Ag plays an important role in the ‘Wyoming we want’Written by Christy Hemken
“People are pretty happy,” says Cleveland of Wyomingites. “The quality of life is pretty good here. The economy could be better, but it’s not as bad as other places. It’s hard to motivate people when they’re comfortable.”
Cleveland speaks of BW3’s mission to assist cities and towns in a smart planning process, which he says takes the interest and involvement of both elected officials and citizens.
The BW3 organization recently funded a values study of Wyoming’s citizens, which measured the general public and Wyoming’s leaders separately. A strong emphasis communicated by the survey was the value of agriculture to the people of the state, with 57 percent of the public saying ranching has a great deal of value and 34 percent saying they think it has a fair amount of value.
“Some news publications in the state were amazed on the comments about agriculture and its importance to Wyoming, and they immediately related it to the economy,” says Cleveland, adding, “Certainly agriculture is important in that way, but from my viewpoint I think the public’s view is broader than that. They see agriculture as a Western way of life, and they recognize and appreciate open spaces and they know that people successful in agriculture are hard-working people, and those are values the people of Wyoming have, and that characterizes what agriculture is all about.”
“I think they recognize the value of ranching lands and open space to wildlife,” says Cleveland, referencing his experience with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “One of the biggest changes I saw over my career was the loss of access to private land. I think the public is beginning to realize that, even if they don’t have access to the land, there is value in terms of open space and the production of wildlife on that land.”
The survey found that 55 percent of people in Wyoming have worked on a farm or ranch at some time in their life. “It surprised me that it was still that high, and I think a challenge for ag and wildlife is our kids and the tie they have to the environment and land and water. Once that tie’s broken, I don’t think you can ever build it back and we lose political and financial support when people don’t care anymore.”
“I think people see that if we want to have Wyoming in the future as we now have it and enjoy it, and hope to have it for kids and grandkids, we have to keep agriculture as a viable industry,” he continues.
Regarding Wyoming’s youth and competing for their time, Cleveland says, “As this moves forward we have to strategize how we’re going to involve youth, because they’ll be the recipients of this future we’re envisioning. But that’s part of the problem – whether they want to engage. We can develop all kinds of things to educate and inform, but they won’t do any good if the kids aren’t interested.”
A part of the initiative to engage a younger audience is the creation of Facebook and Twitter profiles, which feature information about the organization, discussion boards, updates and videos from Wyoming citizens describing the Wyoming they want.
Concerning private property rights, Cleveland says Wyoming is very conflicted. “We’re strong property rights proponents and we’ve always resisted telling anybody what they can do with their property, but we have to be realistic,” he notes. “The best way to achieve smart growth is through incentives and not through rules and regulations and statutory changes.”
“I give Wyoming people credit, because they’re beginning to recognize some things that maybe they didn’t used to,” says Cleveland. “The challenge everybody’s caught up in is making a living day-to-day, and not thinking 30 years out.”
He says that although the general public usually leaves that kind of planning to elected officials, survey results show they see themselves as the best people to address the issue of how the state will be developed. “And they are, the average person,” says Cleveland. “For planning to really be effective both the citizenry and elected officials have to engage.”
He says that although development will occur in Wyoming, planning is necessary to avoid “loving a place to death,” where people all want a piece of paradise, but then all those pieces add up.
Cleveland says he thinks there’s room in Wyoming for almost everything the people of the state want. “We could do a lot better with it if we plan it,” he says. “We have a wealth of information in the state, and we can layer it before we issue permits to find out where the uses and conflicts are.”
Cleveland thinks there will be continued dialogue on incentives to keep open space through agriculture. “Incentives are a broad concept, and there are some differences in opinion between the leaders and the general public in the survey, so we’ll see where that goes.”
According to the survey, 72 percent of the public and 59 percent of leaders think farming and ranching is critical to the future of Wyoming. Furthermore, 41 percent of the public and 43 percent of leaders believe in providing incentives to keep land in farms, ranches and open space.
“People in individual counties will have to decide how they’re going to pay for this. There’s a cost for everything, and we pay for garbage collection and water and sewer, so if we live here because of open space, maybe we need to pay to assure that we have it,” he comments.
“I don’t think ranchers have anything to fear from this survey or this initiative,” notes Cleveland. “I think it reiterates what the Stock Growers found with their survey, that the value of agriculture is prized in Wyoming. I don’t think they should be concerned in any way, but rather build on it.”
“Wyoming’s going to grow, and people need to think about how they want it to grow, because if it happens happenstance I’m not sure we’re going to be happy with it,” says Cleveland. “Growth is going to happen. The key is to be wise enough to manage it in a way we’re comfortable with the outcome. That’s all.”
He says he thinks people are starting to realize if they don’t take control they’ll probably lose some of those things of value to them. “Whether we’re at critical mass, I don’t know,” says Cleveland. “It varies from one part of the state to another, but people need to realize they’re in control of their own destiny.”