Wyoming Department of Agriculture updates legislators on ag topics, proposed legislationWritten by Saige
Afton – In a meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources committee on Sept. 26-27, Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Director Jason Fearneyhough and Deputy Director Doug Miyamoto provided a number of updates, as well as proposed legislation for predator management.
General updates included information about the recent wild horse roundup, as well as the Green Mountain issue, scales and pneumonia in Bighorn sheep.
Wild horses in the southwest corner of the state were recently rounded up in continued efforts to get the herd management areas into compliance with appropriate management levels.
“There are several areas that the BLM could be considered to be out of compliance with,” said
Fearneyhough, referencing the consent decree. “I think there is an opportunity to force their hand a little bit and hopefully get that issue solved.”
Fearneyhough also mentioned that the Rock Springs Grazing Association is still pursuing legal action because they feel the number of wild horses on their lands far exceeds appropriate levels.
The ongoing conflict involving Green Mountain grazing allotments will be going into alternative dispute resolution, according to Fearneyhough. The WDA, Wyoming Attorney General, State Lands Office and grazing permittees will meet with a judge, as well as representatives of Western Watersheds, to attempt to work out an agreement.
“I am very concerned where this is going to go,” said Fearneyhough. “I think it is the right move, but I am concerned.”
In regard to scale testing requirements, Fearneyhough mentioned the federal government is allowing the state to test all scales in sale barns within an eight-month window, which he feels is both reasonable and possible.
A final general update from the agency regarded the conflicts seen between Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep.
Because of a pneumonia in Bighorn sheep from a bacterium found in domestic sheep, the Forest Service has taken a stand that they will implement a statewide buffer zone between the species.
“It’s a nine-mile buffer zone,” said Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice-President Bryce Reece. “The existing permits for grazing on the forest within that buffer zone were cancelled by the forest service. It put three old sheep operations out of business and has an affect on two others.”
Continuing research on the disease in Bighorn sheep is ongoing at Washington State University and funding from Wyoming is utilized in research efforts.
Fearneyhough also discussed the Conservation Title of the upcoming Farm Bill.
“In D.C. they are just starting to look at the Farm Bill,” said Fearneyhough. “The Conservation Title of the Farm Bill is in general one of the top two priorities for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and our western association.”
Fearneyhough explained there has been some discussion on running the Conservation Title through a block grant to the states, and while there has been some comment on the idea, he said, “Up front there has not been any movement one way or another. People are noticing there is something that needs to be changed, though.”
Currently, Fearneyhough noted, the Conservation Title seems to be applied to wildlife efforts and other programs and is shifting away from agriculture as the primary beneficiary, which represents a shift from the original intent of the bill.
Updates by WDA also included the Natural Resources and Policy Division’s latest activities.
Chris Wichmann, manager of the division, highlighted five resource management plans, oil and gas developments, federal register requests and black-tailed prairie dog projects, as well as two new projects by the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative as being prominent projects.
“We have a small staff,” said Wichmann, “but we do a lot of work.”
Wyoming State Fair Director James Goodrich provided additional updates on the success of the 2011 event.
Goodrich said, “This year we did have a very good state fair. Our attendance was up about seven percent and grandstand events as well as gate admission reflects that.”
Goodrich also mentioned that youth involvement remains steady across the board. The state fairgrounds are continually undergoing improvement as well, including an addition to the Pioneer Museum, concrete in the livestock barns and the removal of several older horse barns.
As the final agenda item for WDA, Kent Drake, Predator Management Coordinator for the Animal Damage Management Board, brought forward draft legislation to the committee regarding predator management districts and predator fees.
Proposed amendments by Drake suggest that section 11-6-210(g) be amended such that only five percent of total predator management fees would be reserved for refunds, and if the amount of refunds is to exceed that amount, they would be prorated amongst those requesting refunds.
This amendment was stricken from the bill by a motion from Senator Ogden Driskill after clarification that the maximum refund amount is already at five percent of what is collected.
“They have been giving out 100 percent of what they receive,” said Drake. “Ninety percent of that is from out-of-state lease holders.”
“As near as we can tell, less than 0.5 percent of in-state producers request a refund, and most of those only do it one time,” commented Reece.
Additionally, in the same section, an amendment was proposed to shorten the time for refunds to be paid from 180 days to 120 days after the end of the calendar year for which the fee was paid.
Drake and Reece also mentioned voting issues on predator boards and an amendment to statute 11-6-203 that would only allow one vote per person or corporation paying predator fees at the annual predator management district meetings.
“There are some instances that four or five people from the same family or ranch all show up and demand a vote,” said Reece. “The statute changes say that no person paying fees should be entitled to more than one vote.”
To account for those voting members, the amendment would also require brand inspection certificates reflecting payment of the fees for voting eligibility. The amendments to the statutes passed, and the committee agreed to sponsor the bill.
Additional topics from the Joint Ag Committee meeting included presentations from the Wyoming Livestock Board, Office of State Lands, County Commissioners Association, State Engineer’s Office, Forestry Division and Water Development Commission. Minutes from the meeting will be available online at legisweb.state.wy.us.