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Wyo Ag Groups Say Supreme Court Was Right In Denying Rancher $350K For Grizzly Bear Cattle Killings

in News/wildlife

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association felt the Wyoming Supreme Court made the right decision when it ruled against a Hot Springs County rancher who requested more than $300,000 in compensation for his calves killed by grizzlies.

In late April, the Supreme Court ruled against cattle and sheep rancher Josh Longwell, who in 2018 requested nearly $350,000 in compensation from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department after finding a number of his calves had been killed by grizzly bears.

The Supreme Court denied this, ruling that the more than $61,000 the rancher received in compensation was fair.

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the Supreme Court made the right decision in the ruling, even if Longwell did not get the amount of money requested.

“I feel for Mr. Longwell and he has suffered severe losses,” Magagna said. “But at the same time, the law is what it is.”

Ken Hamilton, executive director of the Wyoming Farm Bureau, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the issue was more than the ruling for money, but rather about hunting grizzly bears.

“By protecting the grizzly bear under the federal Endangered Species Act, it shifts these costs back to the rancher and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department,” he said. “We’ve run into this before where the federal government is anxious to protect an animal, but they’re not anxious to accept the responsibility of that.”

Hamilton said that until animals such as the grizzly bear or gray wolf can be removed from the endangered species list, states will not be able to manage them the way they should properly be.

A Game and Fish Department investigation determined 20 of Longwell’s calves had been killed by the bears. But in the compensation request, Longwell noted that 294 calves were unaccounted for by the end of the 2018 grazing season.

“Mr. Longwell based his claim on an assumption that for every calf confirmed as killed by a grizzly bear, 19 others had been killed and their remains could not be found,” the ruling said.

The Game and Fish Department rejected this claim, but officials agreed to compensate Longwell for the loss of 70 calves, an amount that totaled $61,202.79.

However, the case went into arbitration and Longwell was awarded $266,695.32. The Game and Fish Department appealed the decision, which ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

“We are sympathetic to Mr. Longwell’s plight. His frustration with the grizzly bear predation occurring on his ranch is obvious…,” the ruling said. “However, as the court also recognized, Mr. Longwell’s remedy lies with the [Game and Fish] Commission or the legislature, not this court.”

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Walt Disney’s Grandson Fights To Save Family Wyoming Ranch

in News

By Vince Bodiford, via The Cheyenne Post

The Code of the West says, “Remember that some things aren’t for sale,” but Disney heir’s California trustees have different designs on the ranch

(CHEYENNE, WY) A picturesque 110-acre Wyoming ranch in Teton County is at the center of a multi-million-dollar battle by Walt Disney’s grandson, Bradford Disney Lund, to secure control of the inheritance put in trust for Lund by his mother, Sharon Disney Lund.

The Code of the West seems to elude Lund, who hopes that the Wyoming ranch will continue to be retained by the trust as was intended for use and enjoyment by him and his family. Lund is ensnarled in California’s notoriously abusive-prone probate system. As full as Walt Disney was with imagination, he likely would have never dreamt that such an unhappy circumstance would unfold for his grandson.

Hanging in the balance is “Eagle South Fork,” the family ranch that is located in Wilson, Wyoming, in Teton County, in the shadow of Grand Teton, not far from Jackson Hole. It’s been a Disney family treasure for decades.

But the California trustees of the estate have different designs on that ranch and recently sent Lund a letter demanding that he buy the very ranch of which his trust already owns one-half, or they’ll sell it to other outside buyers for millions, which would be contrary to his mother’s clear intent according to Lund’s filings.

In that letter, his trustees – who by law should only act in his best interests – gave him just a few days to pay up with his personal funds at a higher price than would be the case if the ranch were restricted to family uses and contrary to what the trustees and his sister had previously agreed.

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In an exclusive interview with The Cheyenne Post, Lund said that “the ranch isn’t for sale, I don’t want it sold,” making it clear that he wants the ranch to stay in the family to continue to enjoy, and not break up and develop. The California trustees apparently have never heard of one of the Codes of the West – “Remember that some things aren’t for sale.”

Concerning the sale of the Wyoming ranch, Lund objects to any such sale, stating that it would be in violation of the family’s long history over 40 years of wanting to keep the 110-acre ranch for the children’s use and enjoyment during their lifetimes.

So, Lund went into the district court in Teton County to stop the trustees from selling the ranch to outsiders against Lund’s wishes.

The Trustees attempted to move the case to California instead of Wyoming because they claimed it was more convenient.

The trustees apparently believe that a California court might be more friendly and certainly a world away from understanding Wyoming and better to decide the fate of that little patch of Wyoming ground. The court agreed to transfer the case to California and dismiss Lund’s case.

However, Lund recently filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, which would, in effect, allow the judge to take another look at his decision to transfer the case to California. If the judge does not change his transfer ruling, Lund intends to appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

In our exclusive interview with Bradford Lund this week, he shared ranch stories– most stories were happy, and some were sad.

Happy stories recall his father, Bill Lund, developing and building the ranch decades ago, and Lund helped his father set fenceposts (a Wyoming art form), fly-fishing on Fish Creek (the ranch is on the banks of the creek, itself on the edge of Snake River), horseback and ATV adventures and more.

Among the most moving is Brad’s desire to establish a permanent memorial for his father on the ranch that Brad says his dad loved so much and always intended to remain with the family. “I’d like for my father’s ashes to rest on this ranch (allowed in Wyoming),” Lund said.

Sad stories were – frankly – shocking. Previously able to use and enjoy the ranch whenever he and his family wished, Lund said they have been essentially alienated and deterred from enjoying the ranch due to the trustees’ conduct.

“I feel that we were treated viciously by the trustees,” he said. Lund also claimed, “the trustees have shown hostility towards me by demanding I move my personal items contained in my bedroom at the ranch to the garage contrary to my custom for the previous 25 years. Also, the trustees ordered that the property of my family, who visit the ranch with me, be removed from the ranch completely. I believe that these actions by the trustees are for the sole purpose of harassing and exerting control over me, demonstrating their consistent hostility towards me. They boxed up all of our possessions and sent them to us.”

When Lund tried to place some personal items back at the ranch, “they put my stuff in trash bags and threw it all away.”

In my conversation with him that lasted over an hour, Lund very clearly and concisely articulated stories and long-ago memories of enjoying the ranch over the years with his family and the details of his dispute with the trustees that go back years.

“All I want is my freedom, to have what is mine,” he said. He clearly has a firm understanding of the complexities of his estate and how he wants to preserve and manage it. Lund said the trustees have kept control of his estate by falsely asserting he isn’t competent to manage it himself, despite the fact that an Arizona judge after an extensive trial found that he was competent to handle his personal and financial affairs. This finding was confirmed all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court. His twin sister Michelle Lund in sworn court testimony, agreed.

When reached by telephone and asked about the issues, Newport Beach, CA. based Douglas M. Strode, one of the trustees, answered questions about the ranch and Mr. Lund with a simple answer, “no comment.”

Disney’s grandson was recently forced to file court papers in the Los Angeles County Superior Court asking to block his four trustees: L. Andrew Gifford, Robert L. Wilson, Douglas M. Strode, and the First Republic Trust Company, from selling the ranch, according to an attorney representing him – Lanny J. Davis.

For nearly the past decade, Lund has battled estranged family members, trustees, and probate court officials, proving again and again that he is mentally fit to manage an inheritance worth over $400-million. He’s had to prove that he doesn’t have Down syndrome, as a California judge wrongfully asserted, despite being presented with DNA evidence contradicting his speculation. A court in Arizona even agreed and found Lund capable of handling his affairs.

In representing the Disney heir, attorney Lanny Davis is no stranger to complex legal matters. He served as special counsel to then-President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s and as privacy and civil liberties advisor to President George W. Bush from 2006-2007 and represented President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Davis chose to join the Lund legal team out of his concern for the injustices done to Lund.

Mr. Lund’s choice of attorney, also including renowned Scottsdale litigator Sandra Slaton, might alone quash any doubts about his ability to manage his affairs.

According to legal filings, the four trustees themselves agreed that the ranch had special personal value to the Lund family – that it was of a “particular nature” with a “connection to the Lund family.”

Lund asserted in his court papers that the new proposed sale would be a violation of a prior deal for him to acquire his twin sister’s other half of the ranch share, and the 40-year intent of Mr. Lund’s parents to keep the Ranch in the Trust for the children’s lifetime use and enjoyment. “Our family has always treasured the pristine environment – the rivers and streams and forests and wildlife – of our ranch over many years. We do not want it to be changed.”

In his filings, Lund asserted: “An undeniable benefit will be to the Trustees based upon their Real Estate Fee. The Trustees will receive 2% of the purchase price.” The trustees have described this fee as “extraordinary.” According to the terms of Lund’s and his twin sister’s trusts, as explained in the legal filings, neither Mr. Lund nor his sister would personally receive an economic benefit if the ranch were sold at the higher price based on commercial subdivisions of the ranch.

Saving the Wyoming ranch would be one step closer for Bradford Lund toward putting the family disputes the trustees created behind him and living his life in peace and freedom.

Liberating himself from the trustees who he says have harmed him so badly over the years is his ultimate goal. “The system is broken,” said Rick Black, a director at the Center for Estate Administration Reform in North Carolina. “This is purely an estate-trafficking case, and it is being managed by predatory attorneys,” Black told The Orange County Register last year.

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DISNEY RANCH / Photo Captions

Fly Fishing Snake River Grand Teton:
The ranch location region includes spectacular scenery, views of Grand Teton, and is a prime fly-fishing location in the valley on Fish Creek and the Snake River. Photo by Chad Ehlers/Alamy Stock Photo.

Walt Disney:
Walt Disney at the center of Disneyland in Anaheim, CA in the mid-1960’s. Photo: Disney Archives

Bradford Lund Disney Grandson.
Bradford Disney Lund. Photo Courtesy Lanny J. Davis.

Walt Disney and Sharon Disney Courtesy D23:
Bradford Disney Lund’s mother and grandfather – Sharon Disney Lund and Walt Disney. Photo: Disney Archives via D23.

Bradford Lund Disney Ranch Google Earth:
View of the ranch headquarters (center), West of Jackson along Fish Creek and the Snake River, on the West Bank South area of Jackson Hole, in Wilson, WY – population 200. Image Via Google Earth.

Bradford Lund Disney Ranch Jackson WY Map:
Ranch boundaries and divisions shown, made up the several parcels shown in yellow, occupying everything between Fall Creek Road and the Snake River. Courtesy Graphic.

The Value of Rural Subdivisions

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Agriculture
Sublette County

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Private ranches help to preserve open space and wildlife habitat, while urban dwelling condenses the size of the human imprint on the landscape. These benefits are readily understood, but the importance of rural subdivisions to local communities is often overlooked.

Rural subdivisions suffer from love/hate status. While many residents hate to see fragmentation of rural land, many other people dream of living on a few acres outside of town. They love the freedom offered by rural living, including raising their children with more outdoor space, and having animals that would be prohibited by municipal living. The large percentage of government land ownership in Wyoming serves to make land use planning for private property all the more critical since energy development on public land can cause a large influx of people in need of housing, yet the burden for providing housing falls to the limited amount of private land available.

Nearly half of Wyoming is managed by the federal government, and Wyoming continues to maintain its status as having the lowest human population of any state in the union. With our traditional public lands-based boom-and-bust energy cycle comes tremendous ebbs and flows in our human population. Sublette County is a prime example. With less than 6,000 residents in the county in 2000, the county boomed to a high of 10,476 people by 2012, with most of this growth associated with net migration due to energy development. With the energy bust, the county population declined more than 6 percent by 2019, to just over 9,800 people.

With the bust, Sublette County lost about 663 residents from its peak population. By 2017, 46 percent of Sublette County’s housing units were classified as vacant. That’s a startlingly high vacancy rate, but Sublette County has long been known for its hosting of “second” homes to people living outside the county. About 68 percent of the county’s vacant units are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use (second homes), and 15 percent of the county’s vacant units are for rent or sale. But another 15 percent (428 homes) are classified as “other” vacant, which means they are not for sale or rent, or otherwise available to the marketplace. According to the Wyoming Community Development Authority, “These units may be problematic if concentrated in certain areas, and may create a ‘blighting’ effect.”

Although we lost more than 660 residents, what we see now is that some of the people who moved to Sublette County to work in the gas fields have decided to stay; either hanging on to what energy jobs are available, or finding other ways to make a living. They may have moved here for the boom, but have determined to stay for other reasons, despite the economic downturn. While some of these residents live in town, and some have constructed homes on large acreages, most often I see their presence reflected in rural subdivisions. They have greenhouses, art studios, vegetable gardens, and chicken coops. The kids learn to ride bicycles on dirt driveways; they construct primitive forts in their yards; and they go out into the pasture to “camp” in the summer. They wade in irrigation ditches on hot days, ride incessant laps on snow machines and dirt bikes, and feed calves, pigs, and lambs for show at the county fair.

Most of these families have animals – cats and dogs, chickens and other fowl, small and large livestock, and horses – and all of these animals require both space and food. Since the acreages are too small to be self-sustaining for their domestic animals, animal feedstuffs must be purchased and brought in, which adds to the local economy. I drive by a busy feedstore across from a rural subdivision every time I drive to town.

Although some decry rural subdivision of land for its scarring of the landscape and harm to nature, I maintain that for these rural residents, they are living as close to nature (blemished though it may be) as they possibly can. Their animals are what connect them to the land, and when the jobs that brought them here may go elsewhere, it is the land and animals that keep them here.

While some may notice the horses standing in a dirt-packed corral, I see that the horse owners have corralled the horses to give their limited pasture time to rest and grow. I see those horses loaded for roping competitions, fairs and rodeos, for family pack trips and hunting adventures, and for kids to ride bareback on the vast public lands nearby, where the kids climb off to explore horned toads and other wonders of nature that surround them.

While some see rural sprawl, I notice the installation of flowerbeds, scattered wildflowers over septic systems, and boxes lovingly crafted for bats, bluebirds, and kestrels. I see people who have taken some level of food security into their own hands, raising animals to provide meat for the freezer, and living and learning about the cycle of life and death, and knowing where their food comes from.

All forms of living have both societal and environmental impacts (negative and positive), but rural subdivisions are often maligned. This view fails to recognize that people can be drawn to our communities with properties in rural subdivisions, and these rural ranchettes can serve as anchors that connect communities while supporting local economies.

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.

Dear Hunters

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing
Wyoming mule deer
A mule deer buck stays in the shadows on Wyoming’s sagebrush steppe. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Dear Hunters,

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I am happy that you’re out having adventures, and hopefully getting some tasty meat for the freezer. I know that you look forward to hunting season all year long, and it’s a big part of why you are in this great state, whether as a resident or a visitor.

And I appreciate that so far this year, all but one of you have honored our ranch gates by leaving them as you find them. (We’ve still got six more yearling heifers to move into the correct pasture because of the one who didn’t close the gate.) I really appreciate you hunters who stop and visit, so we can share where the livestock and wildlife are currently located as we attempt to avoid conflict and increase your chance of success.

So far it’s a better year for us than the past few when we’ve had a lock shot off a gate (and the game camera that captured the act stolen); other gates and fences were cut or left open; and traps set out for a critical animal damage control project were tampered with so they wouldn’t work. Last fall I was hollered at by a group of armed men that had climbed through a fence to kill an antelope on private ground and then tried to evade the game warden by racing out through the sagebrush.

But that was last year. We’ve tried to do better, to make things better for all of us. We repaired things that were broken, checked all the gates, posted more informative signs along property lines, and hoped for a better season this year. It was a real pleasure (and relief) to see some of the same great hunters this year as we have in the last few years, and once again we enjoyed visiting with them and their families as we helped pack their game back to their vehicles. They thoughtfully brought a box of dog treats for our working dogs, guaranteeing we’ll be happy to see them again next season.

What you probably don’t know is that after the hunters leave, we return to where the game carcasses have been dressed out to pick up the discarded remains – because we don’t want to have attractants bringing more predators to our livestock pastures. It’s something hunters don’t need to think about, but we do.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a few encounters with hunters this year that have left me fighting negative feelings. You asked me where to find some sage grouse, so I told you. You shot one right off the mud puddle where it had come for a morning drink. That bird didn’t even fly before you took the shot. Legal? Sure. Repulsive? That too. 

When you flushed that covey of grouse, you pulled the trigger even though my truck was approaching directly in your shot line. Since you missed both the grouse and my truck, I’m guessing you didn’t do a split-second calculation that the shot wouldn’t reach me, so that was a shot you shouldn’t have taken.

You watched me get out to open a barbed-wire gate, pull through and park out of the way before getting out to close the gate behind me. You pulled through that gate and didn’t even put down the window to thank me as you rolled through that cold morning. I was flabbergasted by such behavior out in the countryside, because that’s just not how we roll out here.

The same gate that two groups of hunters with permission to access private ranch lands for their own pleasure have passed through numerous times, but not stopping to lend a hand. 

I suppose I’m sensitive about these things because as I write, I’m overly tired. After starting the day yesterday with a flat tire on one ranch truck, that truck was abandoned while I was on the run all day, moving livestock and doing triage on a variety of issues that developed throughout the day, and feeding, managing, and doctoring animals, even putting one down. I didn’t get everything done before dark, and the truck with the flat tire is still sitting in the same spot next to the main ranch gate.

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

Parking a vehicle so that an access route is blocked is inconsiderate to other users of Wyoming’s outdoors. (Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit)

Adding to my distress was a hunter who spent the day hiding along the property line near our ranch headquarters. Yes, it was legal because the adjacent piece is public land (thousands of acres of it!). But hiding near livestock guardian dogs that are actively watching over livestock is generally a bad idea. After a dog alerted me to the man’s presence, I kept close tabs on the guardians and the man all day, but it was an added worry that kept me on that side of the ranch as I tried to keep on top of a trying day.

And I’m missing an Idaho bowhunter this year who we always enjoy watching: the man will hike for miles before taking his game. Perhaps other things got in the way of your slow stalks through Wyoming sagebrush this season, but I’m hopeful you’ll return to your annual ritual in our neighborhood.

But today is a new day, time to try again. This morning, a hunter given permission to access private ground came through before sunrise, parked his 4-wheeler in the middle of the two-track road above the river, pulled the key out and walked away. It took every bit of personal willpower for me to resist the urge to hook onto that obstacle and drag it out of the roadway, just as I would a downed tree.

Let’s all do better tomorrow. I’ll try if you will. I’ll try to be a better host, to not let little things become major irritants, and to be considerate of your needs as a hunter. I’m betting that you will be willing to give me equal consideration for my job as a livestock and land manager. Let’s all remember that we share Wyoming’s great outdoors and share some of the best of ourselves in the process. Good luck out there!

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

USDA helps veterans turn from swords to plowshares

in News/military/Agriculture
USDA helps veterans turn from swords to plowshares

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Young people are losing interest in the agriculture industry, but the United States Department of Agriculture is hoping low-interest loans could attract a different demographic — veterans. The USDA’s loan program has been around in one form or another since the 1930s, said Rob Weppner, a USDA Farm Service Agency farm loan manager based in northeastern Wyoming.

“There’s always been a bit of preference toward veterans,” Weppner explained.

The department, however, is ramping up efforts to attract veterans, spending about $64.5 million in direct and guaranteed farm operating loans for veterans in 2018, a USDA news release stated.

Grant Stumbaugh, a USDA spokesperson for the Wyoming branch of the Farm Service Agency, said incentivizing veterans was about more than simply slowing labor force leakage.   

“Veterans have served our country and risked their lives,” Stumbaugh said. “The least we can do is give them every possibility to do what they want to do.”

The USDA offers veterans more than 40 loan, grant and technical assistance programs to support the purchase and development of land and facilities, purchase equipment and supplies, refinance job expansion and finance energy efficiency improvements.

“Nearly one-quarter of veterans, approximately 5 million, live in rural areas,” Bill Ashton, USDA Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison, said in a news release. “(The) USDA is committed to making our programs accessible to help veterans start or grow a career and maximize the potential talent of this population.” 

Low-interest loans

Starting out in the agriculture industry can be challenging and risky, Stumbaugh said.

“A lot of younger folks don’t really want to go out there and work that hard,” he explained. “And to be honest, sometimes the return isn’t that good — you’re not making a whole lot of money, plus there’s the risk of running into natural catastrophes.”

Add that to the rising cost of real estate and the future of ag workers in America starts to look gloomy, he added.

“(USDA loans and grants) give vets a leg up in the industry,” Stumbaugh said. “Plus they can use that money for operating expenses to give them some help to get started.”

Weppner said the loan programs provide people with a low-interest option for funding family-sized farm operations.

“The interest is based on the loan type,” he explained. “But, the (Farm Service Agency) rates tend to be lower than the commercial rates.”

While Weppner said he’s worked with veterans in the past, neither he nor Stumbaugh were aware of any Wyoming veterans currently enrolled in USDA loan programs.

Despite reports of downward labor force trends, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reported the industry has experienced a recent uptick in its agricultural workers category.

In 2008, Workforce Services recorded 2,558 people in the sector. In 2013, 2,798 people were employed in ag industries. And by 2018, the workforce grew to 3,016, said Aubrey Kofoed, a Workforce Services administrative assistant.

The growth, however, does not necessarily reflect the number of people taking jobs on ranches and farms in the state, because the department’s agriculture category also includes forestry, fishing and hunting jobs, Kofoed added.

Neither the USDA Farm Service Agency or Rural Development office had data immediately available on the number of ranchers and farmers in Wyoming.

Working the land

Programs like USDA loans are a key component to helping veterans reintegrate into the civilian workforce, a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesperson said.

“The VA focuses on attempting to get veterans jobs and the federal government is one of the largest employers in America,” said Sam House, the Cheyenne VA public affairs officer. “It’s great we have agencies that are willing to partner with us to achieve those goals.”

Every veteran’s experience differs, but for some, returning to the bright lights and constant noise of city life isn’t as attractive as an opportunity to become part of a rural community.

“There’s no greater feeling than being out on the farm and seeing land that needs to be worked and knowing you can do it yourself,” House said. “But it’s a dying industry, and I think veterans could help turn that around.”

For more information about USDA loans, contact your local USDA Field Service Agency and ask to speak to a loan officer. Visit www.fsa.usda.gov for a list of offices in Wyoming.

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