Wyoming ecology - Current updates renew UW professor’s publication in second editionWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Laramie – In 1994, University of Wyoming (UW) Professor Emeritus of Vegetation Ecology Dennis Knight published a book titled Mountains and Plains: The Ecology of Wyoming Landscapes.
On Nov. 3, Knight discussed his second edition as the keynote speaker in Laramie at the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, Society for Range Management and Wyoming Weed and Pest Council joint convention.
“One of the first things I did when I came to Wyoming was look for a history book. I thought it would be good to know a little bit about the people and the industries in this state,” he remarked.
He also researched the geology of the state, but there were no comprehensive books to be found covering the topic of Wyoming’s ecology.
“If a history book is important for a state, then surely an ecology book is important to the state,” he continued.
Eventually, after working through a number of years and two sabbaticals, Knight published his ecology book.
“Twenty years later, I began to wonder if that was going to be my last word on ecology of the Wyoming landscape, especially considering how much has changed,” he noted, deciding that it was time for a second edition of the book.
In 2014, the second edition of Mountains and Plains was published, complete with updates and online content.
“It’s now in full color. It has more pages and additional chapters, and I think it is a much nicer book,” he said.
Current ecological events are discussed in the new book, including endangered species issues such as sage grouse and wolves.
“In the first edition, I did not write about sage grouse as being a threatened or endangered species. To my knowledge, no one was talking about it. The wolf hadn’t even been reintroduced yet, and we know about all of the interesting controversy and ecological research that has been done in conjunction with the reintroduction of the wolf,” he explained.
Fragmentation of habitat has also been approached in a new light, more focused on sagebrush areas and grasslands, rather than the forests that were highlighted in the first edition.
“Invasive species, of course, were considered in the first edition but not nearly to the extent that they are in the second edition. We tried to do more with that, as one of the most important aspects of global change anywhere on earth is the ecological effects of invasive species,” Knight stated.
Climate change is also a topic with increased emphasis in the new book.
“Now we know we have to pay attention to climate change when managing the ecosystems in the Rocky Mountain West, like anywhere else on earth,” he noted.
A new chapter has been added for wetlands, marshes and fens in the state, outlining various definitions of ecological landscapes and addressing those throughout Wyoming.
“Only about five percent of our wetlands are permanently flooded. About 60 percent of those wetlands are dry by mid-summer, and about 50 percent are sustained by irrigation,” Knight commented.
Herbivores are also an important subject in Knight’s publication, and he makes a point to include biological elements found beneath the soil surface.
“Most of the biomass is below ground, so that is where we would expect most of the herbivores to be. Far more energy flows through mites, nematodes, amoeba, small burrowing animals and various other invertebrates such as insects that are feeding on those roots than flows through our large herbivores above ground, even on those grasslands that are quite heavily grazed,” he said.
No matter which species is being discussed, Knight also pointed out that an ecosystem is not a pinpoint on the landscape.
Referring to roads that cross Wyoming’s ecological landscapes, he mentioned, “Every road has a footprint that is half a mile to a mile wide, depending on what kind of organism we are talking about. The habitat is influenced far beyond where the road is.”
Impacts from diseases and invasive species are also widespread, and their patterns have changed in the 20 years since the publication of Knight’s original edition.
“White pine blister rust, for example, has become a much bigger problem in our white bark pine and limber pine forests,” he noted.
The disease has spread southward and effects many other elements of the ecological system. It kills white bark pine trees, an important food source for grizzly bears, and causes trees to be more susceptible to pine bark beetles due to a decreased production of tree sap.
“This is highly unfortunate because it is an invasive species that is greatly changing the nature of some of our ecosystems,” he claimed.
Knight also refers to new research illustrating the changes in climate that have occurred in Wyoming, both recently and over the long term.
“Climate change can be studied using pollen analysis. Pollen buried deeper in wetlands is older than pollen buried near the surface, and that pollen tends to persist for a very long time,” he remarked.
In one example, he describes a landscape that was primarily sagebrush before transitioning to a majority of pine approximately 20,000 years ago.
“Now we are at a stage that is more intermediate. This is just one way of studying climate change, and we know that this has occurred over a long period of time,” Knight explained.
He also emphasized the diversity of landscapes across the state and thanked the individuals and organizations that supported the efforts of the new edition of his book.
“This has been a team project. We have had great encouragement and support,” stated Knight.
Wyoming author describes state mammal species in recently published bookWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Steven Buskirk, author of Wild Mammals of Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, was a professor at the University of Wyoming for 30 years.
“I taught mammalogy for 27 years, so I was involved in mammal biology for a long time. All of my research had to do with mammals and mammal ecology,” he explains.
Buskirk’s book was published in January, and the introductory pages state, “This book is a review and compilation of the identification, taxonomy, zoogeography, ecology and conservation of wild mammals native to Wyoming.”
The book includes a number of introductory chapters to set the stage, including a history of mammalogy in Wyoming and the mammals that were present in the region before humans arrived and before European settlers arrived in the area.
How vegetation relates to wildlife habitat is also covered, and the narrative addresses conservation and management throughout the state as well, including efforts related to Yellowstone National Park.
“Then the book goes into species accounts. Each of them has a section on the description of the animal, its dimensions and what it looks like and if it has a legal status such as big game animal, furbearer or predator. There is also a big emphasis on distribution and habitat associations,” Buskirk describes.
Population ecology and behavioral ecology of each species are also discussed, addressing how Wyoming mammals impact the environment around them.
Buskirk notes, “For each species, I try to provide ecological accounts on the effects of the species. Do they disperse seed? Are they important herbivores? Are they effective predators? Do they participate in food webs? Then, in the conservation and management section, I mention their economic importance, either positive or negative, and refer to species that have been controlled locally or over wider areas.”
Farmers and ranchers will be familiar with many of the species mentioned in the book from living on the land and encountering various species.
“They probably consider some of these species desirable – or at least not a problem to have around – and then there are other species that are considered to be agricultural pests. Those are described or mentioned where they come up, including prairie dogs and ground squirrels,” he notes.
Buskirk also comments that species such as skunks and coyotes may only be problematic some of the time or when their populations become too large.
“One of the really interesting species is the red fox. Red foxes are generally tolerated pretty well by ranchers, and they aren’t as aggressively controlled as coyotes,” he remarks.
Red foxes are typically found near towns, on the edges of cities and associated with farms, ranches or other developments. In Wyoming, the species generally prefers to be somewhat near people and when populations are high, they are even spotted in parks, alleyways and streets.
“Red foxes are an example of a species that is somewhat dependent on humans because humans control the coyotes,” he says. “If they live close enough to human structures and human enterprises, foxes can steal dog food, get some snacks here and there, get into the trash and, at the same time, live in a coyote-free world. That’s a good situation for a red fox.”
Other similar anecdotes can be found throughout the book, including changes in distribution for species such as the black-tailed jackrabbit and the Virginia opossum.
Black-tailed jackrabbit populations are expanding northward at a rate of approximately four or five miles per year, and Virginia opossums are expanding upstream along the North Platte at a rate of about one to two miles per year.
“There are other mammals expanding their geographic range northward, and this is presumably because of the warming climate. We know the climate is warming, and some of these animals are sensitive to temperature. Given the warmer climate, they move north,” he adds.
In 1980, the pygmy rabbit was discovered in Wyoming, and subsequent survey efforts revealed populations scattered throughout the southwestern part of the state, especially in old, large stands of big sagebrush.
“Pygmy rabbits might look like they’ve expanded in range quickly, but really, they are a case of a species that we learned how to search for. We discovered, over the last 40 years, they were much more widely distributed than was first realized,” he explains.
In some cases, there is limited information available to describe species. Shrews, for example, have been detected in Wyoming, but very little is known about them. Species like elk on the other hand have been studied extensively and information is widely available.
“One of the challenges was trying to treat each species equally. In other words, we wanted to give as much weight to a shrew that is very obscure and not very well understood as to the mule deer, about which we know a great deal,” he comments.
Buskirk’s book took nearly 5.5 years to complete. It is intended for both lay people and academics, and the author made efforts to use language that provides accessible information for both audiences.
“It includes about 1,000 footnotes, and it has about 1,200 references, so anybody who wants to get into the literature in more detail can find the starting points for that literature in the book,” he says.
Time for an update
The first comprehensive book about Wyoming mammals was published in 1965, followed by another book in 1987. The first one was mostly a catalogue of state mammals, and the second book built upon the 1965 publication, adding ecological information related to different species.
There are over 117 mammalian species in the state that are native or naturalized non-natives of North American origin.
“It’s been 30 years since there was a new book, and it was time to update mammals that are in Wyoming, the new information that we know about them and to provide new information about who identified them, their ecology, their conservation and management. This book does all of that,” notes Buskirk.
Understanding agriculture - Documentaries feature Wyoming producers in Farm to Fork series on PBSWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Buffalo – “Farm to Fork Wyoming” is a PBS series produced by Stefani Smith that documents stories from direct-to-market agricultural producers in the state.
“Some of the questions that played on my mind as I settled into Wyoming were, how was life for the pioneers and for people more recently, before we had supermarkets and this big distribution system? How did they survive? What have we lost?” she explained at the Fifth Annual Women’s Agriculture Summit in Buffalo on Jan 24.
Smith found herself in Wyoming after being a commercial fisherman for many years. Despite her love for fishing, she felt that something was missing.
“I did a long trip and ended up in Wyoming. I finally found a place on land that I could bear to be. It feels like the ocean,” she said.
Smith related the stewardship parallels she sees between Wyoming and the sea.
“We have to be cognizant of the elements, our resources and what we need to sustain ourselves, as well as how fragile those things are,” she noted.
As a fisherman, she saw her industry go through changes that she finds paralleled in agriculture. People removed from the work are making many of the management decisions.
“Control has now been taken out of the hands of the actual fishermen and people on the ground,” she said. “Stewardship got appropriated by greater powers, and people need to think more about what they are doing and be more involved in exploring the process and that dialogue.”
She sees farmers, ranchers and fisherman as some of the last harvesters of nature.
Making a switch
“What we have is so precious,” she stated.
In her 30s, Smith went back to school to study filmmaking.
“I was really interested in how people struggle through changes and try to reconcile the questions about where we are going, what we take for granted, where that’s leading us and the kind of push-back we are always confronted with,” she explained.
Documentary filmmaking, she found, was a place where she could suspend her questions and explore ideas. Wyoming PBS offered her a perfect opportunity.
“I loved the in-depth documentaries and the investigative journalism. The variety of thought and life is fascinating to me,” she noted.
Farm to Fork
Smith knew that it was important to be involved in the process of bringing food to people’s plates, and she used her film and storytelling skills to produce “Farm to Fork Wyoming.”
“I went to famers’ markets and heard from people saying that farmers’ markets are the only way to know where our food is coming from,” she commented.
The people she spoke to wanted to have the connections, communities and discussions about what they are eating.
“They want to know what we are asking farmers to do and what their reality is,” Smith stated.
She set out to find people who come from generations of experience in Wyoming.
In her first season of the series, she spoke to beekeepers, grass-fed beef producers, managers of community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, dairy herd-share operators, local-distribution produce growers and the Sheridan County School District about working with local producers for their school lunch program.
“I did a story on Curtis Haderlie, who is a third generation farmer,” Smith commented.
Haderlie, a Star Valley rancher, found that there was a market with premium prices for locally-grown vegetables.
“He has figured out how to extend the season and grow a variety of crops, and he has animals on the farm in an integrated system,” Smith explained.
She also spoke with Frank Wallis, who was instrumental in the creation of a dairy herd-share in northeast Wyoming.
“Consumers want to taste the flavor of the land and the whole local experience,” stated Smith.
Another one of her episodes featured Maggie McAllister, who runs a CSA at an altitude of 7,200 feet, growing a variety crop with a lot of greens.
Outisde of vegetable and produce production, Smith also looked at beef and bees.
“The Thoman brothers were also fascinating to me,” Smith continued, listing another featured operation.
The Thomans began a grass-fed beef operation near Riverton to capitalize on the premium market prices.
“They penciled it out, worked out the process and analyzed the markets,” Smith commented. “They target a niche market.”
She also spoke with a biologist and educator near Sinks Canyon.
“I did a bee episode and interviewed Jack States. The States were pioneers outside of Lander. He loves to give bee workshops,” stated Smith.
Smith’s most recent episode featured the Sheridan County School District in Big Horn.
“The Big Horn school recently threw out the USDA subsidies and is self-financing their school lunch program,” Smith explained.
The school works with local producers to provide fresh and nutritious meals for students and teachers.
“Schools have a kitchen facility and a staff, but they would rather dump something out of a bag than use their culinary skills to give a nourishing meal. Big Horn is trying to turn that ship around,” stated Smith.
Many of Smith’s episodes in the “Farm to Fork Wyoming” series feature people who prepare food, such as the head chef in the Big Horn school kitchen.
“I think chefs are wonderful ambassadors,” she commented.
Haderlie also provides produce for one chef in particular in Teton Village who is mentioned in Smith’s documentary.
“I love to see this kind of farm-to-fork connection, where the chef gets to know the farmer and has an audience that likes to explore their food adventure through hiscreativity. The chef then conveys the story of the farmer to the audience,” she explained.
Smith hopes that her series will help people to connect, and she encouraged people to tell their stories, as well. She encouraged people to contact Wyoming PBS if they have ideas to share.
“We have a great group of people at the PBS station. They are very dedicated to Wyoming and telling Wyoming’s story,” she said.
Children’s book author hopes others will reach out, educate about agricultureWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Buffalo – Rebecca Long Chaney spoke in Buffalo on Jan. 23, encouraging producers at the Johnson County CattleWomen’s Annual Summit to get involved and promote agriculture.
“Some ways we can make a difference include joining ag organizations, making friends with non-ag neighbors, establishing media contacts, writing letters to the editor, opening up our farms and ranches for tours, getting a Master’s in Beef Advocacy, providing animals for exhibits, visiting schools and making one-on-one contacts,” she suggested.
Looking into options related to agritourism, promoting products locally and targeting niche markets were ideas that she shared as well.
“My children’s book is part of a niche market,” she mentioned.
Writing a book
Long Chaney began writing children’s books when her twin daughters were young after a friend encouraged her to do so.
“I used to do Christmas letters that were written from the girls’ perspectives. When they were just a month old, the letters were written like they were just born,” she described.
At first, Long Chaney wasn’t sure what to write, but with a degree in ag journalism, 10 years of experience working for a newspaper and a passion for agriculture, she was inspired by the idea.
“I thought, what a great way to combine my love of ranching and farming with my love of agricultural writing,” she noted.
Then, one of the cows on the family ranch had twins, orphaning one of the calves. Chaney’s husband brought it in and the twins began bottle-feeding the bum.
“That’s how the first book, Little Star – Raising Our First Calf, came about,” she explained.
Long Chaney grew up on a dairy farm, and before long, she was receiving grief from family and friends about writing a book about beef. Her second book then focused on the dairy industry. She titled it Mini Milkmaids on the Mooove, and it earned the Ag Book of the Year Award from the Ohio Farm Bureau.
“From the beginning, we had professional educators from Farm Bureau start producing lesson plans with our books. Those are free and downloadable from the internet,” Long Chaney said.
The books are self-published and promoted across the country through internet platforms, mass mailings and collaboration with Farm Bureau, Cattlewomen and other ag organizations. The books are also promoted at both ag and non-ag-related events.
“Word of mouth is amazing. People share our story,” she added.
Long Chaney and her daughters also promote the books and agriculture by visiting schools and speaking with school children.
“During our talks, the most powerful thing we do is go in with a bushel basket and play the thumbs-up or thumbs-down game,” Long Chaney explained.
To play the game, the Chaneys pull items out of the basket and ask the children if it comes from agriculture. The children then give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to give their answers.
“For example, we might pull toilet paper out of the basket, and a lot of kids give the thumbs-down. We explain that toilet paper comes from trees that come from tree farms,” she commented.
In another example, soda and corn might be pulled out of the basket, leading to a discussion about corn syrup.
“We’ll explain that a bushel of corn – the amount it takes to fill the basket, can sweeten 400 cans of soda,” she stated. “Then, we might pull out bread and wheat and explain that one acre of wheat produces 73 loaves of bread. If we pull out a basketball, we will talk about how the hide from one animal produces 11 basketballs.”
Many kids are also surprised to discover that beef tallow is used in items such as marshmallows, shaving cream, gummy worms and toothpaste, Long Chaney added.
“We have a little pig that we pull out and the kids are fascinated to find out that pig heart valves are closely related to human heart valves. Our friend in Maryland has had a pig’s heart valve for 18 years,” she continued.
Long Chaney also encourages people around the country to share her books in classrooms or to take the time to share their own stories with children.
“We’ve been working at this for eight years, and our books are all over the country. My friend in South Dakota who does story time at her daughter’s school reads the Little Star book and hands out stickers that say ‘I met a Farmer.’ Those kids get really excited when they get to meet a farmer,” she said.
Long Chaney told her audience in Buffalo that if producers have ideas for stories, there is always a need for books with accurate information. She warned them about propaganda materials distributed in schools from extreme activist groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and PETA, asking producers to help educate with real information.
“I am not encouraging everyone to become speakers or authors or to go into schools every week, but I am hoping that we will all do what we can with the time and resources that we have,” she remarked. “Any chance that we have, even sharing our lives for 10 minutes, can make a huge difference.”
Duo with ag roots offers leadership training, publishes first bookWritten by Saige Albert
Ron Rabou and Steve Bahmer have been speaking for a combined total of 35 years. This year, they have continued their professional speaking endeavors and have also leapt into the realm of writing, releasing their first book, Keep It Simple.
“We have a new approach that is something we hadn’t ever seen before,” comments Rabou of their speaking approach. “We asked ourselves, ‘If we were sitting in the audience, what is it that we would really want?’”
A different approach
Rabou emphasizes that many suit-clad speakers stand on a stage, give a presentation and walk off.
“We want some interaction, a laid back approach, and a message that is more common sense and applies to where we are in our lives,” he says.
Bahmer also comments, “We found ourselves complaining about a lot of the same things about the nation – we’ve lost basic skills, we’ve lost our way. We finally said, ‘We’re done complaining. We can try to make it better, or we can shut up.’”
The result was a company called ReThink, which brings the basics of leadership back to simple ideas and values.
“We believe that is it ultra important to remind people of the basic values and principles that make us great as people and Americans,” Rabou continues. “We need to reintroduce those ideas to folks and talk about how to apply them in a way that is practical.”
With old ideas of leadership behind them, Bahmer says, “The idea of trickle down leadership just doesn’t seem to be working, so we are focused on getting involved in student groups to try to build solid, productive leaders from the ground up.”
“We think we can make the most difference there, and that is what really drives us,” Bahmer adds.
Rabou mentions that even the t-shirts they wear provide reinforcement behind their message. Their shirts are emblazoned with messages such as, “matter,” “accept responsibility” and “make it better.”
“When you are wearing a shirt that says accept responsibility, you are actually going to accept responsibility,” Rabou explains. “It portrays a positive message not only to the people who wear it, but to those who read it, too.”
Bahmer and Rabou travel across the U.S. speaking to a wide variety of groups that range from students to corporations and business people.
Teaching Wyoming FFA
Rabou and Bahmer presented on Nov. 11 at the Wyoming FFA Chapter President’s Conference in Douglas. Students at the Chapter President’s Conference had the chance to continue developing their leadership skills in the unique style of Rabou and Bahmer.
“There is a lot of research out there about effective leadership,” Bahmer says. “We take a little different approach.”
“We think the most effective leaders are the people who know themselves the best, are the most well-grounded, understand their own values and principles and really understand where other people are coming from,” he continues. “We spent a lot of time with the students helping them learn about themselves to position them to be more effective leaders.”
Bahmer also added that by understanding these core concepts, students would be better poised to be effective leaders in their chapters, schools and communities.
Keep it simple
In addition to speaking engagements, Rabou and Bahmer have also completed their first book, titled Keep It Simple: The 12 Core Values that Lead to Personal and Professional Success.
The book, says Rabou, reinforces the tenants they present.
“The book is true to us as people and what our values are,” Rabou comments. “It is really based on our own experiences and how we have applied these values.”
He also notes that it provides guidance to others to apply 12 core values to their lives.
“Fundamentally, our view is that we are busy people – everyone is busy, and the world is fast paced. Because of that, we tend to forget some of those core values,” Bahmer adds. “This is a reminder of those basic things that we know, but we forget.”
Bahmer mentions topics such as patience, perseverance and simplifying life as important concepts their book presents.
“We have overcomplicated our lives, our work and our families so much that our stress level is high, but our results aren’t,” he continues. “This is all about taking a step back to get some perspective.”
The book also features a forward by Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan, who believes in the project and the ideas that Rabou and Bahmer present.