Ag policy on state lands led by elected officials
When considering Wyoming’s five elected positions, and their replacements to be elected this fall, ag voters in the state may want to keep in mind a few aspects of the officials’ responsibilities that relate to state land leases and ag loans.
Wyoming’s five elected officials are the sole members of the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) and the Board of Land Commissioners, both of which are housed under the Office of State Lands and Investments (OSLI). The five elected officials are the Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“When I look at those offices and the candidates who are up for them, I look as much as anything at how they’re likely to view things, particularly on the Board of Land Commissioners and the State Loan and Investment Board,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna.
The OSLI is the administrative arm of the Boards and it is the statutory responsibility of the OSLI to carry out the policy directives and decisions of the Boards.
“The Board of Land Commissioners adopts the policies that the Office of State Lands carries out,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Director Ken Hamilton, adding in the past the Board has adopted policy on topics including grazing fees and subleasing state lands.
“They’re also the ones who approve the policies on how easements are negotiated across state lands,” continues Hamilton. “Years ago, when a pipeline company wanted to come across state land, they negotiated the easement with the state land lessee, and the fee structure was set up so the lessee could obtain some benefit from the easement. The State Land Board and the oil and gas industry thought the lessees were holding up the process, so the Board made a policy decision that industry could negotiate directly with the Office of State Lands.”
However, Hamilton notes another policy recently dictated by the Board of Land Commissioners says state land lessees are allowed to negotiate with wind energy developers for damages.
“Some major decisions that indirectly affect agriculture are the proposed state land rules on wind energy leasing,” adds Magagna. “They contain important provisions with regard to negotiating payment for the impact of development on grazing.”
Magagna adds in recent years the Board of Land Commissioners has been more proactive in looking at proposals for state land sales or exchanges.
“State land parcels are so often an integral part of a ranching operation, and decisions with regard to sales or trades can have a major impact,” he says.
Magagna also says an important question from the perspective of the Board of Land Commissioners is exactly to what is their first obligation to maximize and get the highest revenue possible, or optimize and consider the long-term value of the asset?
“A question for the candidates is how they view their responsibility as a trustee of state trust lands,” says Magagna, adding another question pertains to recreational use on state lands.
“By statute the Board could close all state land to recreation, or open it up to more recreation, or charge for recreating,” outlines Magagna. “If the lands are part of your ranch, and you’re otherwise not allowing recreation, that could cause some problems.”
“If the elected officials have some familiarity with agriculture, or some understanding of the situation, it helps them make better decisions,” notes Hamilton of the policies they set. “When we get into controversial decisions, having individuals on the boards that understand agriculture is very helpful.”
Today’s SLIB was statutorily created in 1921 as the Farm Loan Board, which administers the Farm Loan Program. According to the Office of State Lands and Investments, the Farm Loan Program was established to “foster and encourage agriculture, dairying and livestock raising in Wyoming.”
Since its inception the Farm Loan Program, which is authorized to loan up to $295 million in state permanent funds, was expanded to include irrigation, replacement breeding stock and beginning ag producer loans.
“In the past, when interest rates were higher, the State Loan and Investment Board was an important entity in loaning to ag folks,” says Hamilton, noting that today’s interest rates are low enough the state program hasn’t been used as much in recent years.
The SLIB also oversees the Beginning Ag Producer Loans, as well as community development grants.
“There are a lot of things they do that tie them to agriculture,” says Hamilton.
“The current Board of Land Commissioners has been in position for quite a while, and for the most part they understand the process,” notes Hamilton of Wyoming’s current leadership. “It’s partly the job of people in positions like mine to educate the elected officials on some of the issues important to us.”
Hamilton says that, at the end of the day, Wyoming’s Governor has the most influence of the Board members, because it’s the Governor who appoints the Director of the OSLI.
“That individual will answer first to the Governor, and it’s important to have somebody as Director who has some experience with agriculture and can make informed decisions considering the impacts to agriculture,” says Hamilton.
“The Director oversees the surface and subsurface portions of state land management, and when the Board of Land Commissioners meets they receive the Director’s recommendation for most of the issues before them,” says Magagna.
“If we can get someone appointed as Director of the Office of State Lands who understand agriculture and can establish a working relationship with the elected officials, that helps,” he adds.
Of the Superintendent of Public Instruction specifically, Magagna says he’ll pay close attention to how committed the candidates are to vocational education. “Nationwide we’ve seen a decline in a focus on vocational education programs, and having a Superintendent committed to that is really important,” he says.