Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting yields important updatesWritten by Joy Ufford
Marbleton – The Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association (GRVCA) posted a robust agenda on Feb. 26-27 for members and the interested public to get updates on important issues that affect many aspects of ranching and agriculture in the area.
The two afternoon meetings were held at the Marbleton Town Hall and brought speakers from federal, state and local agencies, boards and organizations.
Feb. 26 opened with U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Pinedale District Ranger Rob Hoelscher, who ran through a list of projects.
For one, the bear-proof food-storage order for the Bridger-Teton National Forest will be extended to the southern end of the Wind River Range due to increased grizzly and black bears.
Another relevant item is the upcoming and long-awaited release of the Upper Green River Grazing Allotment Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). USFS will release the EIS and then the draft Record of Decision (ROD). They will then take comments on the EIS, Hoelscher said.
“We’ll review them and then release the ROD. Then, people can finish up the process with the complaint period,” he said. “The big issue on that one is grizzly bear management. We don’t expect too many changes.”
The Upper Green EIS is 700 pages long, and it will be posted online, he said.
USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also increased grazing costs per animal unit month (AUM) from $1.69 to $2.11, but Hoelscher said, “I’m not sure if that will be implemented this year.”
Next he discussed grazing allotment fence maintenance.
“We’re going to continue to try and work with everybody to make sure fences are ready for turnout,” he said, “granting some leeway as long as cattle are not on the fence early on.”
A couple allotments were turned back to the USFS “without preference” and closed.
“There were a whole bunch of things stacked against reissuing those permits so we just closed them,” Hoelscher noted.
A rancher asked about unfenced and retired grazing areas, saying, “When USFS closes them are they going to pick up the fence maintenance?”
Hoelscher said, “Ranchers all have assigned fences in their permits. For fences that are not assigned, permittees are not responsible for unless there’s a negotiated agreement.”
Another rancher asked, “If nobody is fixing the fence and the cattle go on in, who’s responsible?”
“Producers are responsible for where their cattle are at,” Hoelscher replied. “We would have to negotiate how that fence is going to be maintained or fixed if fences are required to keep cattle in.”
He said he would try to address this situation and find solutions, noting, “At this point that’s the best I can do.”
Hoeslcher took comments about wild horses moving into the Jonah Field, which would “probably go to the BLM rather than us.”
He also introduced new Big Piney District Ranger Don Kranendonk, who gave a brief update on smaller projects.
BLM Pinedale Field Office
Another new face was BLM Pinedale Field Office (PFO) Manager Caleb Hiner, who grew up in Pinedale when his father once held the same position. Hiner introduced himself as a geologist who loves to work with detailed planning processes, saying he wants everyone to be able to meet with PFO range management staff for “frank and open conversations.”
Hiner got to the point on several topics including requesting at least 45 days’ written notice to reapply for expiring grazing permits and telling ranchers they will get a letter this week about drought planning.
One priority, he said, is “fully processing grazing permits so they are legally defensible” as the PFO analyzes more than 20 specific Upper Green River Valley grazing permit renewals.
“That should keep us busy for this year,” Hiner said.
A rancher asked if the analyses would be done before the permits expire and what would happen if they did. Hiner said he could reauthorize grazing on expired permits under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).
“I have to wait for it to expire to use that discretion,” he added.
However, he cannot authorize a grazing permit if a judge issues a stay in a court case.
BLM trailing permits
Hiner’s other priority is “trailing” permits for livestock moving along or across BLM lands and roads between grazing pastures. He is working through the contentious trailing permit order signed by the previous PFO manager and criticized by Sublette County officials and ranchers.
“We’re going to take it nice and slow this year,” Hiner said, adding he’ll keep permittees aware of which areas are closed.
Someone asked, “If BLM closes an allotment and we have trailed across it, we’re not permitted to trail across now?”
Hiner said, “If an area is closed and cattle need to be there, we can issue a trailing permit for that. Moving through in a day would be fine.”
The goal is to get trailing permits written into every PFO grazing permit plan, he said, adding, “The first fire we’re going to fight is trailing in closed areas – that is number one.”
“If we have a trailing permit written in, we should go ahead and use it?” asked a rancher.
Hiner replied, “Yes, that’s where we want to go.”
However, he explained an existing trailing plan might not cover every situation, and decisions are based on public or private ownership or management of all property and the roads.
Ranchers moving cattle on state highways and county roads might also need a trailing permit, Hiner said.
“It just depends on the situation. I’m not going to say if a ranchers on a county road needs a trailing permit – there are too many variables,” he said.
To find out, he suggested contacting the PFO three to 15 days ahead of time for authorization. Once trailing dates are set, there is no flexibility if for example someone needs to stay on the BLM a little longer.
“I have not been able to find flexibilities afforded to me,” he said.