Corporations looks at special districtsWritten by Saige Albert
Cheyenne – During the Nov. 21-22 meeting of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee of the Wyoming Legislature, members of the Committee took under consideration several bills having to do with special districts in the state of Wyoming.
The three bills that affected ag-related districts, such as conservation districts and irrigation districts, among others, include Special districts task force – continuation, Special districts budget requirements and Special districts – dissolution by commissioners.
Sen. Larry Hicks of Baggs said that the bills brought much discussion during the meeting, but ultimately, the only one moving forward is the bill concerning budget requirements in special districts.
The bill proposing a method by which county commissioners would be able to dissolve a special district if they violate some statutory requirement.
“For the dissolution bill, Sen. Charlie Scott made a procedural move and moved to lay the bill back indefinitely,” explained Hicks. “After several hours of testimony on that bill, it was pretty apparent that the legislation wasn’t going anywhere. There has never been majority support on either the House or Senate side on the dissolution bill.”
Passage of Scott’s motion effectively killed the bill for sponsorship by the Corporations Committee during the 2017 session.
Task force bill
The Corporations Committee also opted against sponsoring legislation to continue the Task Force on Special Districts.
“My major concern with that bill was that it had no sideboards,” Hicks explained. “The bill didn’t say what the Task Force would study, and after the results of this year’s Task Force work, I think the majority of the Committee was uncomfortable with moving forward without any specificity on the topics of study.”
Hicks said the Committee could not justify a bill to spend $21,000 to continue a task force without any specific details, sideboards or direction.
One bill that was passed, with significant amendments, was the bill identifying budget requirements for special districts.
“We took quite a bit of testimony on that piece of legislation, and there was quite a bit of uneasiness with it,” Hick said. “I used the same procedural move that Sen. Scott had used and asked for the bill to be permanently laid back. It passed.”
However, following passage of the motion to indefinitely postpone the bill, Committee Chairman Sen. Cale Case asked the group to reconsider the bill and give it one last chance for a honest hearing.
“Some of the committee members felt that we had put in this much time that we should reconsider it,” Hicks explained. “On Nov. 22, we started heavily working that bill. Hospital districts, conservation districts and any court-administered special districts were exempted from the bill, and several sections were pulled out dealing with other entities.”
The special districts budget requirements bill passed on an 8-6 vote, with the amendments applied.
“It’s got a long way to go,” Hicks said. “I think the bill has a chance of passing, but the proponents of the legislation have a lot of work to do.”
Words of caution
Hicks noted that every few years, a bill comes forward that targets special districts in one form or another, which is problematic.
“What most legislators don’t understand is that there are 670 special districts, over 2,000 appointed and elected special district board members and 28 types of special districts,” Hicks said. “When a person casts a broad net and uses that nomenclature, pointing out one particular entity that has some problems, they capture all 670 districts.”
He continued, “It should be very cautionary. When we cast broad nets, we can expect a lot of push back.”
Hicks added that the majority of Wyoming’s special districts are run very well.
“The vast majority of Wyoming specials districts are fiscally conservative and run well, and we owe them gratitude,” he said. “If we do have problems, it is incumbent upon us to work with those entities to come into compliance, rather than coming in to dissolve them.”
Rather than attempting to broadly legislate issues, Hick suggested, “If we are going to fix problems, we need to identify where issues exist and be surgical in our approach.”
WACD recognizes partners, employees during 71st annual conventionWritten by Saige Albert
Riverton – As conservation leaders from around the state gathered in Riverton for the 71st Annual Convention, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) took the opportunity to recognize those people who have been instrumental in the work of WACD over the past year.
Bob Budd of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust presided over the session, announcing each award winner for the year.
The most prestigious award presented at the banquet is the WACD Presidential Award.
This year, WACD President Shaun Sims said, “I am honored to present the 2016 Presidential Award to a couple that has done a tremendous amount for this Association for over 10 years. They epitomize the word service.”
The award was presented to Jack and Diana Berger of Saratoga. Jack’s term on the WACD Board ended this year, after he served as a supervisor for the Saratoga-Encampment-Rawlins Conservation District since 2004.
From support at meetings and in hosting tours on their ranch to fundraising support and more, Sims said, “We are going to sorely miss Jack and Diana as Jack goes off of the local Saratoga district and the WACD Board. I hope they won’t disappear entirely, and this award is a very small token of our appreciation, not just for me but for all of us in the WACD family for all they have done for this organization.”
As Outstanding Elected Official, WACD recognized Joel Bousman for his efforts as a County Commissioner in Sublette County.
Since he was elected in 2007, Bousman has been important in his role as a county commissioner.
“Joel helped establish quarterly meetings with the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management State Director to develop relationships with top federal agency personnel in Washington, D.C.,” said Budd.
He added, “Joel works very hard to teach and help others follow a path of sustainable stewardship as evidenced by his education efforts in the Cooperative Permittee Monitoring and his active involvement in the myriad of policy-making committees which affect Wyoming’s ranching industry.”
Budd recognized the countless hours Bousman has dedicated to assisting Wyoming ag producers in the political arena, noting that his efforts have been instrumental in conservation work.
WACD also recognized Wyomingites who have worked with the organization, honoring Andy Warren of Rawlins BLM as Outstanding Conservationist and Scot and Kim Withers as Outstanding Small Acreage Cooperator.
During his 30-year career in the Rawlins BLM office Warren has “excelled in his performance and set a new standard by which all should aspire to achieve in the conservation of Wyoming’s natural resources,” read Budd.
“There are literally over 2 million acres of rangelands in Wyoming that Andy has worked with to improve range condition,” Budd continued. “Andy truly defines the terms conservationist, partner and friend of conservation districts and agriculture.”
The Withers’ 10-acre property east of Cheyenne has been developed with the help of WACD, starting with tree planting several years ago.
“Now, hundreds of trees later, with windbreak plantings, backyard habitat plantings and livestock protection planting, they hear the wind more than feel it,” Budd said. “Scot and Kim have also worked to diversify their grassland acreage as well.”
The Wyoming Livestock Roundup was announced as the Outstanding New Reporter for 2016. In addition to working with conservation districts to report on natural resource issues around the state, Publisher Dennis Sun was recognized for his participation as a landowner in several projects.
“Dennis’ background with natural resources give him the ‘in’ he needs to provide excellent coverage of natural resource issues in the Roundup,” said Budd.
Several WACD employees were honored for their work throughout the year. Katelyn Vaporis was recognized as Outstanding Technician, Anita Bartlett was honored as Outstanding Employee, and Brian Lovett received the Outstanding Supervisor Award.
Vaporis, of the Kaycee Field Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been instrumental in assisting the region with Emergency Watershed Projects and “has worked hard to go above and beyond her regular work duties to ensure that producers and landowners of southern Johnson County have all the knowledge and tools they need to improve their operation,” said Budd.
Bartlett, also in southern Johnson County, has continued to expand and develop the Powder River Conservation District and its program by working with agencies, contractors and landowners to bring them all closer together. In addition, she has served on the WACD Employee Association Board as president.
Finally, Brian Lovett was recognized as Outstanding Supervisor for WACD.
Lovett has bridged the gap between WACD and two of its partners – the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality – through his work with both agencies.
“Brian has also served as Wyoming’s voting delegate at National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Convention in Reno, Nev. this past year,” Budd said. “As a voting delegate on the Legislative Committee, he was instrumental in helping to see passage of NACD policy to oppose the Waters of the U.S. rule. Brian is an asset to Laramie County and Wyoming.”
New Board members
With Berger and Lovett both completing their terms on the WACD Board, Todd Heward and Jeri Trebelcock will step in as Board members.
Lake DeSmet Conservation District introduces officials to conservation workWritten by Saige Albert
Buffalo – On Oct. 5, elected officials in Johnson County attended the Lake DeSmet Conservation District Annual Elected Officials Tour. The event provided opportunities for those in Johnson County to understand the work of the conservation district in Buffalo and the surrounding area.
“Every district in the state that gets money from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture has to prove that they’re a legitimate district, and this is how we do it,” says Amanda Hulet, district clerk. “Between 20 and 30 people attended our Elected Official’s tour, and we looked at three projects.”
The tour started with an overview of the district’s Russian Olive Removal Project.
“Zach Byram, our district manager, gave an overview on why we chose to concentrate on this area and why removal was important to the habitat in the area,” Hulet continues. “Todd Clatrider of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department also spoke about what these trees do for wildlife and looked at the pros and cons of having them.”
Hulet notes that Wyoming State Forestry’s Kelly Norris also looked at plans for the future.
“This project is an example of what the district does as a community enhancement project,” Hulet says, adding that it also demonstrates their focus on groups working together.
Moving to the Buffalo Golf Course, attendees explored a project by Snider Ditch Company, which has converted an open ditch to pipe.
“The project started as an open ditch that ran through neighborhoods and the golf course,” Hulet explains. “Most of the ditch has been put into pipe, except on the golf course.”
She adds, “They wanted to maintain the obstacles and aesthetic value of open water.”
The group toured the golf course, visiting the site where the pipe drops into a siphon at the course, through the development of the ditch, which flows into a pond and through the course.
“We also went to a neighborhood that had the ditch flowing through it,” Hulet notes. “The ditch was eight to 10 feet wide. It is now all in pipe, so residents have gained more yard and dry basements with this pipeline.”
“This was one of our cost-share programs,” Hulet adds.
Finally, the group toured the Bull Creek Land Exchange area.
“Will Rose of the Wyoming State Lands Trust gave us an update and backstory of the land exchange, and they also talked about what is projected for another exchange,” Hulet says, noting that they also heard about a projected reservoir site on the land.“It was quite informative.”
“Lake DeSmet Conservation District has provided support over the last few years to help study the watershed and determine what can be done to help improve late season irrigation,” Hulet says. “It is an example – rather large and political – of a sponsored project that we do.”
Overall, Hulet says that attendees enjoyed the day, taking the opportunity to network with one another and ask questions.
“We had stops geared to make sure that something was of interest to everyone on the tour,” Hulet comments. “It was a great day, and we are pleased with how well it went.”
Niobrara County producers, conservation groups gather to discuss successes and challengesWritten by Saige Albert
Lusk – In late October, Niobrara County Conservation District (NCCD) united ranchers from the region for a chance to discuss best practices in an effort that rekindle regular meetings from the 1990s.
“NCCD and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) used to gather the ranchers in this area every month for what we called, ‘Meeting of the Minds,’” said NCCD Manager Lisa Shaw. “We toured each other’s ranches and had speakers on conservation practices, grass ID, weeds and cattle management.”
Shaw noted that monthly meetings began to take a toll, and participation decreased.
“I think we started to burn everyone out, so we decided to let ranchers take the knowledge and apply it how they felt best worked for them,” Shaw said. “This recent event was a reunion.”
The 2016 Meeting of the Minds Reunion served to bring the group back together again and to share new ideas, introduce new people and learn from each other.
“A decade ago, many of the ranchers’ goals were to increase production so a family member could move back to their roots,” Shaw said. “In visiting with them over the summer, I realized that a lot of those ranchers had done just that, which is pretty cool in my mind.”
NCCD sent 50 invitations to the people who were the core of the original group, and additional invitations were sent to other folks who had worked with the group, taken over their family ranch or were new to the county.
“These folks will fuel the fire to revive the group,” Shaw added.
During the meeting, not only did the group catch up on the last 10 year’s worth of work, they also heard a presentation from Nancy Hersey on bale grazing.
“Nancy is new to the group, and her presentation was followed with open discussion for questions and answers,” Shaw said. “The Hanson family also provided a lot of interesting information about what they’ve been doing with crested wheat grass and cattle grazing.”
The meeting was also opened up to anyone who wanted to share something new that they were doing on their operation.
“I added a new section on technology, as that has vastly changed since the 90s,” Shaw continued. “We talked about how easy it is to use technology to accomplish things that used to take so long. We discussed precipitation, mapping, Excel sheets and more.”
To conclude the session, NCCD distributed a survey to gain direction on activities for the future.
“We will bring back the Meeting of the Minds group and tour the county to see the cool things that are happening in our area,” Shaw said. “In 2017, we also plan to host several day-long workshops to continue to learn from each other.”
Shaw concluded, “NCCD was blessed to pass the mill levy again at the beginning of November, so we are Niobrara Strong and ready to go to work for the folks of the county.”
Wyoming represented at National Association of Conservation Districts Annual MeetingWritten by Saige Albert
Reno, Nev. – Representatives of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) represented the state’s 34 local conservation districts in the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Annual Meeting, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 in Reno, Nev.
The NACD Annual Meeting brings together top conservation leaders from across the nation for educational sessions, workshops, networking and national awards recognizing leaders in conservation.
“This annual convention is an important venue for our issues from Wyoming and our fellow western states to be discussed and policy to be established,” said Shaun Sims, WACD president.
A highlight of the 2016 meeting was passage of a key resolution that Wyoming has been working on for several years.
“We worked with our counterparts from Kansas and several other states to see the successful passage of a policy resolution opposing the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule,” said Brian Lovett, Wyoming’s National Board delegate. “Having recognition across our organization of the challenges the WOTUS rule will present in implementing conservation and management practices is very important to us.”
WACD Executive Director Bobbie Frank noted that Wyoming brought a similar resolution last year, but it failed.
“We already had policy that opposed the expansion of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, but this resolutions strengthened that,” Frank said.
The resolution reads, “NACD supports the repeal of the WOTUS rule through the legislative process through U.S. Congress and supports efforts to gain judicial relief for the WOTUS rule.”
Frank added that WACD also shared examples of overreach that are already going on.
“During the convention, there were a number of resolutions that were addressed, but many didn’t have an impact on Wyoming,” she said.
Honors and education
Also during the event, WACD received recognition on several fronts.
“Shaun Sims finished his term and went off as an executive board member,” Frank commented. “He was recognized for his service.”
Wyoming’s programs for district training were also recognized by NACD during the event.
NACD also featured a number of informational presentations, of which Wyoming speakers presented several.
Frank spoke during one of the break-out sessions, describing the Pathway to Water Quality project, and WACD’s Cathy Rosenthal presented on the categorical Use Attainability Analysis that Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality released.
“Cathy talked about how we helped DEQ with field verifications and worked collaboratively with them,” Frank explained.
Congressman Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) kicked off the Feb. 1 general session with a Nevada welcome address, and change management consultant and motivational speaker Michael Tchong served as the session’s keynote speaker. A Leadership Luncheon that day featured remarks by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson.
A General Session on Feb. 2 included presentations from U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller on their work to build the legacy of natural resource conservation and the importance locally led conservation has had in those conservation efforts.
The sessions also featured a special video address from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who mirrored Weller’s emphasis on the importance of local leadership to get conservation on the ground and the value of creating and sustaining partnerships at the local, state, regional and national levels.
The session concluded with a panel discussion that featured the National Conservation Planning Partnership Leadership Team. The panel shared their vision for the future of conservation planning and the work already underway in an effort to reinvigorate conservation planning as the foundation for voluntary conservation delivery.