Rangeland Monitoring: Bill could aid information effortsWritten by Jennifer Womack
To date HB213 has been received with a great deal of success. The legislation is supported by a list of 13 sponsors and passed the House in a 56 to three vote on Feb. 11. Representatives Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman), Stan Blake (D-Green River), Kathy Davison (R-Kemmerer), Owen Peterson (R-Mountain View), Lorraine Quarberg (R-Thermopolis), Lynn Shepperson (R-Casper), Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) and Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) have signed on as sponsors. Also sponsoring the legislation are Senators Eli Bebout (R-Riverton), Stan Cooper (R-Kemmerer), Dan Dockstader (R-Afton), Kit Jennings (R-Casper) and Bill Vasey (D-Rawlins).
“I really love Wyoming and it’s wide open spaces, its way of life and everything that entails including the wildlife, the cattle, recreation and timber,” says Jaggi, the legislation’s primary sponsor. A retired high school science teacher, he says he doesn’t have an “ax to grind” in his support of the legislation, but sees it as beneficial to Wyoming as a whole. With the federal government lacking the resources to gather data, he says the legislation is a means of ensuring solid data.
As it cleared the House the legislation would make $400,000 available to conservation districts in the form of grants to be administered by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA). It was expected to come before the Senate Appropriations Committee late in the week as this edition of the Roundup was heading to press.
“It would probably allow for three or four efforts,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna of the $400,000 allocated in the legislation as it cleared the House. “While I certainly hope we can hold the $400,000, I think it’s critical to get the initiative underway and achieve some measurable results we can bring back to the Legislature a year from now.”
Magagna says it’s also important to realize, as it was noted in a House amendment to the legislation, that the bill would send the WDA through the rulemaking process. “We were getting questions about details,” he explains, “and we wanted to make sure it was understood that the details need to be worked out with input from a lot of stakeholders including the conservation districts, industry, the State Grazing Board and the University of Wyoming range professionals.”
The legislation provides the conservation districts a great deal of latitude in how they implement the program. For example, the districts could strive to locate range professionals in the BLM offices. “I think it’s potentially a way to foster greater communication and cooperation with the BLM range people,” says Magagna. He also realizes there are some circumstances where a different arrangement is more desirable. “It’s a decision that can be made on a case-by-case basis,” he says.
The legislation also authorizes conservation districts to:
• “Conduct rangeland monitoring on lands within Bureau of Land Management grazing allotments and national forest grazing allotments. Monitoring shall be conducted in cooperation with grazing permit holders and lessees and federal agency personnel.”
• “Participate in the development of livestock grazing operating plans, permit renewals and transfers and resource plans to assure that such plans and permits are based upon and supported by credible monitoring data.”
• “Procure office space for range professionals employed by or contracted for by the district in the most appropriate bureau of land management field office or national forest service office.”
“The way the bill stands now, and this is critical,” says Magagna, “the $400,000 is directed to become part of the WDA budget for 2011-2012 so at this point that would be $800,000 for a biennium.” The end result would be a long-term program to develop data on the grazing lands within the state.
“I’ve got a rancher in my district who spent $40,000 trying to keep his permit alive,” says Jaggi. “These ranchers cannot continue to do that, so they say they’ll let the grazing permit go. Pretty soon we’re diminishing Wyoming and we’re subdividing. I’m trying to keep our wide-open spaces.”
“I thought it was a really good idea,” says Representative Lisa Shepperson. Long-term she says she sees additional opportunity to increase the legislation’s scope and application across the state.
The legislation has also drawn some unexpected support. Bill Winney, who ran for Wyoming’s lone Congressional seat during the most recent election, spoke in favor of the legislation in the House and says he plans to do the same when HB213 is considered on the Senate side of the Legislature.
“This is a bigger issue than just rangeland monitoring,” says Winney. “When a rancher goes to court he’s facing a federal bureaucracy and probably a non-governmental organization.” Winney says the rancher may be left to say that his family has been ranching on the land for over 100 years, but he says it’s not an argument that earns a great deal of traction in the courtroom.
“There are ranchers out there who end up throwing up their hands and subdividing,” says Winney. “If we want to keep them on the land ranching, and we the state of Wyoming have an interest in it, why don’t we do some of this rangeland monitoring so we can collect data and observations on some of these things?”
“I see 213 as a bigger issue,” says Winney. “It’s so that they have the ability to confidently go into court and feel like they have a chance of winning.”
“I really think the ranching community, to stay intact and preserve Wyoming’s way of life, needs some help right now and this is a way we can do it,” says Jaggi.