Rangeland Health Assessment Program continues into its fourth yearWritten by Saige Albert
“The Wyoming Rangeland Health Assessment Program (RHAP) is one of three grant programs administered through the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA),” says Justin Caudill, WDA ag program coordinator. “RHAP began in 2010 when the Wyoming legislature passed the RHAP bill.”
At that time, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture received $10,000 to do basic research on the program, and in 2011, $100,000 was approved to University of Wyoming to develop a database of peer-reviewed literature and assist in monitoring efforts in the state.
“2011 was the first year that WDA received money for projects on the ground in the amount of $200,000,” Caudill continues. “Each year, projects are funded up to $20,000.”
With consistent funding for the last three years, in the 2015-16 biennium, Caudill notes that the Wyoming Legislature increased the funding to $300,000.
Since its inception, RHAP has funded 34 projects to monitor 3,418,448 acres of rangeland, and the legislature has made a total of $700,000 available for on-the-ground monitoring projects
Caudill notes that RHAP strives to help federal land management agencies and permittees in working together to obtain monitoring information for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.
“The real purpose of RHAP is to help build relationships through on-the-ground practices, which includes bringing permittees together with land management personnel to work toward collaborative monitoring to assess rangeland health,” he says.
“The long-term goal of the program is to assess trends and health of rangelands and ensure the data is being used in management and as an indicator to enact these decisions,” Caudill continues. “It is WDA’s goal that monitoring will help maintain and improve the viability of livestock grazing in Wyoming.”
The funds available are intended to help understand trends on an allotment or suite of allotments and to gain credible data about utilization and trends to be used in the NEPA permitting process.
Barton Stam, UW Extension educator, continues, “RHAP is designed to help public grazing and landowners who are involved in grazing Wyoming’s rangelands.”
Money on the ground
To receive funds, Caudill notes that a sponsoring government agency must submit an application to WDA, and permittees and federal land management partners must be involved in the process.
“It is WDA’s focus to have all partners involved in a project to participate,” Caudill mentions.
“We have talked a lot about cooperative permittee monitoring in Wyoming,” Stam says. “RHAP is another facet to help with cooperative monitoring.”
Caudill notes, oftentimes it is conservation districts that apply for the funds, but WDA can be contacted to help producers locate a sponsoring agency if they are interested in the program.
Applying for RHAP
“Part of the application asks why there is a need for range monitoring to be done,” Stam continues.
He notes that a variety of reasons might compel the need for monitoring on allotments, ranging from the presence of a riparian area to sagebrush encroachment or a need for data.
“There also has to be a budget in the grant, which includes in-kind contributions to the grant dollars,” Stam explains. “Producers can’t just say that they want $20,000 from WDA with no in-kind contributions. Those contributions can be things like salary dollars, travel costs or equipment.”
A monitoring plan must also be submitted if the project is approved for funding by the Wyoming Board of Agriculture. A due date for the monitoring plan must be listed within the application. Within the monitoring plan, the project proponent should include goals and objectives of monitoring, data that will be submitted and information about where that data will be utilized.
In its fourth funding year, RHAP has remained largely the same as when the program was initiated, with only one change from the February 2015 meeting of the Wyoming Board of Agriculture.
“While contractors can be utilized in the collection of data, this program is focused on the permittees and land management specialist staff working on cooperative monitoring. The Board of Agriculture has increased the reporting requirements related to partners participation and their roles within the project,” Caudill notes. “They wanted a defined accounting of who did what and when.”
The recent change included requiring an accurate list of who is involved in the cooperative monitoring, as well as the benefit afforded to the permittee, the contractor and the federal land managers.
“RHAP can help producers by providing a pot of money that can jumpstart or support monitoring efforts of the ground,” Stam notes. “The grant dollars are meant to influence a stable monitoring program that will continue after the grant ends.”
While contractor services may be used to jumpstart the monitoring, the entire plan cannot include just paying a third party to conduct monitoring.
He adds, “I would really like to see these partnerships start out and continue into cooperative monitoring situations to develop partnerships with agencies and others.”
One of the biggest benefits of the RHAP program, Stam says, comes in the communication that is influenced by the program.
“RHAP really encourages the lines of communication to be opened between the permittee and agencies, as well as groups like Extension and conservation districts,” he continues. “When we are dealing with federal permits, one of the worst things to do is to not talk to each other. RHAP can help to get the ball rolling and initiate these meetings.”
Caudill adds, “Over the past two years, as WDA has received updates and final reports from project proponents, we have heard of the lessons learned within the partnerships and the benefits related to cooperation. This program not only provides funds for the collection of monitoring data but also is an opportunity for permittees’ involvement in the monitoring.”