Rangeland program moves forward with MOU, appsWritten by Christy Martinez
Cheyenne – With the finalization of an MOU between all partnering agencies, and the completion of the first round of project funding, Wyoming’s Rangeland Health Assessment Program is well on its way to implementation.
An effort of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA), the 2011 Wyoming Legislature funded the program as a cooperative rangeland monitoring approach on a piece of land to enhance monitoring efforts.
One of the final steps to implement the program was a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the WDA, the BLM Wyoming State Office, U.S. Forest Service Region 2, U.S. Forest Service Region 4 and Wyoming’s Office of State Lands and Investments.
“The MOU is now finalized, and it’s a very exciting feat for us to get that done,” says WDA Natural Resources and Policy Division Manager Leanne Stevenson, adding that the document is valid for five years, and that it was well-accepted by those five signators.
Stevenson says the biggest challenge in the MOU was making sure legalities were covered for all the involved land interests, and she expresses thanks to all agency staff who helped complete the process.
Of the program itself, Stevenson says it looks today much like it did when it passed the Wyoming Legislature.
“The rules followed up and solidified the legislature’s general guidance,” notes Stevenson. “The one thing that was stressed is that this is a joint cooperative monitoring program, and all parties with a land interest in a project area have to be included as mandatory partners. If you’ve got a project area that includes federal, state and private lands, all those people, as well as the permittees on BLM or Forest Service land, have to be on board. We’re not saying other monitoring efforts can’t take place, but if you want to be included in the WDA program, you have to have those partnerships.”
Following finalization of the rules, the WDA and its development committee came up with an application that met the criteria. Stevenson says an applicant, according to the rules must be a governmental agency.
“The term ‘governmental agency’ means the University of Wyoming, other institutions of higher education and other qualified state and local governmental agencies,” she explains. “The applicant may be a conservation district, county commissioners, UW Extension, UW or any of the community colleges in Wyoming. There are a variety of groups that can be the applicant.”
Federal agencies, landowners, permittees and lessees are not eligible to apply, but are encouraged to work with an eligible applicant if they have an idea for a project.
The review committee that conducts the initial review of the applications consists of one representative each from the BLM Wyoming State Office, the Forest Service, the Office of State Lands and Investments, the WDA and UW, along with a range technical expertise representative, who speaks from a permittee/landowner standpoint.
“That committee reviews the applications, and they go through a scoring process, which is available on our website,” says Stevenson, adding that it’s being tweaked for the second round. “The committee gives their recommendations to WDA Director Jason Fearneyhough, and he gives a recommendation to the Board of Ag, which gives the final approval or denial on each application individually.”
The WDA received six applications from its first request for proposals, each vying for a piece of the $200,000 appropriated through the 2011 legislative session. The six applications totaled $114,861. One of the applicants came from a UW Extension office, with the remainder being conservation districts. Three of those six passed in the first round of approvals.
“One thing I didn’t expect was applications from the Jackson area,” says Stevenson. “People generally don’t think there are many grazing permits left in the Teton Conservation District area, so that was a nice surprise. They’re really working with the Forest Service, and the Forest Service is working with them, to try to keep those current grazing permittees on the land by doing the monitoring and having the data to back up what they’re doing.”
She says the district is partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for ecological site descriptions and a broader baseline set of data.
One of the approved Teton Conservation District projects came from outside the box, as they requested funds to rent horses and equipment to ride in and camp at the allotments where monitoring is needed. Two out of three of the Teton Conservation District’s applications were approved, and the third that’s been fully funded so far is a project of the Laramie County Conservation District in the Pole Mountain area.
“To date, there has been a total of $54,867 approved by the Board of Agriculture, and another $40,000 was approved on a conditional basis,” says Stevenson.
Those two conditional approvals have 30 days to submit additional information to the state agency, and the Board of Agriculture will act on them at their May 25 meeting.
Following the finalization of the first round, another request for proposals will be sent out this summer, with the intent that the Board of Agriculture will act on them at their August meeting at the Wyoming State Fair.
Meanwhile, the first projects to gain approval are gearing up to begin, after the contracts go through the final process of signatures and the support of the Attorney General’s office.
“The money is committed to those applicants, but it’s not in their hands yet,” says Stevenson. “Most have a start date of May 15 to June 1.”
For the second round of proposals, Stevenson says the key difference is the finalized MOU, and that she expects applications on BLM land will be more prevalent.
“The MOU will open the program up to a lot more people to get the mandatory partnership completed,” she says.
Stevenson encourages permittees to check into the program, and to be proactive, because it does take some time to go through the application process.
“If permittees see a need on their property, or on their permits, for monitoring or for improved relationships with federal agencies, this might be a good avenue to explore, particularly if they have permit renewals coming up,” she says.
Once again, Stevenson emphasizes the mandatory partnership aspect of the program, and that partnership agreement forms must be included with an application.
“This is the process of working together from the development of an individual project, and not just sharing data at the end,” she says.