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Grizzly Recovery Reflected in Upper Green Conflict

in Agriculture/Column/News/Range Writing/wildlife
Upper Green River Wyoming
2233

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The Bridger-Teton National Forest’s announcement of its decision to reauthorize cattle grazing in the Upper Green River region 30 miles north of Pinedale was met with the predictable hysteria of anti-grazing activists who claim the plan “institutionalizes overgrazing” and “negligent livestock management” on national forest lands. These activists are pushing to rid public lands of livestock and cite conflicts between grizzly bears and cattle in the Upper Green to justify their position. It’s no matter that the truth undermines their outrageous claims.

For perspective, the Upper Green is the largest cattle grazing allotment in the National Forest system, used annually by area cattle ranchers for well over a century. With more than 80 percent of Sublette County in federal or state land, public lands livestock grazing is a vital component of the area’s character and ag economy. The county’s pastoral landscapes with majestic mountain views showcase the glorious mixture of land uses, from primitive recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing, to tourism and energy development. As the Forest Service notes: “In places where agriculture increasingly operates alongside a larger, non-agricultural economy and greater range of adjacent land uses, farms and ranches continue to be important. They contribute to local economic diversity, the scenery they provide can be part of the mix of amenities that attract and retain people and businesses across a range of industries, and they are often an important part of local culture and community vitality.”

The Bridger-Teton decision authorizes a maximum of 8,819 head of livestock annually (or 8,772 cow/calf pairs or yearlings, and 47 horses), from mid-June to mid-October. The agency found that there is more than enough forage for both livestock and wildlife, noting that even when overestimating forage utilization, the “combined elk and livestock forage use on lands suitable and capable for grazing was less than the amount of forage available.”

This is not a prescription for overgrazing, and the grazing association have been active land stewards. “The Upper Green River Cattle Association is proactive in the management of the Upper Green River allotment,” according to the Forest Service record of decision reauthorizing grazing, which noted that this is demonstrated by the “voluntary permittee monitoring and adjustments to grazing practices that have occurred on the allotments for over 30 years. The permittees regularly seek information and assistance from experts in research when a problem confronts them and have a documented willingness to try new management concepts and options or take on additional responsibility if it is to the benefit of the natural resources.”

One of the biggest problems has been grizzly bear depredation on cattle, and the Upper Green has been a hotspot for these conflicts – even though it is located more than 25 miles outside the original grizzly bear recovery zone. From 2010-2018, there were 527 confirmed conflicts, and 35 grizzly bears were removed from the allotments in response. 

Noting that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population has exceeded recovery goals and continues to expand into new areas, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) reports: “This means historical activities, which are comparable to the proposed action, have had little to no discernable effect on the population’s trend toward recovery, and we do not expect continuation of these activities to reverse the trend.”

Conflicts in the Upper Green have increased an average of 9% per year as the grizzly population density has increased, and FWS noted, “The conflict and management data indicate an expanding grizzly bear population with the action area concurrent with increasing occupancy and distribution of grizzly bears throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because more bears are moving into areas with more human and livestock use, we expect even more conflicts and management actions will occur in the future.”

FWS issued a biological opinion for cattle grazing in the area, determining that it “will not jeopardize the continued existence of the grizzly bear.” The agency estimated that 72 grizzly bears could be removed from the Upper Green over the next 10 years, primarily due to management removal within the allotments, and that “will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of grizzly bears.”

FWS also noted that the cattle permittees have tried a variety of practices over the years to reduce conflicts “with varying degrees of success,” including conducting several conflict reduction workshops, changing grazing rotations and systems, hiring 5-6 range riders and utilizing five rider camps on the allotments in addition to day help, and experimenting with herding techniques in attempt to deter predation.

The top human causes of grizzly bear deaths in the Yellowstone ecosystem are defense of life and property (20.2% of all mortalities 1997-2017), followed by hunting-related defense of life and property (18.2%). The grizzly bear mortalities in the Upper Green due to livestock depredations accounted for 7.28% of all grizzly mortalities in the ecosystem from 2010-2018. Despite daily human presence in an area with a high grizzly bear density, there have been no self-defense actions taken by range riders, although FWS notes that this will always be a potential.

FWS notes that although in the last two years the number of problem grizzlies removed from the Upper Green has increased, “these bears were chronic depredators over the last few years, removal of these bears may reduce the number of conflicts and removals in the next year or two.”

 “The number of removals has been cyclical: as the depredating individuals have been removed, the number of conflicts in the following years has temporarily decreased until other bears learn depredating behaviors and the scenario repeats itself,” FWS wrote. “We believe the increasing trend in conflicts and removals and the cyclical nature of these occurrences is due to an expanding grizzly bear population, which we expect will continue in and around the action area. As a result of an expanding bear population, we believe the action area will continue to experience a regular increase in the number of conflicts and management removals over the next 10 years of the grazing permit.”

Grizzly bear mortalities in the Upper Green due to conflicts with livestock are not the result of a failure to manage grizzlies or cattle. It’s a reality of the success of grizzly bear recovery. Those who advocate the non-lethal management of conflict bears are more interested in removing livestock grazing from public lands than providing for a landscape in which traditional uses can continue.

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.

Hemp industry, Ag Department await USDA response to state’s regulatory plan

in Agriculture/Business/News
CBD oil
2208

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Hemp could be a cash crop for Wyoming growers in coming years, but seeds can’t be sown until the U.S. Department of Agriculture signs off on the state’s regulatory program.

“We have not heard much back from the USDA,” said Stacia Berry, Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) deputy director. “They anticipate having their rules out this fall.”

Hemp was legalized in 2018 after President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows ag producers to grow hemp as long as the plants contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In February, the Wyoming Legislature approved legislation removing hemp products from regulation by the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act, giving rule-making authority to the WDA and requiring the department to submit a state plan for the regulation of hemp to the USDA.

The WDA plan was submitted to the USDA in April.

Regulating hemp

Hemp is marijuana with a THC level lower than 0.3 percent and is grown for three primary products: Cannabidoil (CBD), seeds and grains.   

“(THC) is a genetic trait that you select for,” Berry said. “One of the things that can be a little tricky is, like any crop, it can change a little under stress, like heat or water stress.”

The WDA’s analytical services lab in Laramie will be tasked with testing hemp crops before harvest to ensure the plants have not crossed the allowable THC threshold, she said.

“We will have inspectors that go to the different farms and do testing, collect samples, then return those samples to the lab,” Berry explained.

Additionally, she said her department will work closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure the regulatory guidelines are followed.

The discussion about how to appropriately regulate hemp began about five years ago.

“We have worked extensively with other states’ departments of agriculture,” Berry said. “Especially in regards to understanding their approach to regulation: What has worked for them, what hasn’t worked.” The WDA gained significant insight from the Colorado and Kentucky licensing and testing protocols.

“Those are two of your highest-producing hemp states,” Berry explained.  

Processing and education

Ag plays a major role in economic development throughout the Bighorn Basin, so Christine Bekes, executive director of the Powell Economic Partnership, has spent the last year cultivating relationships with potential partners in the hemp industry. 

“There’s 25,000 to 50,000 products that can be made with hemp,” Bekes said. “Right now, most of the processors are looking at the CBD oil extraction.”

The biggest challenge for growers in the coming years is finding partners on the processing side, she said. 

“Our growers can grow anything, but if we can’t get it to market, it doesn’t do us any good,” Berry said. “I would caution any grower not to grow hemp without a contract.”

Once the USDA approves the regulatory program, processors can cement plans for building facilities to accommodate the predicted influx of hemp in 2020. Until then, Bekes said it’s important to bring as many partners as possible to the discussion table.  

“The biggest component is education,” she explained. “If people are considering hemp as an opportunity, whether it’s growing, processing or end products, I would really emphasize education, awareness and communication.”

The Wyoming Hemp Association, www.wyhemp.org, could be an information source for interested parties in the future, along with the WDA and University of Wyoming.

Jim Heitholt, director of the UW Powell Research and Extension Center Agricultural Experiment Station, confirmed his staff would conduct basic studies about the the viability of hemp crops in the Bighorn Basin once the USDA approved the WDA plan. As the new year draws near, both Bekes and the WDA said they’ve seen increased interest in hemp from around the state, but so far, it’s been a waiting game.

“Right now, we’re all preparing for it to be in the ground in 2020,” Bekes said. “In the meantime, the Wyoming Hemp Association has reviewed the WDA plan and engaged in conversations with the WDA and law enforcement. Growers and processors continue to work in the background.”

Bighorn Basin brews feature area barley

in Agriculture/Business/News
2199

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Some brewmasters in the Bighorn Basin are using barley from nearby fields in their products — shipped by way of Wisconsin.

Some of the basin’s barley growers sell their grain to Briess, a malting company based in Wisconsin. Briess malts the barley in Wisconsin and returns the malt to Wyoming, where area brewers use it in their beer.

The barley produced in the basin is consistently high in quality, said Rick Redd, regional manager for Briess, making it very attractive for use in malting.

“We’re in a high mountain desert, which has very little (precipitation), which means the barley doesn’t get a lot of rain on the plants during the growing season,” he said. “The growers control the water they put on it through irrigation.”

Fred Hopkins, who grows a number of crops including barley at his basin farm, agreed the quality of the basin’s barley is good.

“It’s fairly consistent,” he said. “It’s very rare that we have quality issues with our barley. I don’t know if it’s the climate, the irrigation, our soils or maybe a combination of all three.”

Briess uses barley from across the country to create the malt used by 85 percent of the nation’s craft brewers, Redd said.

Malt is made by wetting barley to begin the germination process, which converts the grain’s starches into sugar. The germination process is halted by drying before the malt is shipped back to brewers.

Bart Fetzer, of the WyOld West Brewery in Powell, said he likes to use Briess’ product both because of quality and because it comes from local farmers.

“It’s also about giving back to the local community, keeping the money here instead of sending it all out somewhere else,” he said. “We support the local farmers. We brew here with Briess grains and then when it’s all done, the spent grain goes into tubs and we give it to local cow farmers. So it’s kind of a circle of life kind of thing.”

First lady focuses on easing childhood hunger

in Agriculture/Business/News
First Lady Launch
2183

By Mary Angell, Cowboy State Daily

As a laboratory medical tech at the Sheridan hospital, Jennie Gordon helped physicians diagnose diseases; as a representative for Abbott Laboratories, she repaired lab equipment at hospitals and clinics; as a rancher, she’s bottle-fed newborn calves and used her hair dryer to dry and warm them. 

Now, as first lady of Wyoming, she not only supports her husband in his position but last week launched an initiative she hopes will help end childhood hunger in Wyoming. 

The Wyoming Hunger Initiative is a nonprofit, bipartisan organization that will oversee community operations that provide food to children in the state who are hungry or don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 

“I think there are already people in place doing all the work,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “What I see my position as being is putting a spotlight on it, helping people network, making people aware that we do have that problem in our state.”

“We’re making people aware, getting them to care, and encouraging them to share,”  she said. 

According to Gordon, approximately one in six kids in Wyoming is either hungry or has food insecurity.  Based on Wyoming’s population, that amounts to about 24,000 children in the state. 

“So if that were a city in Wyoming, it would be the fifth largest, after Gillette,” she said. 

Gordon said she was once unaware that hunger was a problem in Wyoming.

“I was naively thinking everybody was doing well, because the state looks great in a lot of respects,” she said. “But I ran into a friend in Sheridan who was buying food for Friday food bags to distribute in Sheridan County, and she told me they were doing over 500 food bags a week. 

After I started going into other communities on the campaign trail, I found that almost every community in our state is doing some sort of Friday food bag program. They do about 900 in Laramie County every Friday.”

Since that discovery, the first lady has traveled to nearly every county in the state to check out the organizations that combat hunger. She visited the Food Group in Sheridan, the Wyoming Food for Thought Project in Casper and mobile food pantries in Gillette. She also helped pack backpacks at the Friday Food Bag Foundation in Cheyenne. The Friday Food Bag Foundation provides bags of nutritious, non-perishable food to students in Cheyenne and Pine Bluffs who otherwise might not have much to eat over the weekend. 

The Wyoming Hunger Initiative has teamed up with the Wyoming Department of Education and the national No Kid Hungry campaign to promote in-school breakfast programs across the state.

“We were one of five states to receive a $50,000 grant from No Kid Hungry to promote breakfast at schools,” Gordon said.  “With that, we went to New Orleans in June to the School Breakfast Institute, and we have a task force that came up a plan to address what’s called the ‘breakfast gap.’  

“A lot of kids who qualify for free or reduced lunches also qualify for breakfast, but they’re not getting it for one reason or another; often times they’re the kid who is late to school and has already missed the opportunity to go into the cafeteria,” she continued. “And some kids just choose to play on the playground with their friends, even though they’re hungry, because they don’t want to miss that, and others just don’t want to be singled out.”

The “Breakfast After the Bell” program brings breakfast into the classrooms in Title I schools across the state. Children can choose to participate or not, but the food is offered to all of them.

The first lady described witnessing breakfast being served to kindergarteners at Cheyenne’s Afflerbach Elementary School recently and said she was impressed by how efficiently it was managed.

“There was not a lot of goofing around,” she said, recalling that the food was distributed in an orderly fashion and the teacher had given her students a task to complete as they ate.  

“They were ready to learn,” Gordon said, “and there was a real feel of community.” 

Ensuring children get a good breakfast is important, she said, because statistics show that kids who are fed are less likely to get sick and have disciplinary problems.

In addition to the No Kid Hungry grant, the Wyoming Hunger Initiative is funded in part by the Wyoming Governor’s Residence Foundation Board, a gift from the 2019 Inauguration Committee and funds raised at the 2019 First Lady’s Luncheon.

The board will continue to work to raise funds for the initiative that will be turned into grants available for organizations and school districts throughout Wyoming.

The website for the first lady’s initiative contains a list of all the programs throughout the state by regions so those who want to donate or volunteer — as well as people who need services — can see what’s available in their area. 

The first lady also noted that the Wyoming 2-1-1 helpline and website provide anyone in need of any kind of service — be it help with housing, food or mental health services — with a referral to the appropriate agency.

Beyond the Wyoming Hunger Initiative, Gordon’s interests run the gamut from playing with her 10-month-old grandson Everett to military activities and anything having to do with the state’s agriculture industry.

Her interest in the agriculture industry is no surprise, coming from her background helping to run the Merlin Ranch with her husband.
Gordon returns to the ranch near Buffalo every month to check in.

“I go up about twice a month for a chunk of time to try to catch up,” she said. “I love my cows, so I get to see my girls.”

Wyoming ag dwindles as gross domestic product, but continues strong as cultural commodity

in Agriculture/News
2124

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Once the subject of high expectations, Wyoming’s agriculture industry was plagued with obstacles from the outset.

Despite erratic climate conditions and the absence of irrigation infrastructure, settlers doubled down on their efforts to till the Great Plains for more than 100 years. 

“Many people in the East thought it inevitable that farms would supersede the stockman in Wyoming, quite a few people in Wyoming thought so, too,” T.A. Larson wrote in “History of Wyoming.”

Phil Roberts, a University of Wyoming professor of history emeritus and author of the “Wyoming Almanac,” said the weather during the early years of Wyoming settlement was deceptively mild.

“One important thing to bear in mind is when Wyoming was being settled, the weather was very favorable for agriculture,” Roberts said.

The great blizzards of the 1870s, unreliable precipitation at the turn of the 20th century and a 10-year drought during the Great Depression, however, proved to be more than most of the state’s first ag producers could handle.

By the 1970s, the ag industry only accounted for about 10 percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product, said Wenlin Liu, chief economist at the Wyoming Administration and Information Economic Analysis Division. Today, Liu said the ag industry makes up about 1 percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product.

Howdy, partner

At a glance, Wyoming in the mid-1800s offered settlers ample resources to build a thriving agriculture economy.

“One aspect that was always involved in people’s aspirations was there was an awful lot of land in Wyoming, and awful lot of river valleys — all they had to do was figure out how to get the water to the land,” Roberts said. “One of the problems came with financing those projects. None of the farmers had much money.”

Through legislation and the efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation, water projects started appearing across the state in the early 1900s. The final piece to the puzzle was transporting the produce.

“We can’t underestimate the importance of the three big railroads — Union Pacific, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and Chicago North Western Transportation Company,” Roberts said. “They were extraordinarily fundamental for farmers getting their product to market.”

During the 1920s and ’30s, small farms and ranches began consolidating into big corporations, hurting both the banking industry and small communities. With the damage done by the end of the World War II, the ag industry might have withered away were it not for a growth of interest in Wyoming’s subterranean resources. 

“The arrival of oil and gas drilling helped a number of those remaining small, family operations,” Roberts explained.

Farmers and ranchers worked above ground while minerals companies reaped the resources below. With railroad infrastructure already installed to transport both industries’ products to market, ag and energy worked in concert toward a more robust, albeit erratic, Wyoming economy.

Whoa, boy!

The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides economic data as far back as 1969, but painting a picture of the ag market prior to that is difficult, Liu said.

In 1997, the bureau changed its methodology for collecting data on the industry, further complicating the process of direct comparison.

“I am not sure how good you could use the new methodology on the old data to compare it to today’s data,” Liu said. 

Despite the discrepancy, the data illustrates a stagnant labor market. In 1969, the bureau reported that farm employment accounted for 14,393 of the state’s total 157,954 jobs — about 9 percent. Nearly 50 years later, in 2017, the bureau recorded 14,680 jobs in farm employment, about 4 percent of the state’s 398,199 total jobs.

While technology filled many labor gaps on the farm, Stacia Berry, deputy director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, said recruiting laborers remains one of the industry’s biggest hurdles.

“One of the challenges is finding the workforce to do the work,” Berry explained. “A lot of those jobs have shifted from American workers to bringing in workers from afar.”

Recent changes to the federal H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program created more complications for ag producers, she said. Additionally, the country’s trade situation with the world abroad is hurting the pockets of hometown Wyoming. 

“We’re still waiting for finalization of the (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), the international trade agreement with Canada and Mexico,” Berry said. “With that in flux at the same time as a trade war with China and the intense tariffs being put on agricultural commodities … that provides a lot of uncertainty, which creates some market problems.”

Wagons, ho

As an economic industry, ag might be a shadow of its former self, but it could still play a significant role in the state’s future, Berry said.

“In Wyoming’s economy, ag is foundational,” she explained. “We look at it as the third leg of an economic stool — energy, tourism and agriculture.”

Without access to the open land provided largely by ag, the energy sector could struggle to expand and as a culture and the ag community draws many of Wyoming’s visitors, she said.

Roberts said the era of dude ranches finds roots as deep as the 1960s, simultaneously decreasing the industry’s produce contribution to the state’s gross domestic product and paving an avenue for small, family-owned operations to continue their agricultural traditions.

Viewed through the lens of economic analysis, Liu said some nationwide studies indicate the ag industry’s impact on the country’s gross domestic product could be as high as 5 percent when taking into account the industries it supports such as tourism, food retail and transportation.

In Wyoming, Berry said agri-tourism, a term referring to visitors attracted by bed and breakfast resorts, corn mazes and dude ranches, is growing by leaps and bounds.

“As far as the culture of ag, ag is special, and it’s special to the people of Wyoming,” Berry said. “There’s something very romantic about the Western cowboy and I think we see that when we have talks with trading partners across the globe. People love the wide open spaces here, which is really due in part to the ag community.”

Wyoming enters into deal to boost meat exports to Taiwan

in Agriculture/Economic development/News
2109

An agreement between Wyoming and Taiwan signed earlier this week should increase the amount of Wyoming beef and lamb sold overseas, according to Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon, speaking after the signing of the agreement with Taiwanese meat packers Monday, said the deal should expand Wyoming’s export markets.

“It’s important that we have that export market,” he said. “And it’s particularly exciting to me that lamb will now be part of what we’re doing with beef and we can show the excellence of Wyoming products just generally speaking.”

The signing ceremony was attended by parties to the agreement including the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Mountain States Lamb Cooperative and Mountain States Rosen Co., a company with offices in Douglas that produces lamb and veal, and the Taiwan Meat Packers Association.

Ming-Sui Kao, of the Taiwan Meat Packers Association, said the quality of Wyoming’s beef and lamb convinced his association to enter into negotiations for the agreement.

Much of the meat to be sold to Taiwan is expected to be served in that country’s five-star restaurants.

Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Brad Boner of the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative both said Wyoming producers should have no problem meeting the demand of the Taiwan meat packers.

The agreement, reached after two years of negotiations, was part of some tough trade negotiations conducted by state officials in an effort to expand the market for Wyoming goods, said Doug Miyamoto, director of the state Department of Agriculture.

“That we can make and create these types of trade negotiations with foreign countries is good news for Wyoming’s producers,” he said.

Wyoming Native in Charge of BLM: Can He Transfer Federal Lands to States?

in Agriculture/News/wildlife
Wyoming public lands transfer
2084

By Laura Hancock, Cowboy State Daily

The transfer of federal lands to Western states, once championed by President Donald Trump’s Bureau of Land Management acting director, would be a challenge as tall as Gannett Peak, say natural resource experts who have looked at the issue. 

Cheyenne native William Perry Pendley, who earned his law degree from the University of Wyoming and once worked for U.S. Sen. Cliff Hansen, has represented ranchers and others in lawsuits against the federal government’s land and water policies. He’s argued that the federal government needs to transfer its lands to the states — a position he’s recently walked back as he serves the Trump as the helm of the BLM. 

Regardless of where he stands, an act of Congress or a lawsuit would precipitate a land transfer, experts say. 

Act of Congress

Drumming up support in Congress for a land transfer law would be difficult, said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming group that opposes transfer.

Roughly half the revenue from federal mineral production goes to the U.S. Treasury. Saying goodbye to the revenue would be a tough sell for many members of Congress. 

“Look at the Midwest – Michigan and Minnesota,” she said. “They say to come to Wyoming to go hunting…. There would be constituent backlash to that kind of idea. People see these lands as a shared national treasure.”

Anderson believes the end goal for the land transfer movement is selling the lands the private landowners, but people who support the movement dispute that conclusion.

Derek Monson, vice president of policy at the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, doesn’t agree that members of Congress from outside the West want the federal government to hold onto the public lands. They’d be interested in disposing the lands if they studied the cost of fighting wildfires and other projects, he said. 

The group considers the transfer of public lands just one option to solving perceived problems with public land management.

However, during the first two years of the Trump administration, both the U.S. House and Senate were under Republican control, and no privatization bill passed, he noted. 

Lawsuits

If Congress fails to act, states or individuals could always try litigation. The problem with a state-initiated lawsuit – at least with Trump as president – is the risk of alienating the administration, Monson said. 

“If a court rules it has to be done, what does it mean?” Monson asked. “Does the federal government dump it on the states, all at once?”

Utah has spent over $1 million in legal analysis and public relations associated with a potential lawsuit, but the state’s attorney general hasn’t yet filed a complaint. 

State Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, a proponent of land transfer, is watching Wyoming’s westerly neighbor. 

“Utah is the lead on this,” he said. “If they get traction, maybe other states will join.”

Has the movement died down?

During the President Barack Obama years, the Wyoming Legislature discussed federal land transfer, and even paid a consulting company $75,000 to look at the issue.

Since then, there’s been less talk. Anderson believes it’s because environmental regulations have relaxed.

“They have the Trump administration in their corner, rewriting the rules,” she said. 

Miller, however, said that proponents of land transfer lost the public relations battle in Wyoming, since sportsmen groups and their mostly Republican members were among the most vocal against it. 

“The outdoor people got into the hands of keeping the lands in the swamp,” Miller said. “It makes no sense to me but the PR people did a good job.”

Water flows through irrigation canal again

in Agriculture/News
1966

Water has returned to the Goshen Irrigation District canal that was breached in mid-July, leaving more than 100,000 acres of land without water.

The Goshen Irrigation District began running water down the Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal, which serves farmers in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

A 100-year-old tunnel on the canal collapsed on July 17, backing up water behind the collapse and causing a breach in the canal.

Crews worked for more than a month to repair the tunnel and canal before releasing water the canal on Aug. 28. Since then, the irrigation district has been slowly increasing flows through the canal, said Manager Rob Posten.

“We have just been bumping it up slow and taking it easy and trying to monitor thing and trying not to do something stupid and wash out what we got done,” he said.

Repair costs are estimated at around $4 million and Posten said there is some thought being give to making more extensive repairs to the tunnels and canals at a cost of up to $10 million.

As reported by Cowboy State Daily, in August the U.S. Department of Agriculture affirmed that farmers who had purchased insurance against crop damage would be able to seek some compensation for damages caused by the canal’s breach.

But Cactus Covello of Points West Community Bank said not all the farmers will be fully compensated for losses to their bean, sugar beet, corn and hay crops.

Go deeper: Irrigation canal repairs nearly complete, Goshen County to turn water back on

“There’s going to be a monetary damage to all those farmers that count on those crops to make their payments and for their livelihood,” he said.

A big dam deal: Buffalo Bill Dam expansion celebrated

in Agriculture/Energy/News/Recreation
1888

By Cowboy State Daily

The anniversary of the completion of one of Wyoming’s most impressive engineering feats was celebrated recently as Cody marked the 25th anniversary of the expansion of Buffalo Bill Dam.

The $132 million expansion project launched in 1985 raised the dam’s height from 325 feet to 350, increasing its storage capacity by 260,000 acre-feet.

The “Great Dam Day” on Aug. 17 celebrated the completion of the project with a number of activities that gave visitors a chance to stop by the dam and its visitor’s center.

Among the attendees was Bill McCormick, who served as the project manager for the expansion.

McCormick said one of the most challenging parts of the job was removing a large section of a mountain to allow for the expansion.

Project officials soon figured out that rock from the mountain could be used as “riprap” to line the reservoir’s shoreline, he said, eliminating the need to bring in the material from elsewhere.

“So it seemed very logical,” he said. “We had good granite right here and (workers could) take the rock from here.”

While the project was originally supposed to be completed in five years, various developments delayed completion, McCormick said.

“The estimated five years for the project actually took 11 as things were modified or problems came up or the design changed,” he said.

The dam today provides irrigation water for more than 90,000 acres of land in the Big Horn Basin, along with a 6-mile long reservoir that serves as a recreation area.

Irrigation canal repairs nearly complete, Goshen County to turn water back on

in Agriculture/Business/News
1895
Look back at how this water crisis began and see a view of the situation on the ground in Torrington with this report from Cowboy State Daily’s Robert Geha and Mike McCrimmon when the tunnel first collapsed.

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Tunnel crews cleared the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal tunnel Monday, and water could start flowing to crops as early as later this week, Goshen County Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said.

Full capacity irrigation, however, won’t be restored immediately, he added.

“We’ll go a little at a time until we get there,” Posten said. “It might take another week — it usually takes 7 to 10 days to bring the water into where we want it.”

Irrigation water was cut off to more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Goshen County and Nebraska on July 17 after the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal tunnel collapsed about a mile south of Fort Laramie.

Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said Posten’s announcement was well received around the community.

“Apparently there is no sidewall damage, which would have prohibited running water through it this year,” Adams said. “People in the community who’ve driven around the canal area have said the crops are looking better than expected.”

Prior to the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating Friday that crop losses caused by the canal collapse would be insured, the mayor said the incident could cost the community as much as $250 million during the next few years. Adams said he wasn’t sure how the USDA announcement would affect prior economic predictions, one of which predicted a total loss to crops that could cost Wyoming and Nebraska about $90 million.  

“The USDA is going to have to wait until those farmers harvest and turn in the crop, so they know how much they’ll pay out,” he explained. “I haven’t been a farmer for over 20 years, but crop insurance is basically a means for you to get back on your feet and plant the next crop. It’s better than getting nothing.”

Crop loss

Turning the irrigation back on could reduce overall crop loss, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher said. Xin Qiao, an irrigation management specialist at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center, produced a report in July detailing the potential crop losses in the area served by the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal. The report predicted 100 percent loss of corn, more than 90 percent loss of dry edible beans and a 50 percent to 60 percent loss of sugar beets if the tunnel was not repaired by Aug. 13.

“I don’t think that number is accurate anymore,” Qiao said. “Any rain they got (since) could reduce the overall impact. It’s the total amount of rainfall that matters and the timing. I don’t have a concrete analysis at this point.”

At his research facility in Nebraska, Qiao said his team turned off irrigation to their own sugar beat plots after the canal collapsed to study the potential effects on the crop. Unfortunately, he said a recent hail storm killed the plots before he could observe the lasting effect on the plants of removing irrigation.

“I definitely think they won’t have that much loss from the original prediction,” he said. “My (new) prediction is it will be less, but I don’t think the numbers will be that far over.”

Legislative support

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Torrington, said the tunnel reopening was great news for everyone involved.

“It’s a testament to the work of the problem solvers on the ground and both of the irrigation boards,” Steinmetz said. “(Locals are) overjoyed to have water flowing back through the canal.”

On the policy side, she said legislators are looking into potential ways for the state to help Goshen County ag producers and Wyoming residents affected by similar disasters in the future.

“The Select Water Committee will be taking up this project through the omnibus water bill,” Steinmetz said. “We’ll be advancing that to a construction phase in the 2020 (Legislative) Session.” 

The omnibus water bill allows legislators to approve and transfer funds from state accounts into priority water projects around Wyoming.“We’re also looking into an emergency account when issues like this arise similar to the fire suppression account,” Steinmetz added.

The emergency fire suppression account bill was adopted by the Legislature this year. It allows unspent, unobligated general fund monies appropriated to the Division of Forestry to revert to a revolving account for emergency fire suppression.

Questions of responsibility

Despite an outpouring of support from Wyoming agencies in response to the tunnel collapse, Steinmetz said there is still a question of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s responsibility in the collapse.

Bureau spokesperson Jay Dallman said the agency constructed the tunnel in 1917 as part of the North Platte Project, then signed over the responsibility for maintenance and use to Goshen Irrigation and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation districts.

“The agency response (to questions of responsibility) is under that 1926 agreement, the (irrigation) districts are responsible for operation and maintenance,” Dallman said. “However, we’re certainly supportive or our districts, and we’re trying to work with them to figure out solutions to the problem.”

The bureau authorized up to $4 million in loans for temporary repairs to the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal tunnel, he said. While Dallman did not have the exact amount requested by the districts on hand, he said it was about $2 million.

Posten did not have an estimate on the tunnel’s cost of repairs.

Dallman said the loan was on a 50-year term at about 3 percent interest, and the districts would only be responsible for paying back 65 percent of the loan value.

About 100 years ago, the bureau also built the Interstate Canal System, which leads out from Whalen Diversion Dam and serves farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska.

“One could easily conclude this has been an eye opener for all of us,” Dallman said. “We will probably be not only continuing inspections with the (irrigation) districts, but also looking for ways to improve on the technology used in those inspections.”

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