Current Edition

current edition

Guest Opinions

Wyoming Volunteers Serve Vital Role on Boards

Written by Slade Franklin and Kent Drake

By Wyoming Weed and Pest Coordinator Slade Franklin and

Predator Management Coordinator Kent Drake

Service for the greater good is one of the most underappreciated attributes of Wyoming’s agricultural community. There is no better example of this than the time and effort individuals spend serving on their local community and county boards. Two great examples are the individuals who serve on the local Weed and Pest Control District Boards and the Predator Management District Boards. The success of both programs relies heavily on the influence and input these volunteer members provide.

The complexity of issues the Weed and Pest Control District Boards face has certainly grown over the course of their existence. In the late 1800s, Aven Nelson, former University of Wyoming botanist, listed the “Worst Weed of Wyoming” as Russian thistle and Canada thistle. Today, new species continuously find their way into our state, bringing their own difficulties in control. This, coupled with the cyclic outbreaks of grasshoppers and the contentious issue of prairie dogs on public lands, can sometimes make “community service” feel more like a court ordered punishment than an act of altruism.

Fortunately, the recognition of the weed and pest issues by both the universities and industry has made the job of the local Weed and Pest Control Board a little easier. 

Today, district boards have a broad selection of herbicides they can use in different circumstances that are more effective and environmentally friendly than the products of the past. The same is true for prairie dogs and grasshoppers. Instead of arsenic-laced baits for grasshoppers or strychnine-treated grain for prairie dogs, the boards can utilize products for grasshoppers that have little to no secondary impact on pollinators and both zinc phosphide and anticoagulants for prairie dogs that reduce the threat to non-target species. 

But the logistics of controlling weeds and pests has gone far beyond the simple question of, “How do we manage it?” and more into the realm of, “What’s stopping us from managing it?” District boards spend more time discussing the regulatory burden that comes with these management programs than the actual success or failure of control efforts. Drudging through the complexities of the Clean Water Act, Worker Protection Standards and the Endangered Species Act, in addition to annual budgeting and public records requirements, can be mind numbing at best. On top of this, Board members are typically the first to hear from County Commissioners when there is an issue and first in line to hear about their neighbor’s weed or pest problems.

That’s why it takes a special person to serve on a district board. Individuals like Rob Orchard from Washakie County and Jim Wasserburger from Niobrara County, who have both served on their local Weed and Pest boards for more than 40 years. It also takes a special person to dedicate time above the normal duties of the board to help see a program succeed beyond the confines of their county, such as past board members like Ralph Urbigkit from Fremont County and Tom Lacy from Laramie County, who worked effortlessly to get weed and pest legislation passed at the state and federal levels. Nor should I forget to acknowledge the board members who served as president on the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council, starting with H.A Gudger from Weston County in 1937 to current President John Watson from Platte County.

Like the Weed and Pest Districts, local Predator Management Districts have had active volunteer board members for a very long time, dating back to their establishment in 1943. In the early days, funding was collected through a mill levy and distributed through a bounty on designated predators.

Later came the USDA trappers and their contracts, aerial hunting permits, endangered species protection and reintroduction of the gray wolf and M-44 usage. The mill levy changed to fees collected at brand inspection. Independent contract trappers, loss of 1080, increase in state funding, inclusion of wildlife related board members required for state funding, less federal funding, grant writing, public meeting rules and special district budget and audit reporting requirements changed the landscape. Today’s volunteer predator board members have to know more and have to work harder than they ever have before, and they are doing the job very well.

Two outstanding long-tenured presidents counted 2014 as their last year. 

Art Davis has been instrumental in the growth and performance of his county’s program for a very long time. He has watched over the program as it went from a small, diminishing budget to one that works through the Animal Damage Management Board (ADMB) grant process and has expanded its contributions to Goshen County from not only livestock predator management but to wildlife projects that benefit mule deer, antelope and game birds. In 2014, Goshen County had a severe outbreak of rabies. Art and his board distributed hundreds of brochures to educate their citizens about the issues with rabid animals. They also organized a countywide meeting to help local law enforcement, public officials and health managers prepare a management program. The program culminated with a reduced fee rabies vaccination day for pets and livestock and they had to stop at 1,000 animals when they ran out of vaccine. Job well done, Art Davis!

Ralph Foster has been a steadfast volunteer as president for numerous years. With the ever-changing demographics of the rural community of Sheridan County, Ralph and his board have worked hard to balance the needs of the agriculture community with those folks who have moved there for the scenery and lifestyle. In his final remarks as board president, Ralph gave a proud history of the dynamic growth of the predator management program during his tenure. As with any leadership position on a voluntary board there have to be some light moments, as well. Ralph reflected on the end of his tenure by stating, “Like any cowman knows, when your old cows have lost their teeth, it is time to send them to market. I just want you board members to know that last week, I lost a tooth.” Great work, Ralph Foster!

The folks recognized in this article serve as examples of the many great people we have on volunteer boards in Wyoming. We appreciate the time and effort every one of these individuals provides their community, county and state. Thank you so much for your service!