Nation’s only NRCS range technician retires from LuskWritten by Christy Hemken
“I believe Jim Schwartz can be blamed for my career in conservation,” says Rapp of Schwartz, who now leads the Wyoming Livestock Board. “Jim was the District Conservationist in Lusk at a time when I was managing a bar there and working nights. One day he asked if I’d help him with some survey work, and I did, and I liked it, and eventually I got hired on.”
With no formal education in the conservation realm, Rapp says all his training was on-the-job. He was also the only NRCS Range Technician ever hired in the U.S.
“The Range Conservation Technician was a pilot program that came from the 1985 farm bill, when NRCS tried to put more emphasis on both farming and ranching work,” says Rapp. “Because Niobrara County is mostly rangeland, and mostly private land, they thought it’d be a good place to put the position.”
Rapp says when the position came up he applied and was hired to oversee Niobrara County as well as Weston and Converse counties.
“It seems like the position worked very well in those three counties, and I don’t know why they didn’t ever make any more of them,” he says.
Rapp’s main duties were education about and implementation of conservation practices, such as stock water pipelines, water tanks, stock water ponds and cactus and sagebrush control.
“After the holistic resource management trend got started I also wrote grazing plans,” he says of the biggest change he saw over his 30 years.
“I learned that it takes monitoring, monitoring and monitoring, which is taught in holistic management and I agree with it wholeheartedly. You can’t do enough monitoring,” he states.
During his career Rapp also often helped the Niobrara Conservation District with classroom education.
Since his retirement Rapp hasn’t taken much of a break. “Part of my job with NRCS that I really liked was making resource maps, and I bought some computer equipment and software and I’m going to try to fill a niche doing water rights mapping for producers that don’t work through the government.”
“I hope I can get some work doing resource management plan maps for them,” says Rapp of his new business, called Rapp’s Maps. He says he’s spent about the last month trying to understand his new software.
“NRCS doesn’t have time to do all the pipeline mapping required by the State Engineer’s Office, so I’m hoping I can fill that need,” he explains, noting that just recently he began working on his first paying project.
He says the area in which he’ll work just depends on the job. He also helps out on his wife Arlene Zerbst Rapp’s ranch 65 miles northwest of Lusk by the Cheyenne River.
Speaking from the ranch, Rapp says he prefers it there. Of his time spent in the Lusk area, Rapp describes himself as an “old bad penny that always comes back.” He says he really enjoys the people in the area. The one year he spent away was in Greybull.
“The timed grazing systems are the biggest thing I never expected to happen in conservation,” says Rapp. “One of the biggest challenges to conservation remains the weather. Producers need to learn to manage drought and fire.”
He says this year Niobrara County, and the northeastern corner of Wyoming, has had an “awful good spring.”
“The grass is growing very well and I hope we’re not three days from a drought again,” he says, noting that it only takes a 100-degree day and 50 mile-per-hour winds to get back into a drought. “But I think right now it looks excellent – better than it has in 10 years.”
Rapp says he doesn’t expect his lone position of Range Technician to be refilled in Lusk, because of funding restrictions and downsizing.
“This will by my seventh day of actual retirement, and I certainly haven’t been bored,” says Rapp.