Niels Hansen joins Wyo Ag Hall of FameWritten by Christy Martinez
Credited with continuously challenging government agencies’ policies and collaborating to find practical solutions, this summer Rawlins-area rancher Niels Hansen joins the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame as a 2011 inductee.
Hansen is also known for working with the energy industry on issues including reclamation, noxious weed control, dust control and roads.
Hansen’s sister and ranch partner Anna Helms says Hansen is, indeed, the leader of the operation and the mainstay of the family’s agricultural family history.
“We are the third generation on the land, but the first generation American-born,” says Helms. “Our great uncle started the ranch in the 1890s, and our father joined him in 1927. Niels took over in 1974, and we were pleased to be joined by the fourth generation on the ranch in 2007.”
“As our ranch manager, Niels has instilled a dedication and respect of the land he loves in the entire family,” continues Helms. “As my children lost their father at the ages of seven and three, he has guided his and my children through many years of protecting the land and livestock under our care. My daughter calls him ‘The Captain.’”
Hansen says his involvement in both private and federal lands issues began when an Oklahoma Congressman became determined to raise federal grazing fees a number of years ago.
“I hadn’t been active in agricultural issues prior to that, but my wife and I went down to the first joint Wyoming Stock Growers and Wyoming Wool Growers meeting in Cheyenne and went through those sessions,” says Hansen. “Afterward I visited with Bob Budd and told him I wanted to become more involved and learn more about the issues – the next year I was chair of the Federal Lands Committee for Stock Growers.”
According to Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, Hansen is dedicated to making the public-private partnership successful on the checkerboard lands where he operates.
“He has done this through a commitment to stewardship that does not discriminate by land ownership,” says Magagna. “This commitment has won Niels several awards, but, more importantly, it’s made him a trusted advisor to federal land managers who are addressing similar issues elsewhere.”
Hansen says that, while private property rights are always at the top of his priority list, his family is deeply involved with federal lands issues because of their checkerboard lands.
“We have to be involved in federal land issues to protect our private property rights,” he notes. “Because of our intermingled status, we’ve got a virtual marriage with the BLM with no option for divorce.”
Members of the BLM Rawlins Field Office (RFO) range staff praise their working relationship with Hansen.
“The RFO staff works cooperatively, managing 250,000 acres of predominately ‘checkerboard’ lands within the RFO area. Intensive livestock grazing management, implementation of prescribed burns, chemical applications of tebuthiuron and development of numerous range improvements with a landscape perspective regardless of land ownership has resulted in maintaining and improving all rangelands of PH Livestock Company,” says RFO Field Manager Patrick Madigan of working with Hansen on his ranch lands.
Hansen is also a state leader on working to craft a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) program for sage grouse, which includes working with the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Wyoming State Grazing Board and oil and gas developers.
“Niels Hansen has committed for more than 20 years to a cooperative monitoring program with the BLM and UW Cooperative Extension Service, which has resulted in a permanent 25 percent increase in AUMs on one of his allotments,” says Magagna.
Of the cooperative monitoring program, Madigan says, “This monitoring involvement takes a considerable amount of time, as well as monetary investment, but Niels strongly believes it is important to his operation’s viability.”
In addition to the monitoring, Madigan says Hansen is always willing to participate in experimental trials concerning range monitoring improvements, such as a recent reclamation study looking at the use of animal trampling and manure to improve vegetation recovery.
Hansen also builds partnerships and opens lines of communication with fellow ranchers and government agencies by hosting tours on his public allotments.
“While Niels is respected for many accomplishments in his community, the ranching industry and in livestock organizations, he is most highly recognized for his relentless efforts to maintain sustainable public land ranching,” says Magagna. “It is not a stretch of reality to call Niels the public land ranching leader of Wyoming.”
Of what he’s enjoyed the most about being involved in national issues on behalf of Wyoming, Hansen says it’s the people.
“I’ve done a lot of reminiscing since I got the call about the honor of joining the Wyoming Ag Hall of Fame, and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting other people and comparing stories and operations and the way things work in other states,” says Hansen.
Wyoming State Grazing Board Rangeland Consultant Dick Loper says, “The Wyoming agriculture community should be very glad that Niels’ mom did not heed the advice of Willie Nelson to not let your sons grow up to be cowboys. Niels should be considered the poster man for the ‘Code of the West.’ His work ethic, his dedication to family values and the livestock industry and his science-based approach to the stewardship of the land is a role model for how to manage for healthy rangelands under the concept of multiple use that includes livestock grazing. Niels is a great example of how to be a patriarch for a viable family ranching operation on native rangelands in Wyoming.”
“Niels spends many hours in meetings across the state and nation and on the phone with industry participants,” says Helms. “Many ranchers have come to depend upon his insightful wisdom, understanding of the issues and willing leadership to help them through difficult times of their own.”
Although Hansen says he’s missed a few of the corners of the U.S. in his travels to various meetings, within the last year he’s been from Oregon to Washington, D.C.
As the voting delegate from Wyoming for the Public Lands Council, Hansen says the wild lands issue is at the forefront of their concerns, as well as states’ water rights.
“The way the administration is going around the back door to tie up more ground in quasi-wilderness areas is certainly huge, and all the industry groups know that, even though there’s been rhetoric that says it’s off the table, we know it’s not,” says Hansen.
Aside from those two top priorities, Hansen says the list of other issues is so long he’s not sure where to throw the dart.
“I always urge people to get more involved,” he says. “It’s hard to get away from a family operation, but it’s rewarding, and needed, and if we could get more people involved we could spread the workload.”