Regulations, endangered species compose 2011 issuesWritten by Saige Albert
“In two words, regulation and litigation sum up a lot of what has been predominant in 2011 in agriculture,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna.
“Without being specific, the plethora of federal regulations that have been proposed that we have had to deal with, from the Clean Water Act to CAFO reporting to the Forest Service planning and, more recently, the Forest Service appeals process, regulations have been one after another,” adds Magagna. “The list just seems to never end, and that has been a hallmark of 2011 – the intensity of regulatory proposals is something that I have never seen before.”
Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton calls it regulatory overreach, saying, “We focused a lot on the Clean Water Act and the EPA.”
“We can’t forget about Secretary Salazar’s wilderness memo, and of course the dust rules and the federal motor carriers safety issue that dealt with agriculture vehicles,” continues Hamilton. “I think we’ll see increased use of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to try to get into state regulatory affairs.”
Hamilton and Magagna saw progress toward wolf delisting and work with sage grouse as notable accomplishments of the year.
While the wolf has not been removed from the endangered species list yet, Magagna notes that the tentative agreement that has been reached is an important step in the process.
Bryce Reece, Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, agrees with Magagna, adding, “In the Wyoming sheep industry, the agreement that Governor Mead forged with the Fish and Wildlife Service, if it continues as the Governor intends it to, is significant for us. Hopefully, it will put the wolf issue to bed, once and for all.”
The ESA has been the source of some other concerns in Wyoming agriculture.
“Another issue that has been ongoing is the sage grouse and all of the efforts that have been made to avoid a listing,” comments Magagna. “While I think some great strides are being made, and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association has supported most of those efforts, unfortunately the sage grouse battles go on, and we are still in court with Western Watersheds.”
Hamilton adds, “The decision to relist the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse was also big.”
Aside from endangered species, Hamilton also saw water as a prominent issue in Wyoming this past year.
“We had a second year with no drought, and I would say that we saw the end of the drought,” says Hamilton.
Deputy Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Doug Miyamoto also saw water as a big issue, particularly at the beginning of year.
“For us, spring started out with forecasts for heavy snowmelt and a lot of runoff, so we spent a lot of the summer preparing for floods that could have been a lot worse,” says Miyamoto. “I think we averted some disaster, but our summer was pretty busy trying to stay ahead and get assistance out where we could.”
Miyamoto continues that federal land management was a primary issue for the year as well.
“It’s always the same issues we deal with year after year. From a policy perspective, federal land management continues to be one of the largest issues we tackle,” explains Miyamoto.
He also notes resource management plans, as well as issues with grazing on Green Mountain.
“We’ve had a lot of policy folks involved, trying to negotiate a deal for public lands use,” says Miyamoto.
For federal lands issues, Hamilton also mentioned the release of Forest Service planning rules.
“The ones from before were bad, but the new planning rules are even worse,” says Hamilton. “They will have a significant impact if they get implemented.”
Magagna also sees the Forest Service appeals process and planning rules as a major issue in the industry in 2011.
Also on federal lands, wild horse issues have had a big impact on the state, according to Miyamoto and Hamilton.
“Wild horse issues rose to the top this year, and we had another year of successful gathers,” says Miyamoto. “Wyoming’s consent decree is instrumental, and we are up against a timeline when we need to renew that. It will be a priority moving forward to work with the BLM on the consent decree.”
Miyamoto mentioned the pesticide general permitting process was another issue that rose to the top of their list as the EPA began to finalize and implement rules for individual pesticide and herbicide applicators.
Despite all the hurdles that agriculture faced in the past year, both Reece and Hamilton mention that strong prices were a positive factor.
“The continued record high prices are some that we’ve never seen before. Those prices are helping to make people healthy, or allowing them to do some new things or even expand,” comments Reece. “It is pretty exciting, and exactly what we needed as an industry, and I’m seeing a positive indication that they will continue.”
Hamilton notes, “Strong commodity prices are one of the good things that happened this year, but in conjunction, we also saw increased costs.”
Magagna also saw the implementation of the Wyoming Rangeland Health Assessment program as a positive outcome for 2011.
As the state’s ag industry continues into 2012, new issues will continue to pop up, and some of the same ones will reappear.
Reece identifies animal identification, wolf delisting, agriculture labor and the ongoing conflict with bighorn sheep and domestic sheep as likely priorities for the new year, as well as the upcoming election. Hamilton also comments that genetically modified organisms and animal welfare will continue to play a big role in the industry.
Magagna adds, that from his perspective, “The big issues in the legislature won’t be so much in ag, but broader issues of the budget, redistricting and, of course, the wolf legislation.”