Year ahead promises continued challenges, positivityWritten by Saige Albert
Coming off an overall good year with positive prices, Wyoming agriculture looks forward with cautious optimism into 2016.
Most agree that the issues of 2015, including the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, endangered species and others, will continue to be a concern in the new year, with new challenges likely to emerge throughout the year.
Starting with the legislative session, which begins in February, the industry looks to focus on the budget. Most ag groups are not pursuing specific legislation this year. “We have purposely refrained from bringing forward any real substantive legislation for the session,” Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna explains. “This is a budget session, and it is going to be a difficult budget session.”
In the budget, WSGA hopes to see additional funding for brand inspector raises integrated.
“Undoubtedly, there will be bills introduced, and we will respond to them,” he adds.
In 2016, WOTUS will continue to be a top concern as agriculture groups look for rulings on the impending court cases related to the rule.
“We filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Wyoming’s lawsuit in North Dakota,” says Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) Executive Director Bobbie Frank. “We will keep an eye on that process as it moves forward.”
Implementation of Governor Matt Mead’s water strategy will also be a focus for WACD in the coming year.
“As we have done for years, we will continue to do water quality work and try to address the standards we have,” she continues. “We are looking at how we can get E. coli standards adjusted and if that is possible.”
WACD also continues to look at microbial source tracking to see if current standards are achievable.
“We’re really excited to have a new board member in Russ Boardman of Frannie,” adds Frank. “We had a big turnover in districts, but we are excited about the future.”
Issues related to consumer concerns and farming are a priority for Wyoming Farm Bureau (WyFB).
“The uncertainty in what is going to happen to Roundup Ready sugarbeet seed with the GMO ban in Jackson County, Oregon is something we need to watch,” WyFB Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says. “If an alternative source of seed is not identified, it will have a big impact on Wyoming sugar producers.”
While WyFB is observing the situation currently, they note that it has the potential to dramatically impact farmers in the state.
In 2016, efforts related to wolves and grizzly bears will be targeted, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) will continue to be a big deal.
Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto mentions that work will continue with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist both wolves and grizzly bears.
Getting the gray wolf off the endangered species list is a major component of dealing with ESA challenges.
“Legal efforts to get Judge Jackson’s ruling on wolves overturned continue,” Hamilton says, “but the fact that we still have wolves listed in Wyoming and other parts of the U.S. long after they’ve passed their recovery goals points out how badly broken the ESA really is. This was evident in the Governor’s opening remarks at the Western Governor’s Association Endangered Species Act reform meeting in Cody this fall.”
He adds, “Unfortunately we still don’t see a strong appetite in Congress, outside of the West, to reform this law.”
Along with getting species removed from the endangered species list, Frank notes that the Black-footed ferret reintroduction process will continue to be a priority.
“We have a statewide 10(j) rule for Black-footed ferrets now, but it will be interesting to see what that looks like going forward,” she says. “It sounds like there are interested landowners, and I think we will want to be involved in those discussions.”
In addition to dealing with Black-footed ferrets, WSGA is concerned about continued action from U.S. Forest Service Region Four as it concerns Bighorn sheep and domestic sheep interactions.
“We’ve been actively engaged, along with the Wyoming Woolgrowers Association, on the Bighorn sheep issues, and we feel that we have made progress,” Magagna comments. “However, we will continue to watch it closely.”
The outcome of a variety of legal cases will be a concern in the new year.
“We will be watching a variety of cases in the next year,” Magagna says.
Three cases are on the top of the list for WSGA this year – a landowner suit against Western Watershed Project, environmental groups’ suit against the state of Wyoming over its trespass to collect data bill and WSGA's suit against BLM and Forest Service related to the sage grouse nine-plan.
“We will pay close attention to how BLM and Forest Service move forward with implementing those plans,” Magagna adds.
He comments, “We have plenty to keep us busy this year.”