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Collaboration with federal agencies is a long goal and payoff

Progressive Cattleman Editor Cassidy Woolsey Published on 28 February 2018
working with federal agencies

By the lack of people in attendance during the “Interactive strategies for engaging with federal agencies” session of NCBA Cattlemen’s College in Phoenix, one could assume many ranchers feel it’s a lot like waiting for rain in a drought – hopeless.

Animosity, discontent and the inability to cooperate seem to carry on from generation to generation. And just when things seem to be getting better, there are administration and priority changes that quickly plop you right back to square one.

Darcy Helmick, now with Simplot Land & Livestock, has been on both sides of the ring – as a rancher just outside of Boise, Idaho, and as a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) firefighter in her community where fire frequency is the highest in the nation.

In the midst of a decades-old quarrel that went as far as the BLM issuing a letter to all permitees warning of impacts to their ability to graze livestock moving forward, there was a group of people that saw an opportunity to do something better. That’s when Idaho’s first and nationally recognized Rangeland Fire Protection Association was created – providing things like wildfire training and signed agreements to work together to satisfy both groups’ needs.

Here’s what Helmick said took them from fighting to receiving national recognition together:

  1. They identified the issue. In this particular case, it was the need to rapidly suppress wildfire.
  2. They identified the challenges within the issue. “We needed better communication and trust. We were able to gain those things by completing trainings and working together, as well as doing simple policy and legislative changes in our state,” Helmick said.
  3. They identified key players. You have to identify people who will actually talk and make a difference. Work together to find solutions instead of throwing your hands in the air.
  4. And lastly, they made it happen.

“In our mind, it was the ability to work together to overcome challenges and be successful on the landscape with our federal partners,” Helmick said. “If we can work together to have trust and communication to suppress wildfire together, in my mind we can do almost anything.”

Similar stories of success were shared, including that of Niels Hansen, a third-generation rancher in Rawlins, Wyoming. He said, like many others, he grew up watching his father battle with federal agencies. So when it was his turn to run the ranch, he naturally picked up the sword, ready to fight. “We won a battle every once in a while, but we were losing the war,” he said.

Later, with some new range people in the office, Hansen decided to address some issues that came up in the past. From that conversation they agreed to be open and honest with one another. Over time, they got to know each other and learn each other’s values. “We found we all wanted the same goal; it was just a matter of how to get there,” he said.

Hansen encouraged attendees to “make sure you’re talking about the same thing. Call them up and say, ‘I’ve got some high ground that I’ve got an issue with. I have to know if you’re in the same spot or not.’ Because a lot of times people talk about the same issue, but the picture they have in their mind is totally different. Communication is key.”

Another element that has helped Hansen is the 25 years of monitoring data he has on the ranch. If anything comes up, he has data for the BLM and they can address the problem up front. He suggested giving “the agency people a reason to support and defend you.”

Tim Griffiths, western lead for Working Lands for Wildlife (a partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service), as well as Raymond Suazo, BLM Arizona state director, also agreed there is ample opportunity for ranchers and the agency to work together for the betterment of the land.

Referring to the threat of enlisting the sage grouse as an endangered species, Griffiths said, “We need to maintain the vibrant ranching communities and their ability to hold these large landscapes together.” Both Griffiths and Suazo recognize the influence ranches have on the landscape and agree that both parties need to work together because “one can’t do it without the other.”

Griffiths said, “There are countless opportunities moving forward to take some of these lessons learned to roll up our sleeves and figure out where we can make lemons out of lemonade.”

It just takes someone to step forward.  end mark

Cassidy Woolsey
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PHOTO: Illustration by Corey Lewis.