Mediation settles disputesWritten by Saige
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Mediation Program helps Wyoming citizens resolve conflicts confidentially, voluntary and at a low cost to help save time and effectively end disputes.
The mediation program was started in 1987 as a response to the farm credit crisis that was happening. The USDA offered mediation as a step in their appeals process for foreclosure and ag credit disputes.
Lucy Pauley, Wyoming Mediation Coordinator says, “It was a reaction to the crisis that was going on. They were looking for a way to bring people to the table in dealing with ag credit issues.”
“We stayed focused on ag credit mediation through the 80s and 90s,” says Pauley. “In 1998, the mediation board went to the State Legislature and asked for funding to expand. They expanded our scope to include all sorts of agriculture and natural resources topics.”
It wasn’t until 2004, however, that the legislature authorized funds for Pauley’s position, when she took over the program full time.
“Since 2004, we have spent a lot of time doing outreach,” comments Pauley. “You might not need it now, but we’re trying to make people aware that these services exist.”
Last year, mediators had their busiest year and handled 20 cases, according to Pauley, with the average falling at between one and two cases each month.
“We are looking at a lot of different options for expanding. We are looking to provide mediators for the workplace and outside ag and natural resources,” says Pauley. “While we are looking at expanding, we would like to stay true to the roots of the program.”
In the past, many people were unsure of mediation and didn’t understand the program or the process. However, Pauley says the program is growing and more people are thinking about mediation and using the service.
“We’ve also seen more willingness from the legal community to turn to mediation,” adds Pauley. “The courts are crowded and expensive. We’ve seen some recognition from the legal system as an option for conflict resolution.”
In Teton County, for example, 230 cases went to mediation rather than small claims court, and 70 percent of those reached an agreement.
The mediation program in Wyoming is very successful.
“We have a pretty high success rate. About 60 to 70 percent of cases reach an agreement,” says Pauley. “Even if the parties don’t reach an agreement, often times they are satisfied and have a better understanding of the problem and what to do next.”
The program utilizes trained mediators to help both parties agree on a solution. While the mediator is present, they offer no judgments and serve only to facilitate arrival at an agreement. Mediators have no decision-making authority.
The Wyoming Mediation Program includes over 50 mediators across the state.
“We have a lot of trained mediators and some very experienced mediators,” says Pauley. “We are always looking for more people that have a really good understanding of agriculture to be involved.”
“We offer a basic mediation training every year and that provides the initial certification,” she adds. “This year, we are also co-hosting a conference with UW Cooperative Extension to look at all the programs going into alternative conflict resolution.”
The mediation program today has been used in a variety of issues including U.S. Forest Service grazing permit disputes, ag credit issues, USDA adverse decisions, neighbor conflicts, ag family estate planning disputes, easement and access issues and ag business disputes.
“We don’t do as many USDA program cases,” says Pauley. “We are getting a lot more involved in neighbor-neighbor conflicts, such as maintenance and trespassing.”
Pauley also adds that frequently, it is difficult to request a mediator, but those mediators involved in the program understand agriculture and the difficulties that can be encountered in the industry.
“We’re not going to make you hold hands and talk about your feelings,” says Pauley. “We’re just going to have you sit down and come up with a solution that you both can live with.”