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Agriculture - page 7

Why a Federal Agency Kills Millions of Animals

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/wildlife/Agriculture
USDA Wildlife Services
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Within the last week Wyoming Wildlife Advocates has been busily posting on social media about USDA Wildlife Services, including this statement: “Wildlife Services kills millions of animals in the U.S. each year for no purpose.”

That is a lie – a deliberate falsehood.

With WWA spreading fabrications about this federal agency and its activities, it should have come as no surprise to see that a WWA supporter responded to one such post with “Kill those who allow this senseless slaughter of innocent animals.” When questioned whether the poster was advocating the murder of humans, the poster replied, “let me just say I am for preserving wolves over humans.”

WWA left the post advocating murder of human beings in place without comment, but when someone posted in support of wolf hunting, WWA had repeated responses about why wolves shouldn’t be killed. WWA’s lack of response to the murder advocate is a rather revealing tell, as they say in poker.

Groups like WWA love to hate USDA Wildlife Services, the federal agency specializing in wildlife damage management. They call Wildlife Services a “rogue agency” and cite the millions of animals killed by agency personnel each year in order to generate outrage.

Let’s take a look at what Wildlife Services actually did last year:

  • Worked at 843 airports to reduce aviation strikes with wildlife, and trained nearly 5,000 airport personnel in wildlife identification and control methods.
  • Collected more than 46,000 samples from wild animals to test for 37 different wildlife diseases and conditions in wild mammals, birds, and reptiles. One-third of these were for surveillance of avian influenza, and another third were for rabies testing.
  • Killed 2.6 million animals – half of which were invasive species. Eighty percent of the animals lethally removed (killed) were either European starlings or blackbirds removed under a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service depredation order because of damage to food crops, other commodities, property, and livestock. The agency used nonlethal methods to move another 41 million starlings and blackbirds from areas where they were causing damage.
  • Protected 185 threatened or endangered wildlife and plant species from the impacts of disease, invasive species, and predators, including removing more than 55,000 non-native Northern pike minnow in the Pacific Northwest to protect federally threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.
  • Of the 42.9 million animals encountered in damage management activities, 94 percent were dispersed unharmed.
  • Removed more than 73,000 feral swine, a 12-percent increase in removal of this invasive and destructive species.
  • Coyotes were the native mammal most often killed, with 68,000 killed in 48 states (for comparison, hunters and trappers in 39 states took 440,000 coyotes in 2014-2015).
  • At the request of other agencies, killed a total of 357 wolves in five states in response to repeated livestock depredations, or to protect localized wildlife populations.

Half of Wildlife Services’ funding last year was spent to reduce or prevent wildlife hazards to human health and safety, while 25 percent of funding was spent protecting agriculture, and the remaining quarter went toward property and natural resources protection, including threatened and endangered species. The agency provided technical assistance to more than a quarter-million customers nationwide in 2018.

Wildlife Services does not attempt to eradicate any native wild animal population. The agency is charged with managing problems caused by wildlife, and does so in cooperation with other federal, state, and local agencies. To pretend that Wildlife Services is out to kill millions of wild animals with no purpose is as illogical as pretending that human/wildlife conflicts don’t exist. It’s simply not true.

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.

Range Writing: Moving Away From Nature

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
Wyoming sheep dog
1550

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The New York Times opinion writer Timothy Egan has done it again, proclaiming in a “Fake Meat Will Save Us” piece that “At a moment when animal-based agriculture is near the top of planet-killing culprits, ditching meat for substitutes, faux or otherwise, is the most effective thing an individual can do to fight climate change….”

Not distinguishing between types of ag operations, Egan complains about animal agriculture, while conceding that the new meat alternatives that will save humankind “are highly processed Frankenfoods hatched in a lab.” But hey, at least industrial ag isn’t as bad as the current president, which Egan calls “the worst threat to the planet now.” Given his political agenda and tendency to exaggerate, it’s hard to take Egan seriously. But his column is a reflection of some troubling public policy questions.

When I read about global-scale food and agriculture policies, my mind most often goes to the people of rural Africa, and I question how that policy or advance in technology will help my friends in that landscape. Most often these policies and new technologies are advanced and touted by elitist white men inhabiting cities in industrialized countries.

These people know nothing of cattle and sheep production on the western range, of migratory livestock herds in Africa, or even that meat production occurs outside of feedlots, and that not all animal production is done on an industrial scale. That there are people all over the globe who live close to nature and know how to feed themselves doesn’t receive a thought.

When Egan writes that it takes 660 gallons of water to create a burger, I realize that a person who would advance such a notion has never looked at an African cow and how it is raised.

The current view that new food technology will be our salvation results in a drive that pushes the human population further away from nature and away from a reliance on the land to sustain our bodies. When it comes to food production, it’s a predictable cycle, with a predictable outcome. I’ve just finished reading a book that is an excellent study for those of us who tend sheep but would hold little interest from most of the general public called The Art & Science of Shepherding: Tapping the Wisdom of French Herders, edited by Michel Meuret & Fred Provenza.

The book sketches the history of agriculture in southern France. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, sheep raising in southern France was not for wool or meat production, but for the production of sheep manure to maintain fertility in two-year cereal crop rotations.

Most flocks were wethers that were not slaughtered until they were four or five years old. Later agricultural modernization resulted in the view that rangelands were worthless, as producers turned to “new, high-performance animal genotypes, which require a standardized, nutrient-rich diet for meat or milk production.”

Scientists advised that productive herds be kept indoors or on forage crops where ration optimization could be calculated, based on feed value tables. As ag operations became specialized, they became concentrated on arable lands, and rangelands were abandoned or planted with trees.

What was lost in the process? Shepherding skills, and the knowledge of the natural world. Industrialized agriculture in France resulted in ag production growing by 250 percent from 1954 to 1992, and farm labor productivity increased tenfold, while the farm population declined to a quarter of its former size.

Within a few decades, southern France’s countryside had lost its diversity of meadows, forests and grasslands, and had become a closed and unmanaged landscape of dense brush and forest, with most human activity confined to the valley floors.

A variety of factors led to the next change, but at last the public and governments took notice of the degraded landscape, abandoned farms, loss of farmers, and noted the need to restore the land. The loss of biodiversity and increased fire hazards could be corrected through traditional livestock grazing.

Livestock could be used as an environmentally friendly way to restore the land, reduce the risk of wildfire, and provide healthy food. At last, the livestock were allowed to be turned back outdoors – and bewildered livestock producers were given financial incentives to do so.

Those former peasants who had herded sheep in the past were suddenly viewed as experts in valuable traditional knowledge, and schools sprang up to help spread this knowledge. The book details the 11 categories of shepherds and goatherders in France, and the various governmental support and structure for these positions. Grazing trusts provide financial support for capital expenditures, including the construction of handling facilities, while other funding may provide for supplies to be dropped on mountain pastures via helicopter.

Public policies, backed by financial support, has livestock producers focused not just on producing a quality meat product, but in providing for a variety of ecosystem functions. French farmers may receive $30-270 per acre annually to provide these ecosystem services.

Half of all the lamb consumed in France is imported, mainly from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and sheep production in France receives support from European Union ag subsidies – which account for more than half of a producer’s net income.

The conservation of nature is a big deal in Europe, and animal agriculture is viewed a key component to maintain outstanding biodiversity. Perhaps the fake meat elitists need to spend some time actually harvesting food grown in nature, rather insist that the public eat something manufactured in a laboratory.

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.

Meet the young Wyoming bullfighter whose ‘life calling’ is cowboy protection

in News/Tourism/Agriculture
1547

Bull riding is one of the most popular events in rodeo. But it is really two events in one.

The bulls and bull riders share the arena with highly skilled bullfighters whose work begins when the ride is done.

While bull riders were out in the arena four times during last week’s College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, the bullfighters were out more than 100 times. And hometown hero, bullfighter Wyatt Mason — a Casper, Wyoming native — was in the arena 135 times looking out for his fellow cowboy.

“It’s just been a calling of mine ever since I could walk,” said the CNFR bullfighter Wyatt Mason.

Fellow bullfighters Josh Rivinious and Nathan Harp joined Mason in the arena serving as life saving partners to bull riders and artful distractions for the 1,500 pound bulls with whom they tangle.

College National Finals Rodeo in Wyoming: Special Olympics

in Community/Tourism/Agriculture
1544

On the last day of the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming contestants help put on a Special Olympics version of the competition for area special olympians.

The Special Olympics at the CNFR is attended by rodeo athletes from around the country — many of whom participate every year.

Miles City, Montana’s Haven Meged — who won the College National Finals Rodeo tie-down roping title — said, “To see the participants smile is pretty cool. We’re fortunate. They are happy to be here.”

And you could tell Haven Meged was happy to be there too.

Chadron Coffield, a participant in the College National Finals Rodeo, is a freshman at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, Wyoming. Coffield was paired with one special olympian and said of his friend, “We had a lot of fun today. He got to experience new things and it is just a blast to see him have fun.”

Taylor Munsell, a participant in the College National Finals Rodeo, is from Northwest Oklahoma State. Taylor Munsell said, “It’s a great experience. Everyone should come out and try it.”

Priscilla Dowse, the CEO and President of Special Olympics Wyoming, said, “Our athletes are champions. We know that. And for them to have the opportunity to create the bond and spend that time together — everyone benefits. We have athletes who come out every year and wouldn’t miss it for anything and we have rodeo champions who not only want to win a championship but to have the opportunity to participate in this.”

Priscilla Dowse went on to say, “In fact, we have some champions who stay in touch with our athletes. It’s all about relationships and coming together.”

Branding Day in Wyoming: Ranchers and rodeo stars at work on 3J Ranch

in Community/Agriculture
1540

Branding day in Wyoming means hard work, comrade, tradition and stewardship. At the 3J Ranch in central Wyoming, it also means catching glimpses of real cowboys (and rodeo stars) at work.

It’s a special day in a much glamorized slice of Wyoming life.

And they say, “To be a cowboy, there’s no better job in the world.”

Last Thursday was a big day on the 3J Ranch. It was branding day. A day that was delayed more than a week by wet conditions. The cattle were gathered on a beautiful morning west of Casper, Wyoming and the 3J Ranch tradition dating to the early days of Wyoming statehood was carried out by many friends and Johnson family members.

Casper College rodeo coach Jhett Johnson led the massive branding effort. Jhett Johnson, a bonafide cowboy and rodeo star earned a world champion’s gold buckle for team roping in 2011. His son, Kellan Johnson, is a real deal cow hand and rodeo star too. Kellan Johnson won the 2018 college national title in rodeo for the same event.

Between the backdrop and the cowboys, it’s hard not to feel like you are walking into a photo shoot with a bunch of Marlboro men. They are keeping the traditions of the west alive in ol’ Wyoming and passing their knowledge on to the next generation of ranchers while they’re at it.

Retiring An Old Dog

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
Guardian sheep dog
1483


By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

We’ve spent the past four years trying to convince an old range dog to retire. Old Mama is a fine old livestock guardian dog that has traveled many, many miles with her flocks. She’s not much to look at, and her face and body carry many scars of battle, proof of her unwillingness to back down from a fight with any predator.

Born on the range to working guardians, she’s lived all her 13+ years of life there, migrating with the flocks from the sagebrush-covered low country in winter, to the high country of the Wind River Mountains as the flocks move for summer grazing. Her hard pawpads carried her over more than 200 miles of trail each year, moving slowly with the seasons.

As she aged, we gradually placed Old Mama with flocks following shorter trails, and finally stopped allowing her to trail to winter range four years ago. She’s adapted beautifully to every change; so long as she’s with sheep, she’s content.

One dark night in the fall of 2017, a pack of wolves attacked our sheep flock on its bedground, and Old Mama was one of three livestock guardian dogs injured in the brawl. With the help of a dedicated local veterinarian, Old Mama recovered from severe wounds, but the attack and her advancing age led to the decision to end her free-ranging days out with the main sheep flock. Old Mama had always enjoyed leading her flock out to graze for the day, sticking her tail straight into the air and stepping daintily as the sheep followed along. But those days were over.

By this point, Old Mama was still in great physical condition, but her teeth were so worn with age so she could no longer defend herself. The other guardian dogs would surely come to the defense of their comrade, but with wolves coming in so close to the sheep night pen, and confrontations escalating, I didn’t want to risk losing such a magnificent creature as Old Mama to wolves.

It was a tough decision to slip a leash over her neck and hold her back that cold morning, standing with the old dog as she watched her flock go forward without her. I turned her head and directed her into a large pen of lambs we’d kept from that spring, and Old Mama seemed happy enough to be with these youngsters.

There are always at least a few sheep around the ranch headquarters, and in the wintertime we feed hay nearby, so Old Mama always has access to the thing she loves most – her sheep. Last winter, Old Mama stayed close to the house, sometimes seeking shelter in the barn, but more often than not sleeping in the haystack next to the flock’s night pen.

Old Mama is going deaf, she can’t see well, and now she’s a little wobbly on her feet. It’s lambing season again, and I’ve got a small pen of orphan lambs for her to keep company.

One afternoon last week, I looked out to see a livestock guardian dog leaving the headquarters, headed into our lambing pasture. The dogs guarding the lambing flock burst into action, barking and racing to face the intruder, but then breaking into excited body wiggles when they saw the grand old girl was once again joining the flock. Everyone in our family cheered for the old dog and her determination.

Old Mama’s body may be weakening, but she still has a booming bark that broadcasts warnings to tell predators to stay away. She parked herself in the middle of the flock, staying close to a ewe that gave birth later that night. The other guardian dogs kept a respectful distance, knowing that this elderly guardian belongs wherever she wants. She’s earned this range.

Once the ewe moved off with her newborn lambs the next morning, Old Mama began her slow journey back to headquarters, where her new crop of orphan lambs was waiting. She spent the night with these wee ones, then set out again in her slow lumber for the lambing flock.

This noble old dog has earned the right to make her own decisions. We’ll try to minimize her risk of injury, but in the end, she’ll decide how she wants to leave this life. At the very least, we owe her 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.

Smith: Botanic Garden a success despite climate, altitude

in Community/Agriculture
1417

Cheyenne’s Botanic Garden thrives despite the city’s lousy growing climate, its low population and its elevation, according to the man who directed the facility’s operations for 40 years.

Shane Smith, who retired as director of the Botanic Gardens in 2018, said the city-owned facility has succeeded thanks to the undying optimism of its volunteers and staff members.

“There were a lot of frustrating times where money was tight and things would be going wrong and vandals would come and destroy things and we just couldn’t get things repaired,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “But we were optimistic and had just great volunteer support.”

Smith, who is considered the founder of the Botanic Gardens, said it is rare for a community the size of Cheyenne to have such a facility.

“You would never put a botanic garden in a city this size,” he said. “Usually, you need a half a million people to support a botanic garden that has a professional staff and a grounds and a conservatory.

In addition, Cheyenne has a growing climate that is less than ideal, said Smith, who now volunteers as executive director of the “Friends of the Botanic Garden.”

“Cheyenne has one of the worst garden climates in the lower 48,” he said. “We’re number one in the nation for hail, number four for wind, 6,000-foot elevation, we have a lot of days of winter without snow cover. So I always say you’d have to be kind of an idiot to put a botanic garden in a town this size with a climate this way and I’m that useful idiot.”

In recognition of his hard work with the Botanic Garden, the Cheyenne City Council recently named the facility’s grand conservatory the “Shane Smith Grand Conservatory.”

Wyoming’s own takes the reins at the PRCA

in News/Agriculture
1415

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) is gaining new leadership from the Cowboy State. Cheyenne’s Tom Glause is now on board as Chief Operating Officer and Director of Rodeo Administration for the PRCA, which is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Until his appointed at the PRCA, Glause served as State Insurance Commissioner under Governor Mead and Governor Gordon. 

Glause knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a PRCA contestant. He rodeoed in college (at Casper College and the University of Wyoming) and became a card-carrying PRCA cowboy, riding bucking horses and team roping. And his son, Seth, is a four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier as a bull rider.

More than 1,500 students in Cheyenne for “Agriculture in the Classroom” event

in News/wildlife/Education/Agriculture
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More than 1,500 grade school students from around Wyoming gathered in Cheyenne on Friday to learn more about the state’s agriculture industry.

The students were in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom program’s 25th annual “Bookmark and Beyond” celebration, where student showed off their designs for agriculture-themed bookmarks and learned about different aspects of the industry.

Among the activities for students was a hands-on session with a mapping system that allows users to locate a pasture and count and track the cows in it.

Ala Telck, president of Sheridan’s AgTerra Technologies, said his company donated the money for the software used at the celebration because of the growing importance of technology in agriculture.

“Technology is not going to go away, it’s only going to become more important,” he said. “We want to help our youth embrace and become very good at this technology.”

Many of the students attending the event live on farms and ranches in Wyoming and Doug Miyamoto, the director of the state Department of Agriculture, said such a background instills those children with a sense of responsibility.

“Those kids start working at a very early age and there’s a lot expected and demanded of them and I think they understand that,” he said. “A lot of the kids that come from agricultural backgrounds know what their expectations are and they perform to that level.”

Matt Micheli, an Agriculture in the Classroom board member who grew up on a ranch near Fort Bridger, agreed.

“I think it creates a real work ethic, but also an understanding of responsibility, that when something’s entrusted to you, that you have to follow through,” he said.

The winning bookmark design unveiled during the event came from Dawson George of Cody, whose illustration showed cows, pheasants and oil wells.

FFA State Convention offers students skills training, competition

in Community/Agriculture
1246

By Cowboy State Daily

You’d recognize those blue corduroy jackets with their gold medallions embroidered on the back anywhere. And the number of young people sporting the handsome garb is on the rise in Cheyenne this week as the Wyoming FFA Association State Convention comes to town.

At the three day convention junior high and high school students from across Wyoming enjoy opportunities to sharpen their skills in everything from judging livestock and horses to developing business, sales and marketing plans to competing in parliamentary procedure and public speaking.

Students and coaches say the convention builds camaraderie among FFA students and cements marketable skills that students can use in their careers, whether they stay in agriculture or pursue a different field altogether.

“They become very confident because they learn how to speak well in front of people,” Laramie County Community College Equine Studies Instructor and Equestrian Team Coach Lanae Koons McDonald explained. “The students learn how to defend what they see.”

Cowboy State Daily videographer Mike McCrimmon caught up with FFA students – including Evanston High School FFA President Bailey Barker – to learn more about the competition as well as the personal and professional development FFA provides.

Barker told Cowboy State Daily, “We have a cattle ranch back home. You learn even more [at state convention] than you do there. You just continue your learning and your progress and your growth.”

The convention runs through Friday at various sites around Cheyenne.

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