Ag lobbyists prepare for sessionWritten by Jennifer Womack
Groups united in their opposition to wolf legislation
Cheyenne – With opening ceremonies of the 2009 Wyoming Legislative Session just days away, those who lobby on behalf of the state’s agricultural industry are spending a great deal of time reading through legislation, preparing amendments and making sure they’re ready for the two months of lawmaking that lie ahead.
Wyoming’s agriculture groups are united in their opposition to wolf legislation to come before the legislative body. “We’re not happy with the committee bill,” says Wyoming Wool Growers Association Executive Vice President Bryce Reece of the bill being carried by the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee. “We think we’d be giving up ground to the federal government, again. We also don’t support abdicating any more authority to the Game and Fish Commission.”
“We’ll oppose both of these gray wolf bills,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton of the TRW bill and one sponsored by Representative Keith Gingery (R-Jackson) that would classify the entire state as a trophy game area for wolves. “We’ve seen, in our wolf symposium as well as other information, that you can’t control wolves through trophy game hunting. If you’re going to control wolves you’ve got to have other tools as well.”
Of the TRW wolf bill, Hamilton says, “I think they’re trying to get around the judge’s concerns that Wyoming hasn’t committed to 15 breeding pairs. In my opinion that’s a back door way of expanding wolf territory in Wyoming.”
“There are a couple of instream flow bills,” says Hamilton of legislation his group will be opposing. “It’s fascinating to me that we have an instream flow law and people are saying we have to have more. I think there’s some flexibility in our current law where if the landowner really wanted to use irrigation water for instream flow that they could do that for four out of five years and not have any jeopardy of losing their water rights. If you want to do something like that, the current law will allow it.”
While his group opposes the legislation, Reece says, “It has gotten closer than it’s ever been to a bill that agriculture could maybe not support, but maybe not oppose. We’re going to have to look at that bill carefully.”
Reece adds, “I think this bill offers us the opportunity to have a broader discussion on the whole issue of salvaged water.” The legislation would allow landowners who conserve water by changes in their irrigation practices to dedicate that remaining water for instream flow purposes. Reece says there should be equal opportunity to use that surplus water that is conserved to put additional acreage into production.
WSGA has policy opposing instream flow legislation.
Both Reece and Magagna will support legislation to address competitive bids on state leases that result in large increases in state lands lease rates. Details of this legislation, now being drafted, aren’t yet available. An article on the subject appeared in the Dec. 27, 2008 edition of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.
“One of the things we’ll be supporting is HB7,” says Hamilton of legislation that would allow for Wyoming Water Development Commission dollars to be spent on projects involving water discharged during the production of Coal Bed Methane. “I think that may be the most expedient way to address some of these issues. If the WWDC can step in we may see some resolution.”
On another water related subject WyFB Director of Legislative Affairs Brett Moline says they’re in support of a bill that involves irrigation districts and subdivisions. “Essentially it forces them to take a look at how they’re going to deal with the irrigation water on the land that’s now being subdivided,” he says.
Wyoming’s agricultural lobbyists will also be watching a multitude of property tax reduction efforts. “We’ll be looking at all of those,” says Magagna, “to make sure there aren’t any that pose a risk to agriculture’s taxation structure.”
Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW) President Judy McCullogh says, “We plan to be active and hope to convey the interests of our members to the state legislature. We will be watching the water bills, the Wyoming Livestock Board’s bills on the animal traceback in particular, the NAIS bill, and the anti-trust bill. We have policy to protect water rights, and property rights, and marketing Wyoming beef will need protection in anti-trust for the state.”
McCullogh says, “We hope to help Wyoming protect its people, their property, and their livestock industry.”
Members of both the WSGA and the WyFB will have the opportunity to participate in the session at their group’s respective legislative events. On Jan. 20 the WSGA will host a legislative update at their office beginning at 12:30 p.m. followed by an evening legislative reception.
Feb. 9-10 WyFB members will gather in Cheyenne for their winter meeting. That event includes, among many other things, a legislative update and a visit to the Capitol during session.
This article only touches on the beginning of ag-related legislation to come before the session. More bills have been filed and there are undoubtedly more to come. Reece estimates that with 113 House bills and 74 Senate files posted as of Jan. 7 that at least twice that many will be filed by the deadline.