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Cat Urbigkit

Cat Urbigkit: Shedding Cabin Fever Amid COVID-19

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

This national emergency has only compounded our normal cabin fever as we put winter behind us and we’re all chomping at the bit to get out and do something.

We are tired of having businesses closed down and being told to stay home. We’re tired of not having our children in school with their teachers. We are terrified by what has happened to our economy. We don’t want to wear face coverings. We don’t want to practice social distancing.

We’re nearing the end of President Trump’s “30-days to slow the spread” campaign, and as we near that mark, the pressure is on to reopen America and start the recovery process.

Every day of warmer weather leading us to May 1 has led to more complacency with the mitigation measures that were created to help us survive this pandemic, even as Wyoming’s case count continues to rise.

I get it. Everyone is unhappy and stressed, and either the government is doing too much, or the government isn’t doing enough. General complaints about government aren’t doing much to help anything, but let’s all take personal responsibility for what happens next.

Even before this national emergency, there tends to be an uptick in human injuries caused by the enthusiasm of getting outside in response to spring weather.

We all seem to engage in riskier activities like riding spring-kinked horses, getting on dirt-bikes and 4-wheelers, or going for long hikes regardless of our fitness levels.

What we end up with is wrecks and medical emergencies, and more heart attacks, strokes, and car accidents. We end up needing to call for help. And there – in every community – are the first responders willing to take their own risks to rescue us.

Unlike the majority of the population, these people are trained and highly skilled at getting victims found, stabilized, and transferred out of whatever predicament we’ve found ourselves in.

In this pandemic we are asking first responders to do even more. Right now, our reckless or thoughtless actions (or pure dumb luck) place our first responders in even more jeopardy.

We do that by exposing them to a threat that they can’t see, and that perhaps they won’t know they (or you) are carrying. They may be fine, but unknowingly transmit coronavirus to someone else. You or I may be doing the same.

I know that when you head out on a beautiful sunny day, you aren’t thinking that you will be doing anything dangerous, or that you may end up in a medical emergency before you can return home, but that’s how all accidents happen.

The May 1 opening of the shed antler season is expected to bring an influx of horn hunters to the public lands of western Wyoming even during this national emergency.

Switching the opening hour from midnight to noon has some shed hunters grumbling about cheaters and lack of enforcement, but hopefully the time change will help to tame the chaos of year’s past.

But each of those horn hunters will transport with them a heightened risk of transmitting COVID-19, even as they view their activity as low-risk since they’ll be in the great outdoors.

They’ll stop for gas or groceries, or to open a gate. Some will have overturned 4-wheelers or get thrown by a horse. They will add to the growing burden we’ve placed on our first responders, and the potential cost is significant.

We all need to take personal responsibility for our own actions, and to be aware of the burdens that we are placing on others as we engage in higher-risk activities.

Here on the ranch it’s shearing season, and any time we have to work animals in confinement heightens our risk of injury. The arrival of our shearing crew brings the same added threat as the traveling horn hunters, so we’ve had to make changes and added precautions to reduce both the risk of injuries and threat of disease transmission. Some of it seems unwelcoming or inhospitable.

But what is most unwelcome is COVID-19 transmission. If the series of small actions I take can reduce the threat I pose to others, I’m good with that.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

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Cat Urbigkit: Rejecting an Unsustainable System

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

The COVID-19 crisis has presented various lessons for our country, but I fear that once the crisis has passed, we’ll forget those lessons – until the next crisis.

I’m not referring to the lack of readiness for a global health pandemic, and the shortages of medical supplies, personnel, and facilities. Instead, I’m referring to everyday items used and consumed by American households: Food.

In a country with such an abundance of food production, communities found themselves with food shortages, and when stores were able to restock certain items, they were mobbed and quickly sold out again.

Even in small-town Wyoming, staples such as eggs, milk, bread, and meat were in short supply. At the same time, food waste occurred at staggering levels, as producers of food were unable to get their products to consumers.

The consolidation of meat processing in America into relatively few facilities owned by even fewer giant corporations has caused bottlenecks in the supply chain as their plants are shut down due to COVID-19.

In my view, the consolidation of the meat supply has resulted in companies selling an inferior product that costs them less, providing for huge profit margins for the companies while livestock producers get shafted.

Meatpacker margins for beef has surged during this pandemic, yet the price that processors pay for live cattle has plunged. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the request of congressional members, has said it will investigate. When the food supply is captured by big ag, it’s not operating as a free-market system.

The Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant in South Dakota is the nation’s ninth-largest hog-processor and was shut down after COVID-19 swept through the plant, with more than 600 infected employees. The plant is part of a much larger Chinese company that is the largest pork producer in the world.

But Smithfield wasn’t alone in having to shutter. The JBS plant in Colorado shut down with more than 100 infected employees and several deaths from COVID-19.

JBS is owned by a Brazilian company, the world’s largest producer of beef. At least one Tyson Foods plant in Iowa is shut down after several workers died and nearly 200 workers were sickened by the coronavirus.

Tyson is an American company that proudly wields the title of being the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork (second only to JBS).

All three of these industrial food giants have also launched their own “alternative protein” companies, creating laboratories and factories for manufacturing these food products.

While they claim to be doing it to meet the protein needs of our increasing world human population, it’s another move that will result in human dependence on only a few food suppliers for actual human survival.

I am fortunate to look out my living room window to beef and lamb on the hoof, raised in a sustainable grazing system that follows nature’s rhythms. I know that in a food shortage, we can feed a lot of people.

But our family won’t be doing it by sending our livestock to huge meat processors. Expanding the network of small meat processing companies (like Laramie’s 307 Meat Company) is desperately needed throughout the country, so that we can reduce the miles that food must travel between the field and the table.

The dwindling sheep industry has it even worse than the cattle component. Lamb prices have dropped 40%; wool prices are down 43% from last year and sales have come to a screeching halt; and American sheep producers are now paying to dispose of beautiful sheep pelts that were once considered a premium product – thanks to tariffs imposed by China, where many sheep pelts were exported for processing (because America tends to export industries it finds inconvenient).

With no market for our fine wool this year– wool that has been used to create military dress uniforms and fashion lines in Europe – it’s time to make a change. Continuing to participate in this warped market system is not sustainable.

My family is going to join others in making the change to local market systems. From marketing our own meat products, to working with companies (like Mountain Meadow Wool) to create a product line from our wool, we’re making the move to invest in ourselves, and investing in Wyoming’s future.

And for those who discount the importance of livestock grazing on public lands in the arid American West, as the Brits say, “Sod off.” This pandemic has proven the importance of food production at the local level.

As we saw during this worldwide crisis, agricultural industry workers at every level are deemed essential – because we produce food for human survival. Yet only 2% of American population has any connection to production agriculture.

How I wish every family in America could at least plant their own gardens and have a few laying hens. Then there would be much less food insecurity, and families would be better able to sustain themselves during a crisis like this one.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

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Cat Urbigkit: The Certainty of Spring Migrations

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The first sign of spring on the ranch is usually something heard rather than seen: the soft, warbling song of a bluebird’s early dawn message.

Once I hear that inviting warble, I scan the landscape, looking for the flash of blue that signals the song-vessel-from-the-South has returned. The bluebirds are our earliest harbingers of spring, and I often wonder how those tiny winged bodies manage to survive our often-brutal spring storms. I always fear they’ve returned too early.

Usually within a few days I’ll hear one of the most joyful sounds of nature, the trilling call of sandhill cranes bursting forth from the meadow, their calls rolling out across the landscape for miles. It takes me a while to find the cranes, and they are breath-taking in magnificence as these large birds flap their wings as they call out, jumping up and down as if doing the happy dance of spring.

The smallest and most common falcon on the continent, the American kestrel, is also one of these early arrivals, soon followed by other raptor species. Skunks and badgers are more active during the day, and prairie dogs are up out of their burrows.

By late March, Greater Sage Grouse congregate to strut on their traditional leks (breeding grounds). They are mostly comical to watch, making their swishing and popping noises as they strut, showing the hens just how gorgeous they are but occasionally breaking into fights before strutting past the females again.

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The massive spring migration of the Sublette mule deer herd started weeks ago, and in the last 10 days the pronghorn antelope have followed, chasing the green wave of fresh vegetative growth with snowmelt in higher elevations. These animals look great this year – unlike last year’s deer that literally staggered past, with ribs and hips clearly visible.

Although we woke up on Easter Sunday to about six inches of fresh snow, it’s been a typical western Wyoming spring. Within days of raging ground blizzards followed by cold temperatures, the skies clear (‘bluebird’ days), and the glaring suns causes rapid snowmelt. We go from wearing insulated coveralls to t-shirts on the same day. And then the cycle repeats.

The coronavirus pandemic has humanity living in uncertainty, and in adverse conditions for planning. Humans are natural planners, and our inability to plan for days in the future troubles us.

In contrast, dogs are joyous beings, living in the moment as they do. To watch a puppy bounding around outside is to witness sheer jubilation, as it rolls on the ground, mouths a found leaf or stick with enthusiasm, then casts it aside to bound after a squirrel or a bug. That puppy attention span – that living in the moment life – is a merry one.

Those who view uncertainty as precarious may want to follow the examples offered by the animal world. Living in the moment may provide joy as we begin to notice that the natural rhythms of the universe continue. Things like spring migrations.

In these days of uncertainty, nature provides certainty.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Cat Urbigkit: The Helpers, and Paying It Forward

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

I haven’t been to town for a few weeks but had to make a run for supplies on Friday. I was glad to see that everyone in the grocery store was practicing social distancing as recommended, and some were wearing face masks.

As I exited a government building in town, I heard the sounds of a piano playing. I stopped in my tracks to listen and was immediately mesmerized, listening to the beautiful music, picturing a lone pianist playing to an empty, cavernous room. I was thankful to have shared in that soothing moment, even from a distance.

That got me reflecting on the famous Fred Rogers story about when he was scared as a child, his mother would say “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

The isolated piano player was a helper, whether that person knows it or not.

During this national emergency, this unsettled and distressing time, I’m noticing helpers in every direction. Communities throughout Wyoming have COVID-19 response teams preparing and taking action to protect and respond to those in distress. It seems all first-responders and community leaders are involved in one way or another. Donations of equipment, medical supplies, food, and money are being offered up by businesses and nonprofits across the state. Volunteers for groups like The Salvation Army and Lions Club have mobilized to provide food boxes for distribution to families. Senior centers are making sure our seniors are getting fed, and seniors around the state are sewing face masks for anyone who needs them.

When I think of helpers, a certain smiling, friendly face comes to mind. That particular face is that of my late brother-in-law Bill (“Papa B”) Urbigkit of Riverton who passed away six years ago. I’ve yet to meet a more kind, helpful and community-minded person than our Papa B. His good works continue through family and friends – especially this month as we each participate in our own #payitforwardforpapab in his honor, spreading acts of kindness large and small.

People are leaving inspirational messages in chalk on sidewalks, taping hearts to their windows, and placing stuffed animals out in full view for those participating in “bear hunts.” Retired medical professionals are returning to work during the riskiest time for doing so. Neighbors are making sure that snow is shoveled from sidewalks, fixing things that need fixing, and making grocery runs for people who can’t do it themselves. Retail workers and delivery drivers are working hard to keep our families supplied with whatever we need.

Public libraries around the state are closed but have quickly adapted to providing needed services remotely, including online access to reading materials and audio files. Many libraries have public-use internet hotspots in their parking lots, and story times for children are offered online, as are continuing education events. The Wyoming State Library’s Facebook page is constantly updated with great informational sources for the public, as libraries continue to serve a diverse demographic even with their doors closed.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is providing support in ways most of us don’t know. When a crash closed I-80 last month, WDOT provided an escort for COVID-19 supplies to be able to safely proceed during the closure. Wyoming troopers have been delivering COVID-19 testing equipment and supplies and moving test samples from hospitals and clinics to the state health lab from around the state. Think about that the next time you see a highway patrolman or get behind a WDOT snowplow.

Local law enforcement and fire organizations find themselves in lead roles in a public health crisis in addition to their regular missions. Whatever needs done, they are making sure that it gets done. Fire officials are working with federal land managers to prepare for wildland firefighting season amid a pandemic, a daunting challenge.

Now imagine being one of the staff handling unemployment claims for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. With record numbers of claims all coming at the same time, calls to the unemployment insurance claim center (UI) have been overwhelming, but I’ve heard that once a call is answered at UI, staff members have been not just competent but caring. Kudos to them.

Local churches are organizing drive-in Easter services to bring their congregations together while practicing social distancing. Artists are continuing to create and share their work, deeply touching and connecting with people they will never meet. Blood drives are being held with special restrictions to ensure an adequate blood supply while not spreading COVID-19. Individuals with 3-D printers are constructing facemasks for healthcare workers. Others are donating meat from their freezers, delivering firewood, and doing outdoor chores.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon deserves a special mention in all this. Criticized in equal measure for not doing enough and for doing too much, Gordon has the unenviable job of leading a state of independent-minded folks who have a general aversion to being led. Whether I agree with him on any given action, I do appreciate and thank him for his service to this great state.

As we are engulfed in bad news and distressful events, it’s increasingly important that we make everyday efforts to share the good, the beauty, in our human experience. Let’s all be helpers in some way and pay it forward with acts of kindness and compassion.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Cat Urbigkit: Governor Rejects Legislative Oversight of Land Deal, But Plows Ahead

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

In his final actions on bills passed by the Wyoming Legislature in its 2020 session, on Friday afternoon Governor Mark Gordon vetoed Senate File 138, the bill laying out the process for state officials to consider purchasing 1 million acres of land in southern Wyoming, along with 4 million acres of mineral rights, from Occidental Petroleum.

Oh, in this current national crisis, this global pandemic, where the United States Congress just passed the largest spending bill in our country’s history, with more than 3 million Americans filing for unemployment, with oil prices in the tank at an 18-year low, Gordon has decided now might not be the time to spend millions, or billions, of state reserves to eliminate a million acres of private property, you ask? Nope.

Gordon has decided the legislature provided too much baggage in the bill, so he’ll go forth on his own.

In his letter rejecting the bill, Gordon said: “I do not take this action lightly. Members of the Legislature and my office worked tirelessly crafting a process to provide the ability to conduct due diligence on the land and assets being offered for sale to the State of Wyoming. I appreciate everyone’s efforts.”

Here’s the zinger: “Unfortunately, owing to the rapid changes of the waning hours of the session, the final bill was flawed. The original concept of the legislation was to establish a process to conduct due diligence and provide the funding to do so, as well as bless the authority to enter into a transaction of this magnitude. The end result is a vehicle so heavily laden with legislative baggage that the ability to conduct thorough and appropriate due diligence takes a back seat to mandated reports and recommendations.”

So Gordon rejected the bill because it provided too much legislative oversight for what could be the largest government purchase of land since the United States purchased Alaska. No doubt the final bill was flawed, but my view of its faults differ from the governor’s view of its faults. Gordon laments the “legislative baggage” in the bill, while I complain that it provided too much power to the State Loan and Investment Board by allowing it “to take all actions the board deems necessary to sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of” the property after the deal concluded.

Gordon’s letter notes that the availability of funding to conduct due diligence on the deal “is in question.” He wrote, “The failure to enact a Capital Construction measure inadvertently squeezes the State Building Commission Contingency Account to the point where existing obligations and priorities are in direct competition for money to pay for the cost of due diligence.”

Gordon also took issue with legislative interference in decision-making on the deal, which he views as executive branch function. Gordon maintains that the final bill “overreaches in its grant of authority to the legislative branch.”

“Unfortunately, I am left with an all or nothing solution,” Gordon wrote, thus vetoing the bill.

Gordon continued to pledge his commitment “that we will continue to find ways to take steps to explore this opportunity.”

Gordon’s letter states that he will work with the SLIB and will report to the legislature any progress made, and commits to providing the basics of their findings to the legislature. Gordon also commits to honor all the requirements for public comment and public involvement outlined in the vetoed bill, and perhaps even exceed the amounts called for in the bill.

Gordon closes the veto letter with a statement that he believes he has established a reasonable step-by-step process allowing for pre-purchase activities. He wrote: “Should an agreement in principle be reached, the Legislature will have the opportunity to review. It is the Legislature’s role to decide whether and how to fund a potential purchase based on the Agreement in Principle.”

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Cat Urbigkit: The Ringing of the Bells

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

The gentle ringing of bells is heard by those who listen. Pastoralists around the globe have used bells on their livestock for thousands of years, and in many regions the tradition continues substantially unchanged.

I’ve heard the bells wherever I’ve traveled to rural areas of the world, from Portugal to Turkey, in Africa, Mongolia, and the American West. The bells are attached to sheep, cattle, goats, and horses, and to the livestock guardian dogs that accompany these flocks or herds. Some bells are attached with elaborately decorated collars while others dangle from simple rawhide straps. The bells may be small, made from copper or brass, or huge bells draped from the neck of an oxen or horse. The bells vary in musical tone and relay constant messages to those tending the livestock, and to others who listen.

The seasonal movement of livestock with their human tenders is called transhumance, which is practiced throughout the world. In Italian, it’s called transhumanza. Although the English language lacks a word for the multi-species social group of a pastoralist with a flock or herd and its equine and canine partners, Italians have a word for it: the morra. The bells sing the song of the morra. The sound of the bells is the music of transhumanza, and of the landscape.

Italian communities have been devastated by the coronavirus disease, and Italian citizens remain under lockdown. They’ve found wonderful ways to connect with each other even as they remain in isolation, singing from balconies and windows. In the Tuscan village of Siena, beautiful harmony was heard coming from the windows above an empty, dimly lit street.

At mid-day on Saturday, shepherds in Italy joined together in their isolation to provide the sound of hope, of thankfulness, and of mourning, as pastoralists rang their livestock bells. As word of the Italian bell-ringing spread, pastoralists, churches and communities in France, Switzerland, and Austria joined in, each in their own exile.

The bells signal locations and serve to unify those who are dispersed. They ring within a universe regardless of distinctions in religion, language, race, or ethnicity.

The timing of the pastoral bell song was somewhat symbolic. It came at the start of spring, agriculture’s season of renewal and birth. Pastoralists rang their bells from their places on farms growing food for people throughout the globe. The ringing of the bells reminds the world that they still exist and continue in this necessary mission, even as their individual messages varied.

Some rang bells in solidarity, and to thank those who work to help the sick. Some rang bells of mourning. Some rang bells to drive away the danger and sense of foreboding caused by the pandemic.

The bells rang out from the mountainsides, their sound cascading across quiet valleys and plains. Other bells rang out from balconies, bell towers, and front porches. I hear their bells here on the ranch in Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe.

I hear them, and our bells ring out in return.

#suoniamolecampane

#WeRingTheBells

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Cat Urbigkit: Trust Us, We’re From the Government

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

The Wyoming Legislature concluded its session last week by passing legislation that enables state leaders to pursue purchasing 1 million acres of private property in southern Wyoming’s checkerboard, in addition to 4 million acres of mineral rights. That state officials had begun discussions with Occidental Petroleum for the purchase came to light less than a month ago when bills relating to the investment of state funds were filed shortly before the bill deadline.

Even when the public became aware that Wyoming government was interested in pursuing the purchase, state officials released very little information about the proposal, and some legislators resisted attempts to provide for public scrutiny and input before the deal could be concluded. The original proposal did not even require an affirmative vote from the legislature before the land purchase could be finalized.

I’ve been critical of the secrecy and lack of public information about this proposed land deal that is so massive that it would be the largest government purchase of private land since the United States purchased Alaska. State officials were hesitant to so much as release a map of the properties under consideration, yet were requesting that the legislature grant them broad authority to enter the deal – potentially tapping deep into various state accounts to fund the purchase, with some estimates putting the purchase price at more than a billion dollars. The pesky public was in essence being told to simply trust our government leaders to spend more than a billion dollars without any public scrutiny. That was appalling, and I maintain that state officials should sell the public on this deal if they want our support.

Fortunately, the final legislation does require state officials to release details and hold at least one public meeting, and also requires an affirmative vote of the legislature before the deal could be finalized. But it still holds “trust us, we’re from the government” provisions.

In late February, Governor Mark Gordon and state legislative leaders penned an op-ed finally attempting to sell the public on the deal, noting: “This acquisition has enormous potential benefits for multiple-use that are valuable to all citizens of Wyoming, giving us the opportunity to assemble one of the largest contiguous pieces of public land in the continental United States. One that will benefit wildlife, hunters, fishermen and outdoor recreationists while achieving responsible development of rich natural resources.”

They really haven’t told us their vision on how the land would be managed – since state trust lands are managed with the primary purpose of generating revenues, and are not “public” land. For example, camping and open fires are prohibited on state trust land, and the recently passed legislation calls for the purchased lands to be managed the same as other school trust lands.

But the real “trust us” piece of the puzzle is this: Under the enrolled act passed by the legislature, the SLIB “is authorized to take all actions the board deems necessary to sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of purchased real property assets and other interests” without restriction. 

At least the legislature is required to approve of the purchase of the properties, but from then on, SLIB – the top five statewide elected officials – are empowered to sell any of the acquired assets without restriction. There is no provision for competitive bid, public notice – nothing. 

You can envision the intention of this provision. Perhaps it is meant to enable the state to sell some of the assets to industrial companies with specific interests (such as oil and gas, or trona, or existing infrastructure). Perhaps its purpose is to enable the state to quickly transfer ownership of mineral rights that are held in Utah and Colorado. Perhaps its purpose is to enable some other deal that’s already being negotiated behind closed doors. It’s this last one that should be of concern because the legislation provides a clue that may be its intended purpose.

The legislation allows SLIB to “accept federal grants and other contributions, grants, gifts, bequests and donations from any source” to purchase the land. The governor’s staff attended legislative deliberations to speak of the importance of this provision, noting that such “gifts” may have “some strings attached to them,” while cautioning legislators about “unnecessarily tying the hands” of state negotiators by imposing too many specific provisions in the bill. 

That sure sounds like a deal is in the works to me.

But I know, I’m just supposed to trust the government.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Cat Urbigkit: Paintballing Grizzlies & Other Predator News

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

Got a grizzly bear hanging out near the house? Fire up that paintball gun and give it a go! U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has confirmed that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued new guidance on actions the public can take to haze grizzly bears that may pose a threat to human safety.

According to a letter Bernhardt sent to Montana’s Congressional delegation, “These actions include the use of paintballs, noise-making projectiles, and visual deterrents.”

While I’ve wickedly fantasized about paintballing well-dressed float fishermen passing underneath a bridge on the New Fork River, I didn’t know how small and lacking my daydream was. I should have dreamed bigger; grizzly sized dreams.

FWS quickly issued the new guidance, which includes methods that are allowed to deter grizzlies away from the immediate vicinity (200 yards) of a human-occupied residence or potential conflict area, such as a barn, livestock corral, chicken coop, grain bin, or schoolyard. In addition to using paintballs, also allowed is the use of stones or marbles, either thrown or sent out of a slingshot.

When you mention the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bear population, most people think of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, and the federal parkway that connects the two. But WG&F large carnivore staff report that the grizzly population’s occupied range includes more than 7,000 square miles of private property. That’s more private property within occupied grizzly bear range than the two national parks and parkway combined.

Wolverines

The Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) has drafted its wolverine management plan ­– an important action as FWS considers wolverines a species that warrants protection as threatened, but such listing is precluded by higher priorities.

The wolverine is an 18-32 pound, high-elevation mustelid with relatively large feet, making the animals suited to movement through deep snow. Since relatively little is known about the species in Wyoming, the plan focuses heavily on research and monitoring of wolverines in mountain ranges in the western, north central and south central regions of the state.

As part of an interagency effort to survey for wolverines throughout suitable habitat in the western states, WG&F was able to confirm, for the first time ever, wolverines in the Gros Ventre Mountains, and in the southern Wind River Range.

Reading the draft wolverine plan, I learned some interesting information about the elusive carnivore. Wolverines typically breed from May through August, and display delayed implantation. In the Yellowstone region, kits are usually born from January through April, with most births occurring before the end of March.

Wyoming is at the southernmost extent of reliable wolverine occupancy; densities in our state are among the lowest densities reported in North America; and litter sizes here are small as well, at 1.1 kits. Although young mature quickly, female wolverines often don’t reproduce until they are about six years old, and then don’t produce every year.

Carnivore Conflicts

When the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meets next week in Cody, it will hear a staff update on large carnivore management activities in 2019. This is always a fascinating report and if you can’t attend, you can browse a PDF version of that presentation on the commission’s meeting webpage.

WG&F personnel responded to 535 large carnivore conflicts in 2019. That’s more than one conflict a day – extraordinary when you consider that black bears and grizzlies spend months in hibernation, so the “season” for conflicts is much shorter.

While 2019 brought more conflicts with black bears than grizzlies, when it came time to paying damage claims, grizzly bear damage payments were 46% of the nearly $1 million paid by the agency in 2019, with 34 claims totaling $646,178.

There were 48 wolf conflicts within WG&F’s jurisdiction, resulting in 27 damage claims totaling just over $200,000.

WG&F tallied 71 mountain lion conflicts, resulting in 20 claims for damages totaling about $87,000.

Although there were 224 black bear conflicts, those resulted in only 15 claims, totaling about $33,000 in compensation from the state wildlife agency.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Cat Urbigkit: Hey Neighbor Kanye, Let’s Talk Sheep!

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

My daily life involves tending to our sheep flock, and my morning news consumption includes updates on sheep and wool news from the last 24 hours. Imagine my surprise Saturday morning when Kayne West appeared in that news feed. What does Kayne West have to do with sheep?

Kanye West’s Paris fashion show coverage included references to one of the ranches he purchased in Wyoming. West told a reporter for The Cut that he’s got 700 sheep and he’s trying out different ways of felting the wool. Good on ya, Kanye! I saw a photo of the ranch’s sheep flock, and they are gorgeous range sheep, similar to other fine-wool bands found on the range throughout Wyoming.

I appreciate West’s interest in wool for his fashion line, since wool is a renewable resource, and is both biodegradable and natural. Wyoming’s recipe for wool is simple: Take four-hooved docile creatures, mix with sunshine, snow, and native vegetation, and the animals produce a soft and luxurious product.

My message to Kayne West and other aspiring shepherds is this: Wyoming has a lot to offer shepherds, so reach out to your new colleagues. A national sheep industry magazine called The Shepherd is owned by myself and another sheep producer and is based on our western Wyoming ranch. Wyoming Wool Growers Association is the state organization for us shepherds, and our American Sheep Industry Association is based in neighboring state Colorado. The Mountain Meadow Wool over in Buffalo is a family-operated wool mill that does a mighty fine job in custom processing Wyoming-grown raw wool.

Your fellow shepherds can talk to you about why we like to lamb outside in the pristine landscape, following the same natural cycles as the wild animals that share the same range. We can share how to protect your beautiful ewes and lambs from large carnivores in your neighborhood – including mountain lions, bears, and wolves – because Wyoming has them all. We can teach you how to help a weak lamb gain strength, and to practice low-stress animal handling for the benefit of both you and your sheep. We hope to see photos of your children bottle feeding orphan lambs ­– something that happens every spring on nearly every sheep ranch in America.

As shepherds, we understand the direct benefits of the healthy meat and natural fiber produced by domestic sheep. We also know the wider range of benefits sheep bring to human lives – from ecosystem services such as reducing fuel loads, fertilizing the soil, and controlling weeds, to their historic and vital roles in medical research to improve the human condition. Sheep provided the baseline for successful human blood donation, artificial heart valves, and vaccine development.

Biomedical researchers use sheep for studying neonatal development, and for optimization of drug delivery and surgical techniques. Sheep are used to study heart disease, asthma, and kidney disease; and are used as models for implanting medical devices, as well as improvements in the repair of broken bones and wounds.

Sheep provide meat, wool, numerous byproducts such as lanolin, ecosystem services, medical advances, and overall health advantages, but our flocks also provide shepherds with inspiration and a special type of calling.

We shepherds feel the benefits of human-animal bond as we work with and interact with our flocks on a daily basis. My favorites are when we assist a ewe in labor and hear that guttural, contented murmur to her newborn lambs, when we watch small children fall asleep with a lamb on their lap, and when we greet the rising sun alongside our grazing flock. Our blood pressure drops, and we are reminded of the good in the world – simply by being with our sheep.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Cat Urbigkit: State Will Hear From Public on Land Deal

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

Last week the Wyoming Legislature adopted revisions to two draft bills that allow state officials to move forward in pursuing a huge land purchase involving 1 million acres of surface and 4 million acres of mineral rights in the checkerboard of southern Wyoming. The properties at issue are the former Anadarko assets owned by Occidental Petroleum.

The major amendments to the bills now require some level of public comment, as well as an affirmative vote of the legislature before the deal could be finalized. There are still more questions about the proposal than answers, and state officials are providing few specifics. Changes have been made to the bills that require more specifics – but the details won’t be revealed until after the legislature gives the state’s top elected officials the go-ahead to conduct its due diligence on the possible land purchase.

Public Input

When it comes to public comment, provisions of the two bills differ in specifics. Senator Cale Case (R-Fremont) amended the Senate bill (Senate File 138) requiring that when state officials present their report and recommendations on moving forward with the land purchase to the legislature, the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) will immediately “make available to the public on its website the details of the purchase including the locations of the assets, the purchase price, the funding source for the purchase, the projected costs to manage the land and projected revenue streams from the assets purchased.”

Case’s amendment also requires SLIB to “establish an open public comment period to review the details of the proposed purchase, during which members of the public may submit written comments electronically, by mail or both.”

The bill also requires SLIB to hold at least one informational public hearing within a geographic area in Wyoming that would be affected by the proposed purchase, and that public testimony be taken at such a hearing.

The House bill (House Bill 249) only requires SLIB to hold at least “one public meeting in any county where the land to be purchased is located to gather input prior to the purchase.” This amendment was sponsored by Stan Blake (D-Sweetwater), John Freeman (D-Sweetwater), Albert Sommers (R-Sublette), and Clark Stith (R-Sweetwater).

Other Differences

The bills differ in substantive ways:

The Senate bill provides for two members of the house and two members of the senate to act as liaisons to SLB as it investigates the deal; the House version provides for three members from each chamber.

The Senate bill allows the state to take money from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account (LSRA); the House bill deleted this provision and instead allows the state to issue special revenue bonds to fund the deal.

Both bills allow the state to dip into the permanent Wyoming mineral trust fund, the common school account, and other sources, to fund the deal. While the House bill allows the state to aggregate its money from these varied accounts to make the purchase, it also requires that each funding source used “shall acquire separate assets that are segregated from assets of the other funding sources used.”

The Senate bill was amended to allow SLIB to accept “federal grants and other contributions, grants, gifts, bequests and donations from any source” to complete the deal. State officials have been mum as to what kind of gift they may be negotiating, and what strings may be attached to such a gift.

Both bills would establish a payment in lieu of taxes program for counties affected by the loss of taxation if the deal is passed (since the land would convert from private property to government property).

Management

How the land would be managed is another issue. The Senate bill calls for the board of land commissioners to manage all surface and mineral interest purchased, with SLIB to manage the “other” assets “in accordance with its management of other state investments.”

The House bill provides for the state land board to manage all the “surface, subsurface and mineral interests,” while SLIB manages “other” purchased assets (neither bill states what those “other” assets are), and allows for the state to retain a manager for the properties, and that “all state laws governing the management of state lands shall be applicable.”

The House bill includes other specific provisions that the Senate bill lacks:

• No royalty payable to the state can be reduced from the rate in existence at the date of the deal; and

• No grazing lease or permit in existence when the deal is made can be modified in any manner without the consent of the lessee or permit holder.

Assets Outside Wyoming

The Senate bill allows the state board of land commissioners to determine whether it should sale any acquired properties that are located outside Wyoming and gives the board the authority to sell those assets. The House bill requires SLIB to report to the legislature whether any of the purchased property in other states “should be reviewed by the board of land commissioners for immediate or subsequent sale or exchange.”

What’s Next

Both bills have passed through their houses of origin and will now be considered by the other chamber. SF138 will be considered in the House, and HB249 will be considered in the Senate. You can follow the action here.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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