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To the Editor:

I’m writing in response to your article in the Sept. 17 paper titled “Invasive Species: Weed and Pest Works to Control Cheatgrass Invasion.” We ranch in northwestern Colorado. We have a very serious cheatgrass problem but we are winning the battle.

We took the approach of working closely with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to make sure we could graze cattle at the precise time cheatgrass is at its peak, which is when it is green and before it turns brown. This is proving very effective. If we do intensive grazing and then remove our cattle, the native grasses in our area come in after the cheatgrass is grazed off and are not then grazed by cattle. This enables the native grass to properly reseed.

Secondly, another effective tool is to work with the BLM on areas that are sheep allotments, but do not currently allow cattle to graze after the sheep have left the allotment. Historically, sheep come in and graze before the cheatgrass is mature enough to graze.  The sheep leave the country for higher ground and the cheatgrass flourishes. 

If the BLM would agree on these allotments to allow cattle to come in later and graze the cheatgrass, it will accomplish three things. First, the BLM will make more money, by having two incomes off of the range. Second, the native grasses will return. Finally, if there is a cattle ranch next to a sheep ranch, this allows cheatgrass to be controlled and prevents seeds from blowing over to the cattle ranches.

Best regards,

Howard Cooper

Meeker, Colo.

Editor’s Note: This letter was sent to Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze in response to a letter Sen. Barrasso and 19 other Senators sent to BLM last November.

May 11, 2016

Dear Sen. John Barrasso:

Thank you for your letter, dated Nov. 4, 2015, in which you asked a number of questions about the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program. The BLM shares your concerns about growing populations, herd and rangeland health, program costs and the effectiveness of past management strategies. To address these concerns, BLM is taking a number of steps, including sponsoring a significant research program focused on fertility control; transitioning horses from off-range corrals to more cost-effective pastures; working to increase adoptions with new programs and partnerships; and requesting legislative authority to allow for the immediate transfer of horses to other agencies that have a need for work animals. Despite these many initiatives, additional tools and resources are needed to bring this program onto a sustainable path. We sincerely appreciate your interest and look forward to further dialogue on these issues.

To provide proper context for the scale of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, it is helpful to note the total number of horses that are currently on the public lands, as well as the number of horses that have been moved to off-range pastures and corrals, which are usually leased from private parties. We currently estimate that there are 67,000 horses and burros on public lands in the West, which is more than twice the number of horses on the range than is recommended under BLM land use plans. It is also two-and-a-half times the number of horses and burros that were estimated to be in existence when the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed in 1971. In addition to the animals that are currently on the public lands, the agency is paying to support nearly 50,000 horses that have been moved to off-range pastures and corrals over the past few decades.

The total lifetime cost of caring for an unadopted animal that is removes from the range is substantial. Cost for lifetime care in a corral approaches $50,000 per horse. With nearly 50,000 horses and burros already in off-range corrals and pastures, this means that without new opportunities for placing these animals with responsible owners, the BLM will spend more than a billion dollars to care for and feed these animals over the remainder of their lives. Given this vast financial commitment, the BLM is now severely limited in how many animals it can afford to remove from the range. The BLM is removing approximately 3,500 animals each year – about the same number of animals that leave the system annually through adoption, sale and natural mortality.

In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed there are no highly effective, easily delivered and affordable fertility-control methods for wild horses and burros. To address this issue, the BLM teamed-up with top universities and the U.S. Geological Survey to initiate a five-year, $11 million research program to develop better management tools; longer lasting fertility-control vaccines; and effective, safe methods for spaying and neutering wild horses. These efforts are underway. The BLM is also working to reduce the cost of caring for the animals that are cared for in open pastures, which are more cost effective than corrals.

Increasing the number of animals adopted by qualified adopters is also an important part of our strategy. We are working to boost the number of horses in training programs through partnerships with non-government organizations and prisons. Trained horses are more likely to be adopted when made available to the public. We are also exploring the possibility of providing financial assistance to interested, responsible parties to adopt some of the older horses that have already been removed from the range. Younger horses – in this case, those younger than seven years old – tend to be much more attractive to adopters. Because of the high cost of sustaining each horse in government care, we are evaluating the possibility of providing some financial support to defray the costs of care and training for individuals who give a safe home to older horses that currently have low odds of being adopted.

Further, the 2017 President’s budget includes a request for legislative authority to allow for the transfer of wild horses and burros to federal, state and local agencies that have a legitimate need for work animals. The U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Military and other agencies who are interested in using wild horses or burros in their work are unable to receive direct transfer of horses from the BLM. The U.S. Border Patrol, for instance, uses hundreds of wild horses for their patrol efforts, but each of those animals must be adopted by individual members of the Patrol in their personal capacity. We want to enable trusted agencies to be able to use and celebrate these remarkable animals for important public purposes.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide detailed information on this program. I have enclosed responses to the first four questions. Answers to the remaining questions will be transmitted in the very near future.

The BLM is committed to working with the Congress and stakeholders to develop a sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program. We look forward to working with you and your colleagues to address the difficult wild horse and burro management challenges that BLM is facing. If you need additional information, please contact me at 202-208-3801, or your staff may contact Patrick Wilkinson, BLM Legislative Affairs Division Chief, at 202-912-7421. A similar response is being sent to the co-signers of your letter.

Sincerely,

Neil Kornze

Director, BLM

To the Editor:

Sustainability, a big word these days, hard to define and maybe harder to achieve, according to folks in some circles. As an American involved in agriculture I am proud and somewhat amazed at the ability of farmers and ranchers to embrace more “sustainable” production methods.

Whether no-till or strip till, pivot or drip, GPS or auto steer, EPDs, genomics or embryo transfer, we are stepping up to the plate. Although many things remain a constant – soil, seed, sun and water, bull and cow, grass and water, our grandfathers would be impressed at how we put these to good use. No big deal, we’re just “feeding the world.”

Profit, oh that dirty little word to some folks. But I say you cannot define or achieve sustainability without profitability. With few exceptions, all of the improvements in agricultural production have a profit motive. Produce more or better with fewer inputs or less time and cost.

Should we as consumers always reap the benefits of a farmer's cost savings or should we be willing to pay a little more to assure him a profit?

Durability, a little harder to define. How long should we mortals expect anything or everything to last? I think a cell phone should last a lifetime, but Apple makes sure mine “wears out” every year. A concrete ditch sure is durable when new, but in reality, in 40 or 50 years in many areas, they are broken beyond repair. Is this sustainable? Where does the money to repair it come from?

Environmental compatibility, difficult to agree on in most cases. I think the cow is a perfect all-terrain lawn mower with a four-compartment gas tank and automatic fertilizer spreader. A person from Berkley, Calif. hiking on a forest trail in flip-flops may disagree. Are buffalo really any more compatible than cattle once they are fenced in? Are buffalo chips on the trail more compatible than cow chips?

How do we as a society do all we can to keep farmers and ranchers off the “endangered species” list and on the tractor? Is the “inheritance tax” a wise tax policy to support sustainability? The millions or billions we spend on lawyers, accountants and insurance could sure put a nice roof on the old barn, not to mention what Uncle Sam gets. Is our current regulatory environment supporting sustainability?

In the last year or two, we have seen a lot of people and a lot money spent trying to define the sustainability of agriculture. Are “big food,” “big ag” and “big biz” using this as the latest marketing scheme at the expense of farmers and ranchers? Will “Gen X” and “millennial” consumers demand carbon-free beef next year? What do we do then?

I am proud of many things, too numerous to mention, that farmers and ranchers do today to be more sustainable. I also understand the many reasons we are under the microscope to justify why we do and what we do. I hope the time and effort is not spent in vain.

As a citizen, with interest in agriculture and water in the arid West, I wonder if our elected officials have our sustainable self-interests at heart? While reading recent articles about the U.A.E. and their growing farmland portfolio in the desert southwest, it begs the question, is this sustainable? Is this wise long-term policy?

I support free markets and property rights, a fair price between willing buyer and willing seller is a good thing. That being said, I wonder if “mining” our water and soil for a mostly export commodity is sustainable? Should this be treated like other non renewables such as coal, gas and oil with a severance tax?

It will be a damned hard sell in Colorado to spend a million dollars to pipe a ditch to save water and send the saved water down the river, so Arizona can send it overseas in a bale of hay.

I would be the last person to say no, but is this sustainable policy? Who or how should we pay for water sustainability in the West? Better yet, maybe the U.A.E. should raise hay in Ohio with 30 inches of moisture, learn how to rake and ted between rain and bale when it turns black. Just a thought.

Sincerely,

Bill McKee

This letter was sent to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on April 22, 2016 from a bipartisan coalition of 24 Senators.

Dear Ambassador Froman:

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) presents the United States with the opportunity to break down barriers and grow exports for agriculture in one of our most significant trading markets. The European Union (EU) is the world’s top importer of food and agriculture products, yet the U.S. market share is increasingly deteriorating due to tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. In 2015, the U.S. had a $16 billion surplus in agricultural trade globally, yet in the EU, the U.S. agricultural exports saw a record $12 billion trade deficit.

A final agreement that does not include a strong framework for agriculture could have a negative impact on congressional support for this deal. It is imperative that tariff elimination on all products – including beef, pork, poultry, rice and fruits and vegetables – remain a priority. The EU must be willing to work toward liberalization in all sectors of agriculture. A premature conclusion of the T-TIP negotiations threatens to undermine the negotiating position of the U.S. in resolving long-standing regulatory barriers, such as hormone use in U.S. beef, maximum residue limits in fruits and vegetables and dairy certification requirements.

In 2014, two bipartisan letters from U.S. Senators urged you to fight against geographical indication (GI) restrictions promoted by the EU. The EU has continued to use Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with trading partners to impose barriers on U.S. exports under the pretense of protecting GIs. This practice is undermining established FTAs, as well as those being actively negotiated. To date, there has not been assurance the T-TIP negotiations are addressing these concerns.

Finally, EU members continue to miss key deadlines for import approvals of biotechnology products. Approvals of some products have been delayed even after positive evaluations by the European Food Safety Agency, and currently, there are at least three products that have been awaiting import approval since 2011 and 2012. The inability to implement existing regulations and provide certainty based on sound science related to agriculture policies raises questions about the success of new obligations and commitments established in the T-TIP.

If the T-TIP is to achieve the robust support of the agriculture industry, including America’s hard-working farmers and ranchers, agricultural trade issues must be addressed before negotiations conclude. We strongly urge you to continue to fight for a T-TIP agreement that prioritizes U.S. agriculture, including the removal of non-science-based regulatory barriers and the reduction and removal of tariffs on agricultural products.

Sincerely,

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)

Send. Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.)

Send. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)

Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.)

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.)

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-Mo.)

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.)

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

To the Editor:

The recent article “Day looks at factors affecting climate change” was an interesting article, as my perception of the situation is that recently farmers in my part of the world – central Nebraska – either have or are coming to a consensus that climate warming is a problem that will have to be dealt with. Mr. Day makes the argument that there is some consensus of one leg of the stool, CO2 rise, but limited scientific consensus of the impact on water cycling and clouds, which in a sense are one and the same, and then infers no policy changes should be made.

Another interpretation of his article it is that it is an attempt to create a red herring, climate change, and beat it to death to distract folks from the real problem that is much larger. That problem is man-made environmental damage, of which climate change is a negative component, debatable as to the quantity man contributes, but it certainly is not zero.

Another component is the damage being done to the landscape. Strip mining is not without environmental impact. Yet another component is potential damages to water tables by fracking. All of these and more are the result of extractive energy industries and all are man-induced. It strikes me that anything done in the way of reducing extractive energy demands will have beneficial impacts on the planet – regardless of whether the policy change is for mitigating climate change, limiting fracking because of groundwater issues or preventing the massive reshaping of the landscape.

So if policy becomes mitigating climate change, either large or small scale, then how is that a problem? Advancing the argument we should not change policies because policies might cost money seems sort of weak to this writer.

For example, say we enact an expensive policy based on a faulty climate model that predicts a 20-foot sea rise, and it turns out to be only five feet. Is that really a disaster? That policy would have certain economic costs. However we should not overlook that even limiting sea rise to only five feet, based on a mistake, would still have a monstrous positive economic impact.

It is true that doing nothing costs nothing when the doer or industry is passing the full costs of their doing off onto the general public in the form of sea rise, erosion or water pollution. But it is a cost nonetheless and must be paid. Doing something like reducing fossil fuel use might cost the public something, but there are opportunity costs to doing nothing also – like Dade County in Florida disappearing under the Gulf of Mexico. I recently discovered the elevation in most of Miami is less than 20 feet above sea level and present hurricane surges are likely more than 15 feet. The highest points in town are apparently the landfills at maybe 30 feet. We apparently don’t need to worry about the rats. So what is the loss of Miami worth or what is the cost to build a sea wall probably 20 feet high or more to protect it? Don’t forget the pumps either.

Doing nothing regarding climate change might not be the best option.

Sincerely,

John Hannah

Columbus, Neb.