Public lands, natural resources discussed on Wyomingites’ DC trip
In late-March a group of Wyomingites returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. where they met with members of the Public Lands Council (PLC) as well as the Wyoming delegation.
The group included Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, Wyoming State Grazing Board Rangeland Consultant Dick Loper and two University of Wyoming students, Jessica Leetch of Glendo and Jessie Allen of Lander.
Loper says it’s unfortunate more of Wyoming’s ag community couldn’t get to the meeting, because there wasn’t a large turnout from ranchers across the West. Several more had planned to make the trip, but were unable to because of airline complications.
The trip by the UW students was made possible by a $250 stipend offered by PLC, as well as travel expenses provided by the Wyoming Public Lands Coalition. To apply for the funds UW students were required to submit a brief overview of their field of study, what they accomplished in high school and their involvement in public lands issues.
Leetch, an ag business major, says she really appreciated the opportunity to see first-hand the barriers that ranchers face at the national level. “Seeing issues like the wild horse problem discussed at the national level in Washington, D.C. was pretty insightful,” she says.
Leetch is a senior this year and plans to stay in Wyoming and work in the ag industry.
Allen’s family owns a guest ranch near Lander, so she says she has experience with the challenges associated with holding grazing permits on Forest Service land. Her father, Jim Allen, is also a hunting guide.
“We deal with public lands issues quite a bit,” she says, adding, “To see them discussing the issues at a national level was different than how I’ve experienced them before.”
While Allen says she learned a lot about the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis’s involvement with reform, Leetch says she most appreciated the chance to meet Wyoming’s delegation and listening to the national chiefs and directors from the BLM and NRCS, to name a couple.
Magagna says one of the more interesting things he got out of the formal PLC meeting was from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White.
“He talked about an effort that is underway to provide some level of assurances to landowners who do enhancements for sage grouse using EQIP or WHIP monies. They’re working on an agreement so anyone who uses the money for enhancements would get some protection if the species is ever listed,” he says, noting it would be similar to, but not he same as, Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) and would be an agreement between the NRCS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Of the proposed effort, Loper says, “It’s not a new subject, but we anticipate a level of detail to be released that would allow us to evaluate the initiative. We appreciate it from an innovative point of view, but the devil’s in the details, and we need to see the details.”
Loper adds the main thing he heard was from BLM Director Bob Abbey, who briefly mentioned the desire by the Department of the Interior to propose changes to grazing permit renewal language that’s been in place since 1999.
“Some of the ideas they’ve come up with are probably good ideas, but sometimes when you open up something you’ve had in place for 10 years, you run the risk of losing it all,” says Loper.
Also regarding grazing permits, Loper says certain BLM land use plans across the West have begun to include socioeconomic concerns as reasons and justifications for retiring grazing permits.
“That’s the first time we’ve heard a direct reference to socioeconomic reasons for retiring permits. Until now they’ve only been retired for resource reasons,” notes Loper.
Of meeting with Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, Loper says, “We had an excellent direct meeting between the Wyoming folks and our delegation, and they’re being as responsive as they know how to be, given the current climate in D.C. I’m proud of them and our working relationship.”
Magagna also says that, as always, the group had very good discussions with members of the delegation and their staffs about a wide variety of issues. He says he also met with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to discuss the EAJA issue and the legal fees collected by environmental groups.
“They’re very interested and active in working on that issue from a bigger picture – how it’s affecting economies,” says Magagna. “There’s opportunity for us to work together.”
He adds there’s talk in D.C. that something will move between now and Memorial Day on the Estate Tax. “Now that health care’s out of the way, the Estate Tax seems to be one of the front topics,” he notes.
“From the whole experience, I really liked getting first-hand feel for the legislative process and seeing how these issues are brought up and discussed at the national level,” says Allen, a junior with a communications major at UW who says she wants to focus on the ag industry when she graduates.
“When we went to visit the delegation I got to see the interns at work, and that sparked an interest and I think that’s something I’d like to do in the future,” says Allen of another influence of the trip.
Leetch adds she thinks being able to attend the PLC meeting will influence how she acts in her future job. “The gist of the meeting was that we were all there for the same purpose, and fighting for the same things,” she says.
“I can’t thank the Public Lands Council enough for providing the opportunity,” says Allen. “It’s one of the greatest opportunities and experiences I’ve had so far.”
Of taking the UW students, Loper says, “They were excellent embassaries on behalf of Wyoming, and they were very well-received and they participated as they had the knowledge to.”