Rangeland Health legislation earns committee supportWritten by Jennifer Womack
While similar to legislation that cleared the 2009 Legislative Session and was vetoed by Governor Dave Freudenthal, the 2010 bill takes a new, broader approach. Brought under a new name, “Rangeland health assessments,” Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna said it’s an effort to reflect changes within the bill. “It’s not just about monitoring. Monitoring is a key component, but it’s about the health of rangelands whether they’re private, BLM or state.”
Following a discussion on the budgetary restraints facing the state, an amendment reduced total funding from the requested $820,000 to $420,000. Distribution of those funds would provide $20,000 to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) to write rules and regulations to guide the program, $200,000 to the WDA to contract for rangeland health assessments and $200,000 to the WDA to contract with the University of Wyoming to provide an additional range management specialist “in the cooperative extension service to assist in the education and promotion related to the coordination and participation in rangeland health assessments.”
While $820,000 was the optimum funding amount, Magagna said the primary goal is seeing the program established. “We still believe there is a real value for the base funding for WDA to establish the program and put it in place and fund it as resources allow in the future,” said Magagna.
WDA would have the authority to contract with a wide range of companies and entities ranging from counties to businesses offering such services. WDA Natural Resources Division Director Leanne Stevenson said grant dollars are available to enhance monitoring efforts if the tool is put in place to carry out the programs.
“I share everybody’s concerns about the budget, no doubt about it, but then I recognize the importance of what agriculture is to the state of Wyoming,” said Senator Eli Bebout (R-Riverton). “When times are tough, you have to step up sometimes and spend money to proceed and do better as you move forward.”
“You’ve got to invest money if you’re going to get returns,” said Senator Gerry Geis (R-Worland).
While not able to attend the Hulett meeting, College of Agriculture Dean Frank Galey sent a letter stating his support. “…rangeland management is important to the College of Agriculture’s focus as demonstrated by our current efforts in this area. If the Committee supports the legislation before it, the UW College of Agriculture stands ready to apply, and stretch, the contractual dollars provided to us in the most efficient and effective ways possible in order to serve the citizens of Wyoming.”
Some key concepts as to how the program will work are outlined in the legislation that Senator Gerald Geis (R-Worland) said would become a Senate file.
• “The rangeland health assessment shall be done only with the voluntary cooperation and participation of all participants, including the private landowner, the state grazing lessee and the federal grazing permittee or lessee.”
• “The rangeland health assessment shall be conducted on federally managed lands only under a memorandum of agreement with the federal land management agency and with the participation of that federal land management agency.”
• “The rangeland health assessment shall include, as necessary, establishment of rangeland monitoring, compliance with federal agency standards and guidelines and participation in the incorporation of assessment outcomes into any federal or state decision affecting livestock grazing.”
• “The rangeland health assessment shall include any protections necessary for the management of soil erosion and vegetation loss.”
“This appropriation shall be included in the Department of Agriculture’s 2013-2014 standard biennial budget,” says the legislation. The bill, unlike the previous version, calls for matching funds.
The legislation now progresses to the 2010 session of the Wyoming Legislature.