Building, maintaining relationships with federal agencies impacts operationsWritten by Saige Albert
Worland – When it comes to public lands grazing, Wyoming’s ranchers are often dependent on the range to preserve their livelihood and their operations.
“I enjoy working with permittees who are grazing livestock,” said UW Extension Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources Educator Barton Stam. “The other part of that is working with colleagues employed with the federal land management agencies.”
“When we see heated debates between permittees and federal land management agencies, it is ranchers’ livestock and their livelihood at stake,” Stam continued. “A lot of times, when I am talking with folks about what to do with their permits, it deals with the personal and mechanical aspects.”
“I don’t have any deep, dark secrets or magic bullets, but there are some ways we can look at what we are doing when we deal with federal agencies,” he said.
What not to do
“The worst thing we can do is stick our heads in the sand,” Stam noted of dealing with federal agencies
Because ranchers often have so much invested in their permits, if situations arise or get heated, they often choose to ignore the situation.
“We can’t ignore these issues,” Stam emphasized. “When things start to go haywire with our permit, it mainly stems from interpersonal relationships that we might have.”
Opening up the conversation
After visiting with BLM and Forest Service (FS) employees that he regularly interacts with, Stam noted, “The number one thing the BLM and FS said is important is that ranchers talk to their range conservationists.”
“I’ve been out with a lot of permittees who don’t know their the range conservationist is,” he continued. “I’m not saying that is the rancher’s fault or the range con’s fault, but think about how much ranchers have invested in their permits. It is their livelihood. Ranchers need to take the responsibility on themselves to develop that relationship.”
Keeping in touch
Ranchers should also keep range conservationists up to speed on the activities on their permit.
For example, if the permit holder’s children are running livestock on the land, the range con should know.
“If a rancher is turning their operation over to their children or heirs – or thinking about turning the ranch over – they need to involve those people in visiting the range con,” Stam added. “It pays to have continuity during generational transfer.”
At the same time, it is important to involve the next generation in learning about the intricacies and the red tape issues of working with the federal government.
According to the permit
“Along with talking to their range con, there are a couple of other things that ranchers can do to help with their permits,” Stam said.
First, ranchers should make sure that their actions do not deviate from the permit.
“The FS in particular stressed that, if there will be any sort of changes that arise on the rancher’s end that deviate from the permit, the earlier a rancher can communicate, the better,” he explained. “Better communication can help the rancher’s case, and the FS will try to have flexibility.”
Whether ranchers are seeking operational needs, improvement maintenance or new range improvements, if the agency is aware of those changes, the process will be easier.
Third party agreements should also be discussed with the agency personnel.
“If a rancher has a third party who will be in charge of the management of livestock, the agencies need to know that up front,” Stam said. “Those things need to be written into the plan.”
“Range improvements are also a big deal,” said Stam. “If the range con comes to do their standards and guidelines, if the improvements are not up to specifications, it will be hard to reach those benchmarks.”
The rancher needs to take the initiative, Stam added.
“We have relatively few range cons to cover millions of acres of BLM and FS land,” he continued. “The rancher’s knowledge of the permits and improvements on the permit is much more detailed and in-depth that what the range conservationist could ever hope to have.”
Often, ranchers have new ideas for the management of the permit. Supervisory range conservationists, however, don’t have the independent authority to implement those ideas.
“I talked to range cons at both the FS and BLM, and they told me that while they can’t guarantee that new ideas would be implemented, they would love to hear the ideas,” Stam said. “The biggest benefit is that there is a dialogue started.”
“We are getting to know a person, their needs and their ideas,” he continued.
Stam noted that often, the biggest frustration for permit holders is that they see no progress toward new ideas and suggestions.
“What can we do to make sure projects are getting put into the pipeline?” asked Stam. “We really need to dig deep into what isn’t said. What is the timeline? What can be done to make sure we are getting the right people involved?”
If ranchers get involved in the process and communicate with their range staff, they can keep up to date on the progress of their projects.
Stam also noted that the most important thing for permittees to do is to get involved with their permit.
“Many ranchers have probably heard about cooperative permittee monitoring,” he explained. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time.”
“I want to stress the importance of getting involved, and permittee monitoring is one of the best ways to do that,” Stam continued.
Getting involved with permittee monitoring starts with contacting either Extension or agency personnel to set up a monitoring plan.
“There are other ways to get involved besides just cooperative permittee monitoring,” Stam added. “The best way to get involved is to have a good relationship with the range conservationist on the permit.”
“Each person who has a federal lands grazing permit has a file,” said UW Extension Sustainable Management of Rangeland Resources Educator Barton Stam. “As a permittee, the rancher should have full access to the file at all times, and they ought to have their own copy of the documents in the file.”
Each permit file contains information about the permit, including all agreements, cooperative monitoring efforts, improvement maintenance agreements and others.
“The file should not be mysterious to the permittee,” Stam said. “Make sure that everything pertinent to the permit is in that file, and make sure you know what’s in there.”