Heritage BrandsWritten by Jennifer Womack
Cheyenne – Representative Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) is sponsoring legislation she hopes will “clean up” the state’s brand books and make brands a permanent piece of property.
“There are two main things that happen in this bill,” says Wallis. “The one that I am personally most invested in is the idea that when you register or buy a brand it ought to be your property, period. It ought to be a permanent asset like a trademark or any kind of intellectual property.”
“Yes,” says Wallis, “you already have the ability to pass it on to your heirs, and sell it and do all those things. It’s just that if grandpa dies and cousin Bob in California isn’t paying attention and it doesn’t get it re-registered, you can lose the brand forever.”
HB208 would create a system through which existing Wyoming brands would be registered, as Wallis says, “one last time.” As of Jan. 21, the legislation had been received for introduction and referred to the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee for its consideration.
Of the legislation’s second aspect Wallis says she hopes to “clean up” the state’s brand books. With around 30,000 brands registered with the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) Wallis says, “According to WLSB Director Jim Schwartz only about 8,000 of those will ever see the hide of an animal. I’ve proposed something many other states have done and that’s to create another class of brands.”
Called “heritage brands,” Wallis says it would be illegal to place a heritage brand on livestock. “Wyoming heritage brand,” reads the legislation, “means a brand used for decorative purposes only and shall not be used on livestock.” Brands registered as heritage brands, she says, would not be available to livestock owners for separate registration and use as livestock brands.
Wyoming Brand Inspector Gary Zakotnik of Farson spoke up in opposition to the legislation during the recent WLSB meeting in Cheyenne. Zakotnik said he’s concerned that heritage brands, despite regulations to the contrary, would end up being placed on livestock. In the event that happened Zakotnik said it could become very difficult to determine an animal’s rightful owner.
WLSB Chairman Phil Marton responded, saying that he didn’t know of a single WLSB member who supported the legislation.
“I don’t understand the intent,” says WLSB Director Jim Schwartz. “If people want a trademark they can file for that today at the Secretary of State’s office. This legislation has huge implications to our industry for a lot of reasons.”
The Wyoming Wool Growers Association and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association have joint policy, passed by their members early December, opposing the legislation. WSGA Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says his members’ primary concern was brands that would be removed from availability for use on livestock.
Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton, noting his organization hasn’t taken a position for or against the legislation, says he does question one aspect of the legislation. “I don’t like that it’s taking brands out of commission that could be used on livestock. It hasn’t been that many years ago that we were trying to figure out how to free up more brands so we had some to use on livestock.”
When brand owners registered their brands for the “one last time,” Wallis says they’d choose between registering it as a heritage brand or for use on livestock. “We set that price at about half of what it would cost to register a brand for livestock with the idea that there would be a financial incentive to move it to the heritage brand side and clean up the brand books,” says Wallis of she and co-sponsor Senator John Schiffer (R-Kaycee).
According to Wallis, renewal of a livestock brand if the system is set in place would cost $300. Registering it as a heritage brand would cost $150. New livestock brand registration would come at a cost of $300 plus $100 for each species for which the brand is registered. As an example she says if a brand were registered for use on horses, cattle and sheep, the cost would be $500.
Magagna says he has concerns regarding the financial implications the change could pose for the brand program. It would also take away the agency’s opportunity to capitalize on the re-issuing of brands not renewed during the designated timeframes.
“I think we’d lose two-thirds of our brands,” says Schwartz of registered livestock brands. “Furthermore, once you buy this heritage brand there’s no way to track it for the long-term, which could tie things up forever.” He estimates the legislation would cost his agency a quarter of a million dollars during each renewal period for the next 10 years. “The Governor’s Brand Task Force said $300 every 10 years was not out of line and that everybody could work with that,” says Schwartz of current brand renewal fees. “There aren’t many things you can do for $30 a year.”
“It’s going to be a delayed reaction as you get to the tenth year where you’re registering people one last time,” says Wallis of the impact on funding. “If you have only 8,000 to 10,000 brands in what should be a well-put-together electronic system, yes there would be less money coming in, but on the other hand it’s going to take way less personnel to manage.” After the 10 years where you’re registering people for “one last time,” she says an occasional brand registration and transfers will replace the existing re-registration. “That revenue is going to drop off, but it’s going to take way less personnel to manage it,” she says.
“Schwartz says four people plus Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa are employed in the WLSB’s brand division at the Cheyenne headquarters full time.”
Wallis says she envisions an Internet-based account system where livestock brand owners are responsible for keeping their contact information up to date. Brand inspectors, she says, could verify that information when making inspection calls.
The legislation includes a $50,000 appropriation to hire a contract person to implement the heritage brand program.
“What to do about people who want a brand over their fireplace and want to say it’s a registered Wyoming brand is a problem that’s been around for a long time,” says Magagna. “We need to continue to seek resolution. We’re just not prepared to say this is the answer.”
“Today, anybody can put a brand on their mantle,” says Schwartz. “They can put any brand they want on their mantle. They just can’t put it on livestock unless it’s registered with our agency. The brand program was initiated to show ownership of livestock. It was not intended to be a trademark. If people want a trademark they can go down to the Secretary of State’s Office and purchase one for almost nothing.”