing, or hearings, later this year.

There’s one point relating to NAIS on which I think we can all agree – USDA fumbled the ball when it came to implementing this program. It’s been a moving target since the word “go” leaving people who were supposed to be USDA’s partners in implementation NAIS in a state of continually changing game plans. In the countryside it’s being questioned on everything from its constitutionality to its effectiveness and on to what it’s going to cost the industry. Litigation appears to be a given in the program’s future.
 
While USDA’s intentions may have been good, their local constituents continue to feel like they’ve never really had a say in how the program should be done. Even if the plan is workable, which most I’ve talked to question, resentment in the countryside makes its implementation difficult at best. A national tracking program doesn’t have much value if a majority of producers haven’t agree to participate.

The Wyoming Livestock Board, comprised of producers just like you who have agreed to devote a substantial amount of time, is to be commended for action it took last week in agreeing to head out to the countryside and give people in Wyoming an opportunity to share their views on where the state should go from here. Maybe the consensus will be to continue with NAIS or maybe producers will lean towards a Wyoming-specific program.

Several I’ve talked to support enhancing the state’s existing brand programs and working with the tools we already have in place. It might not be a bad idea if we’re able to integrate it with the modern-day challenges and opportunities inherent in interstate and international commerce. It’s also important we ensure those using current programs to seek out value-added markets are protected.

I’d like to think every state in the nation could implement a program that works for the producers in its state. NAIS applied to a 20-head herd in the Eastern U.S. is a lot different than NAIS on a Wyoming ranch that operates over a large area often including both private and public land. My one concern in 50 “custom fit” programs is an inability to carry out tracebacks across state lines in a timely fashion, but surely that’s something that can be addressed with a little creativity.

I hope Wyoming turns out in volume with quality, proactive comments when the WLSB finalizes plans to host the hearings. This is our chance to say where we think the state should go, what works for us and how we’re going to cover any additional expenses. It’s our opportunity to make sure we have a program that ensures our ability to react to a disease like FMD while making sure it’s an approach that works for Wyoming.

-Jen