Rangeland Health assessment bill passes with exceptions
Cheyenne – As the bills passed by the 2010 Wyoming Legislature rolled across Governor Freudenthal’s desk in early March, the Rangeland Health Assessment bill made the cut, but with several changes.
The primary change to Senate File 7, Senate Enrolled act 47 was the removal of $200,000 in funding, which was an appropriation to the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) for distribution as project funding to landowners.
Up until the bill reached the Governor’s desk, Leanne Stevenson of the WDA says it went through several changes both subtracting and adding funding. Although the $200,000 has been removed, she says the $20,000 appropriation to promulgate rules is still intact, as well as the $100,000 provided for the WDA to contract with the University of Wyoming for local education on and promotion of rangeland monitoring.
“I’m disappointed we don’t have the money specifically for projects, but there are still benefits realized through the bill,” says Stevenson, adding the WDA may seek out other funding opportunities through grant programs and other interested parties.
“Such funding may be necessary in the 2011 Supplemental Budget,” said Freudenthal of the project dollars he cut. “At that time the Department may well have developed the rangeland health assessment program as envisioned.”
Stevenson says, regardless of where the Rangeland Health Assessment program lands among the priorities of the entire WDA, she will put in a request as manager of the Natural Resources and Policy division for money in next year’s supplemental budget.
Fruedenthal added, “Some supporters of the legislation suggested that if I veto the $200,000, I might as well veto the bill. I disagree. The principle of rangeland health assessment is important. It is important enough for us to know the full operation and rules of the effort before we simply throw money at the problem.”
“With these steps accomplished, the Department could submit a budget request specifying the specific projects and the intended beneficiaries of the funds,” he said. “This would more fully inform the executive and legislative budget decisions.”
Meanwhile, Stevenson says another big piece of the bill that can move forward is the four-way Memorandum of Understanding between the BLM and Forest Service, the WDA and the Office of State Lands and Investments.
“When we get the MOU put together it will ensure more monitoring through cooperation between the agencies, and specifically joint cooperative monitoring,” says Stevenson, noting the program will continue as planned, just without funding available for projects.
The Governor also vetoed language in the bill that said it would “facilitate multiple use of the resource.” He reasoned the vetoed language may be read to authorize any activity that “facilitates multiple use of the resource” could include construction of facilities and creation of structures.
As the rules for the new program move forward, Stevenson says anybody who’s interested in contributing is welcome to participate in the process of promulgating rules. Currenlty those involved include seven ag industry groups, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, the Board of Agriculture and private producers.
Through the entire process, Stevenson says, “We’ve really been informed even more of the need for something like this, and we look forward to working with people to accomplish what we can through the guidelines of the program.”