Tradition and principles: WACD keynote emphasizes Code of the West in good governmentWritten by Saige Albert
Riverton - From across the state, conservation district representatives, government officials and natural resource managers gathered in Riverton Nov. 15-17 to look at “Excellence in Resource Stewardship through Excellence in Governance” during the 71st Annual Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Convention.
The convention’s General Session kicked off with keynote speaker Ann Moore, the executive director of the Center for Cowboy Ethics, who detailed the importance of the Code of the West in everyday life.
“The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts membership is well aware of the tradition of principles and leadership that Wyoming has established,” said Moore. “This is what sets Wyoming apart from others.”
Moore continued, “Through the theme of this convention, WACD has made an honest and bold proclamation that is much needed at this time in our country.”
Recent history has resulted in what Moore called an “accentuated decline in excellence in governance, resulting in an erosion in American value and character.”
Moore described the “new low” that the U.S. government has reached in terms of aligning to a moral compass.
“When an individual, organization or country loses its moral character and its compass, it’s akin to a ship without a rudder or a cowboy without his hand,” she said. “It’s not by accident that Wyoming is the first and only state in the union that has a code that goes well beyond the boilerplate statement of ethical government.”
Wyoming signed a bill into law on March 3, 2010 that established the Code of the West as Wyoming’s ethical code.
“The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Anderson, had powerful words for Wyoming that day,” Moore explained. “He said, ‘These are the things I was raised by. These are the things I see my 84-year-old father-in-law live his life by, and would simply say to the rest of Wyoming, to the United States and, for that matter, to the world that these are the things that we hold dear.’”
By abiding by the Code of the West, Moore noted that government can be transformed from good to great.
“Good governance is accountable, participatory, responsible, equitable, inclusive, effective and efficient. Good governance follows the rule of law,” she explained. “However, if we simply replace the textbook definition of good governance with the Code of the West, we get excellence in governance.”
“In Wyoming, we have the Code of the West, a set of simple, timeless principles that give us the best in government and in ourselves,” Moore added. “If individuals, families, corporations and government entities followed the Code of the West, we would quickly return to the great country our was when the West was settled.”
Starting in classrooms
Moore used Cowboy Ethics, James P. Owens’ book, and translated it to her senior-level English class in 2008.
“With a course title as exciting as, ‘Reading and Studying for Success,’ I knew I had to find a book that would inspire students to take control of their lives and their futures,” Moore said. “Cowboy Ethics has literally transformed the lives of hundreds of my students and many, many more across the country.”
Because students face challenges that range from social and economic issues to family strain and drug and alcohol pressures, she noted that the Code of the West provides a tool to teach students about strong family values and hard work, while emphasizing leadership, citizenship and scholarship.
After students are educated about the 10 principles in the Code of the West, Moore introduces them to the 11th principle.
“The 11th principle is the principle that students come up with on their own,” Moore said. “It is when students develop their own code to live by. That is when I often witness the fundamental change in their confidence and outlook on school and life.”
Moving to government
“If we each had to write an 11th principle, what would it be?” asked Moore. “The beginning of the American’s Creed, written in 1917, is a good place to start. It says, ‘I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people.’”
She also noted that with a prevailing attitude that asks what’s in it for me, rather than focus on “us,” there are some changes that are necessary to see growth in America.
“We have a deep yearning for a simpler time, a time where we could count of people to keep their word,” she continued. “The good guys need to stand up and restore trust in governance and business, and the good guys are from Wyoming.”
Because Wyoming lives by “timeless, universal core values,” the state is poised to serve as a model for the rest of the country, she said.
“The Code of the West is alive and well in Wyoming, due to hard work and everyday actions, not by merely talk,” Moore said.
“Organizations that demonstrate ethical leadership are going to stand out in the crowd,” Moore said. “People are going to want to do business with those folks. They are going to trust them.”
She added, “We need the everyday heroes of Wyoming to refocus our society on winning in ways that will work for everyone, not just a few.”
Land conservation: WSGLT continues advancing in conservation workWritten by Saige Albert
“Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust (WSGLT) is unique,” says WSGLT Executive Director Bo Alley. “We’re Wyoming’s only statewide ag land conservation easement organization. Our focus is on conservation of productive ag land.”
WSGLT was formed by a vote from the general membership of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) in 2000.
“We have a 14-member Board of Directors, the majority of which is appointed by WSGA,” says Alley.
In addition, WSGLT has a seven-member Board of Trustees that serves in an advisory capacity.
“Things at WSGLT are going really well,” Alley adds. “We’ve got a ton of stuff going on and some neat things in the works.”
In 2015, WSGLT had a groundbreaking year, closing nine easements and protecting almost 30,000 acres.
“We had a stellar year in 2015 on the easement front,” he says. “We’re going to use that momentum as we move forward.”
Alley was named executive director of WSGLT in December 2015, and he notes that five employees work with the organization.
“We have a couple of new faces on staff,” he says, noting that Eric Schacht, Maggie Rux and Travis Brammer have recently joined Margaret Cox at WSGLT.
Cox has worked at WSGLT for five years, and Alley notes, “Margaret’s the really solid foundation for us. She’s really helping to move the organization to the next level with some of our new employees.”
“Eric started in September 2015 as our conservation director,” Alley continues. “He has a lot of experience in range management.”
Schacht meets with farmers and ranchers who are interested in conservation, understands what they're looking for and helps them realize their conservation goals.
Rux is the external relations coordinator.
“We’re really excited to have her on board,” Alley says. “She’ll be coordinating our social media and web communications.”
In addition, Rux will oversee updates to WSGLT’s website, making it mobile friendly and enhancing the organization’s digital presence.
Brammar is a recent University of Wyoming graduate who works on stewardship and monitoring.
“Travis is an interesting mix of finance, education and natural resources,” Alley comments. “He really believes in our mission, and he’ll be working on stewardship, as well as helping us to look at different business opportunities.”
Alley continues, “We’re always looking out to see what’s on the horizon and finding the means and funding to see what really works.”
Alley notes that, as a personal goal, he strives to find a strong business model that helps WSGLT to maximize its potential.
“I’m here to look at business models that are out there now, what works and what doesn’t work, trying to define and develop a program with a focus on young producers,” he explains. “We’re working on some exciting things that have some potential, but we’re really vetting them to ensure a viable structure is present.”
In addition to a new staff and new opportunities, Alley mentions that funding for WSGLT is a constant question.
“We’ve been working through concerns with the program that funds easement. There were some changes in the 2014 Farm Bill to that program,” he says.
WSGLT holds 30 easements through the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and the new program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, is still undergoing rule promulgation.
“The rules for that program came out last year, but they still aren’t finalized,” Alley explains. “We’re in a tough position because we don’t have the answers, and we don’t know what the requirements are going to be.”
He adds, “We’ll spend a lot of time working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to really understand what the program is and how it’s going to function.”
NRCS is one of the two largest funders of purchased conservation easements through WSGLT.
“The Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust is our other largest funding source,” Alley says. “We also work with other land trust and non-government organizations for funding.”
Alley points to the Conservation Fund, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and other conservation groups that have helped to close conservation easement projects across the state.
“W have great relationships with other conservation groups, and we’re able to work together to pool resources and collectively close conservation easement projects,” he comments.
Alley also notes that there is a second type of conservation easement – a fully donated easement, where the landowner donates the entire value of the easement. The strategy provides tax benefits for the easement donor.
“WSGLT has been very successful in affecting and helping producers to conserve their properties though a conservation easement tool,” Alley says. “I’m always looking for other ways we can provide assistance to producers.”
He further notes that with an energetic staff, WSGLT is poised to take advantage of a new opportunity and new direction.
“Our staff is really great. They’re energetic. They all have ag backgrounds, and they believe in our mission and understand its importance,” he says. “We keep scanning the horizon for any means, methods and tools we can provide to help conserve ag land in Wyoming.”
Family Farm Alliance discusses ESA, prior appropriation during annual meetingWritten by Saige Albert
Las Vegas, Nev. - Members of the Family Farm Alliance met in Las Vegas, Nev. on Feb. 18-19 to discuss a number of important topics that impact irrigators across the West.
Savery rancher Pat O’Toole serves as the president of the Family Farm Alliance and noted that their recent meeting covered many subjects, but two served as the primary focus of the event.
“Two things really stood out - an endangered species panel and a panel discussion on prior appropriation,” O’Toole said.
One panel discussion featured the topic of the Doctrine of Prior Appropriation.
“We hear so much about water shortages, and we often hear that the Australian Model is the answer to our water problems,” O’Toole said. “Family Farm Alliance had ex-Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs of Colorado talk about why prior appropriation is so critical.”
O’Toole explained that the Australian Model widely toted as the answer to water shortage is simply a system of federalizing water use that would effectively take water away from agriculture.
He continued, “The Australian Model breaks down individual water rights to become a top-down model that is worse than the Waters of the United States rule. It takes the water rights from agriculture and gives them to the government to dole out to municipalities, environmental needs and others.”
“Ag drops right to the bottom,” O’Toole added. “The Australian Model means increased federalization. That isn’t good for Wyoming or any other western state.”
A second panel discussion highlighted a topic that has been widely recognized around the West over the past year - endangered species.
“The endangered species panel included myself and Jason Peltier, the manager of one of the major irrigation districts in California,” O’Toole explained, adding that Pellatie is one of the foremost experts on the listing of the delta smelt in California. “David Willms from Governor Matt Mead’s Office and Executive Director of the Western Governor’s Association Jim Ogsbury were also on the panel.”
Panelists discussed the impact of Endangered Species Act (ESA) listings and looked at the importance of revisiting the ESA.
“We had a tremendous discussion about how the Western Governor’s Association’s action now is not only appropriate but crucial,” he said. “The experience of the listing of the delta smelt and the impact of irrigators in California shows us how important the Wyoming plan was in preventing a listing.”
Referencing sage grouse, O’Toole noted that the challenges that may accompany implementation of resource management plans across federal land are much less detrimental than a listing may have been.
“The sage grouse is a success story, and the fact that the western governors are taking the action they are will keep it going,” he added. “Our Governor understands how broken the system is and the way we implement it today.”
Further, O’Toole asserted that the ESA has been nationalized and is only be utilized by radical groups who are seeking the destruction or irrigated agriculture and public lands grazing.
“What makes it more poignant is that the Center for Biological Diversity and Water Watch sued Deschutes Irrigation District in Oregon,” he explained. “That district is considered to be one of the most progressive, wildlife-friendly districts in the nation. It shows that these groups are trying to break the system down, and they aren’t interested in working together.”
O’Toole looks forward to continued work aimed at improving the ESA and said he will continue to represent the Family Farm Alliance at meeting held by the Western Governor’s Association around the region.
While other topics also highlighted the conference, O’Toole mentioned that the Endangered Species Act will be a priority for the Family Farm Alliance for this year.
“I attended a meeting in Washington, D.C. during the first week of March that brought together a bipartisan group that is looking at the potential for legislation to amend and improve the ESA,” he said. “We kicked off a journey of discovery about how the system isn’t working.”
The group will continue meeting, attending forums hosted by the Western Governor’s Association and supporting the organization in its efforts to fix the Endangered Species Act.
O’Toole also mentioned that young and beginning farmers are another priority for the Family Farm Alliance in 2016 and moving into the future.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What are we going to do to influence young people to come back to ag?’” he said.
Referencing a group of young farmers in southwestern Colorado who have worked on improvements benefitting the Colorado River, O’Toole explained that the enthusiasm from young producers is both impressive and infectious.
“It was really cool to see the enthusiasm that the young people who want to be in agriculture have,” he said. “Many of them were small landholders doing remarkable work on soils.”
In emphasizing the necessity to help more young people to enter the ag industry, O’Toole noted that open federal land permits may provide an opportunity.
“The Forest Service released the fact that there are 800 permits available in the West,” he said. “Why aren’t we prioritizing these permits for young people to get their start in agriculture? We discussed this as a great opportunity.”
At the conclusion of the conference, O’Toole said, “It was a really good meeting. There was a clear message that, where private landowners and production agriculture are present, so is biodiversity. Production agriculture is where the answers to a lot of these questions lie.”
Reclamation success depends on careful thought prior to disturbing landscapesWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Douglas – University of Wyoming PhD student Beth Fowler works with weeds and vegetative reclamation on disturbed worksites.
“We typically work with very young species that we have seeded and we want to get established,” she notes.
Some of the issues Fowler faces in her work include harsh Wyoming wind conditions, limited precipitation and competition from weeds.
“Prevention is crucial when we talk about weeds,” she states.
Fowler continues, “We also need to think about what decisions we make to help the shift between undesirable species and desirable species.”
Just because weeds can’t be seen doesn’t mean they have been eradicated. Hidden seed banks can stockpile many weed species. Halogeton seeds, for example, can survive in the soil for up to 10 years.
“When we respread soils over an area, we don’t have a blank slate,” she explains.
Many weed species are prolific seed producers, with seeds that can remain viable for long periods of time.
“Many weedy plants can rapidly reestablish in newly disturbed areas,” Fowler adds.
Undesirable species can reduce forage, affect availability and quality of desired species and change ecosystem functionality and hydrology.
“Sometimes, we can get livestock poisoning or soils can be changed, and there can be an increase in fire propensity, for example when we talk about cheatgrass,” she mentions.
When working with reclamation sites, managing weed species in the early stages of infestation can increase the chances of success.
“The larger the infestation, the lower the success and the higher the effort, money and time for managing and controlling the population. Once we get large areas of infestation, the less likely we are to be able to completely eliminate the weed from the system,” Fowler explains.
Many different tools and techniques can be used to manage weeds, depending on the area and the species.
“We need to make sure our management practices work together,” Fowler comments.
Applying herbicide after the introduction of an insect biocontrol agent, for example, may be hazardous to the beneficial insects.
“Another example is the replant interval for specific herbicides. If we apply herbicides in the fall, as soon as the soil freezes, the replant interval stops. We may apply an herbicide in November but not be able to plant until March or April,” she says.
Newly emerging plants may also suffer more impacts from herbicide application.
“We have to ask how our desirable forbs and shrubs interact with our desirable grasses, as well,” she continues.
Considering the whole landscape is also important in site reclamation.
“Before we do anything, we need to make sure we are looking at the site and what’s out there before we start,” she remarks.
Weeds that are present before disturbance begins are likely to be a problem when reclamation takes place.
“We need to understand what is probable and possible at a given site. We are not going to expect that all of an area with six inches of annual rainfall is going to get the optimum 15 inches of rain for a specific species,” Fowler notes.
A management strategy should be developed with realistic goals and steps to move toward those goals. Infestations should be managed early before they spread, and it is important to get an accurate survey of the whole ecosystem when working to control species.
“As always, we need to monitor and follow up on treatments. We need to be flexible in what we are doing to manage systems to end up where we want to be,” Fowler concludes.
Fowler shared her insights during a July 2015 reclamation workshop held outside of Douglas.
NRCS agronomist encourages practices to promote healthy soils in agricultureWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Worland – “Since 1982, we’ve lost about 14 million acres of prime farmland in the U.S.,” remarked Marlon Winger, Idaho state agronomist at USDA National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), during a presentation on Feb. 19.
Winger used soil aggregate demonstrations to illustrate water infiltration and soil health principles to an audience at WESTI Ag Days, hosted by University of Wyoming Extension in Worland.
“We need to treat the problems of poor soil health instead of treating the symptoms,” he explained.
Soil health is defined by NRCS as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.
“We want the soil to cycle nutrients – not to just absorb them, but to cycle them. We want our soil to have good infiltration and availability. We want a good, physically strong, stable and supportive soil,” he remarked.
Winger also emphasized the living ecosystem found within soils, describing microorganisms that need food, water, shelter and habitat to survive.
“We know that management practices can improve or degrade soil health,” he said.
He further described that livestock have a relationship with the belowground ecosystem, and people, animals, plants and the environment are all connected.
“How did our ecosystems flourish without human input?” he asked. “Characteristics of a healthy soil ecosystem are low disturbance, low human inputs, high functionality and fungal-driven systems.”
Soil food web
Winger described how plants, microorganisms and larger organisms such as insects help contribute to the soil food web, which cycles nutrients, creates soil aggregates, infiltrates water and provides habitat.
To illustrate an unhealthy system, he shared a photo of an empty field, void of vegetation or animal life.
“Ray Archuleta says this soil is naked, hungry, thirsty and running a fever,” he noted of the picture.
Without vegetation, the soil is left open to the elements without a form of armor such as plant roots to keep dirt from eroding, and therefore, the soil is naked, Winger said.
“Why does Ray say the soil is hungry? Because there is no photosynthesis currently taking place in this field,” he continued.
Bare ground is also more susceptible to high rates of evaporation, runoff and erosion, meaning that water is limited on the landscape, which could then be described as thirsty.
“In the summertime, the soil runs a fever because it’s hot. There is no armor on the surface. Imagine a knight of the round table going to battle in shorts.” he remarked.
Disturbance of the soil translates to a disturbance of the ecosystem contained within it, which depletes soil health, Winger continued.
“Tillage is the manipulation of the soil for the purposes of managing the previous crop residue or weeds, maybe to incorporate amendments or prepare for planting,” he cited as an example.
But, tillage often destroys soil aggregates, which serve as important habitat for microorganisms while also providing pore spaces for plant roots and water infiltration.
“We thought we had to make this nice seed bed, but by the time we get done, we’ve pulverized that soil. Tillage exposes organic matter to rapid decomposition, it compacts the soil and it damages soil fungus,” he described.
Important mycorrhizal fungi can be damaged, soil pore continuity can be disrupted, surface salinity can increase and weed seeds can be brought up to the surface when tillage is used in a field.
“Growing a single species or few crops in rotation is a form of biological disturbance. A lack of diversity limits diversity of plant root exudates,” Winger continued, describing the exudates as a part of the important “biological glue” that holds soil aggregates together.
Overgrazing is another disturbance that can cause poor soil health if areas are grazed extensively and not provided any periods of rest.
“Plants don’t store energy in their roots. They store it in the bottom three inches of the stem. If we grub it all the way to the ground, we’re taking all the money out of the savings account,” he described.
To create healthy soils, Winger explained that producers should understand how soils work and which elements contribute to a healthy soil ecosystem.
“There are five items we believe can fix poor soils,” he said.
Minimizing soil disturbance, maximizing the diversity of plants in rotation, keeping living roots in the soil as often as possible, keeping the soil covered with vegetative armor and incorporating healthy grazing into farmlands are all methods that producers can use to encourage healthy soils.
“These principles create the best habitat possible for the soil food web,” he said. “Let’s stop treating the symptoms of dysfunctional soil and look to solve the problem of that dysfunctional soil.”