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Western Digest – April 2019

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News and opportunities on working lands, water and wildlife 

As April comes to a close and spring is in full force, we are enjoying warm weather, flowing rivers and irrigation ditches, and longer days out on the land. Articles in this issue range from a new market planned to pay farmers for soil carbon to a link between public land grazing and sustainability of working lands and from ranching as a conservation strategy to elk damage bills to a sign-up opportunity for an updated Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Enjoy!

This member monthly includes pertinent working lands, water and wildlife news and opportunities from around the West. If you have any information you think would be valuable for this digest, please send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

Hallie Mahowald
Stewardship Services Director

Working Lands Economics

  • Beef Packing Merger Threatens America’s Last Competitive Cash Cattle Market: Last month, the nation’s fourth-largest beef packer, National Beef, announced plans to take over Sysco-owned Iowa Premium. Rolling Iowa Premium into a Big Four beef packer will shrink the number of alternative bidders in one of the last holdouts of cattle competition and small- to medium-sized feedlots and provide more pricing power for the Big Four packers: Food&Power.
  • New Market Planned to Pay Farmers for Soil Carbon, Water Quality
: General Mills, Cargill, McDonald’s, and The Nature Conservancy are among 10 companies and NGOs that are forming a national market by 2022 to incentivize the adoption of farming practices that build soil carbon and improve water conservation: Successful Farming.
  • BeefChain Receives USDA Certification: BeefChain, a company meshing the world of blockchain with the beef supply chain, received certification from the USDA as a Process Verified Program which lets BeefChain conduct a host of activities in line with the department’s regulation including the ability to audit different feed yards and ranches in four program areas. BeefChain is the first blockchain company to receive such USDA certification: Forbes.
  • Quantifying Benefits of Beef: Rangeland ecosystems provide unique goods, services, and amenity values to the rural communities that depend upon them, as well as society in general.  However, many of these values are difficult to quantify, since they may not be traded in any sort of market. Despite the obvious difficulties, an innovative project seeks to capture values for rangeland ecosystem services including forage production, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities. For additional information, please contact Dr. Tex Taylor at ttaylor@uwyo.edu.
  • Transitioning Land: Throughout 2019, Rogue Farm Corps is curating compelling stories of how transitioning land from one generation to the next is possible. The Changing Hands Story Series will highlight a variety of agricultural operations from the Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California and show how farmers and ranchers are passing their on their legacies: Rogue Farm Corps and Capital Press.
  • For U.S. Farmers, Sustainability Is the Future of Profitability. But, at least right now, the sheer scale of work to be done — and the razor-thin margins of even the most profitable U.S. farms — makes it very difficult to significantly invest in sustainability: Medium.
  • Northwest Ag Industry Outlook: The quarterly ag outlook from Northwest Farm Credit Services shows how different segments of ag will fare for the rest of 2019 and cattle look good: Western Farmer-Stockman.

On the Range

  • Link Between Public Land Grazing and Sustainability of Working Lands: There is growing recognition of the environmental values of working landscapes. Productive private rangelands are often linked to public land leases. Researchers examined the relationship between these leases and ranch sustainability with findings that suggest that an overlooked tool for the conservation of working landscapes is the use of public land grazing for stabilizing livestock operations: Society for Range Management.
  • Ranching As A Conservation Strategy: To understand the potential for generating broad social benefits from working lands, one must consider many factors. Focusing on the problem as it has unfolded in the West, this article reviews the state of knowledge about the extent of ranchland conversion; reasons why maintaining working ranches may benefit conservation; and the challenges and opportunities of rancher demographics, attitudes, values, and propensities for innovation: Rangeland Ecology & Management.
  • Importance of Soil Microbes: Farmers are planting cover crops, applying manure or using no-till practices in their fields to improve soil health. While these strategies work in part, they may be missing one important aspect to these soil management practices: microbes: Western Farmer-Stockman.
  • 2017 Ag Census Published: The results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture have been published. The Census of Agriculture is a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Of note, the census shows more young farmers (under 35 – this could be due to the way the question was asked) and more female producers: USDA.
  • New Approach to Stem Soil Erosion: Topsoil and nutrient runoff are two serious challenges of sustainable agriculture. Perennial crops can help solve these problems by preserving cropland productivity without requiring substantial dietary and manufacture shifts: PhysOrg.

Wildlife

  • Farmers, Hunters Spar over Elk Damage Bills: Legislation aimed at reducing crop damage from elk has pitted Oregon agriculture groups against hunting organizations that say the proposals will allow for irresponsible killing. Proponents of the House Bill 3227 and Senate Bill 301 argue that existing tools for managing elk damage have proven to be insufficient as populations of the ungulates have increased: Capital Press.
  • Importance of Highway Wildlife Bridges: Wildlife bridges over highways make animals–and people–safer. From bridges for bears to tunnels for tortoises, the number of wildlife-car collisions worldwide have been reduced significantly by wildlife under- and overpasses: National Geographic.
  • New Book on Grizzly Bears: Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear by Montana rancher and conservationist Bryce Andrews tells the story of a grizzly bear named Millie: her life, death, and cubs, and what they reveal about the changing character of the American West. Check out some reviews on Literary Hub. Available for purchase online.
  • Value of Pollinators: Native pollinating bees are a vital component of the biologically diverse plant and animal community which is critical to healthy, ecologically functional range landscapes: Society for Range Management.

Water

  • Faster, More Accurate Way to Monitor Drought
: A new monitoring method developed at Duke University allows scientists to identify the onset of drought sooner—meaning conservation or remediation measures might be put into place sooner to help limit the damage: Lab Manager.
  • New Ephemeral Stream Data: A new analysis from Trout Unlimited shows the U.S. Geological Survey underestimates the number of streams nationwide that flow only following rain. For every mile of stream mapped in the National Hydrography Dataset, another 1.5 miles of ephemeral streams exist. The analysis came as the Trump administration was soliciting comments on its Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS, rule that would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams, which flow only following rainfall: E&E News.
  • California Wetland Protections: California water regulators adopted a far-reaching plan in early April to prevent more of the state’s creeks, ponds and wetlands from being plowed or paved over. The new state policy establishes strict rules for virtually any human activity that could disrupt the natural flow of water, like farming, home building and highway construction, on public and private property: San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Colorado Water Conditions: In Colorado, snowpack forms a strong pillar of water storage, but spring rains and summer monsoons will still be required to keep this year’s water at a needed high. If trends continue, 2019 will be only the fifth year the state’s water-storage level is at or above average since 2000: The Denver Post.
  • Rule Defines WOTUS: The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently closed the public comment period on the Trump administration’s proposed revised rule defining which “waters of the United States” are jurisdictional under the federal Clean Water Act: Western Farmer-Stockman.

Forest & Fire

  • Native Seed Mix Effective Post-Fire: A recent study directly comparing native-only vs. conventional seed mixes that include introduced species sixteen years post-fire shows that native-only seed mixes do pretty well in suppressing cheatgrass in the Great Basin, even when compared to conventional mixes that include the highly competitive Agropyron spp. (crested and Siberian wheatgrass): Rangeland Ecology & Management.
  • Logger and Environmentalist Save Arizona’s Forests: Arizona’s Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI, is by far the largest effort of its kind in the nation. But it took decades for the various interest groups to come together in support of the project. It all began with a devastating wildfire and an odd-couple pairing: CBS.
  • How Green is Mass Timber?: Mass timber construction is on the rise, with advocates saying it could revolutionize the building industry and be part of a climate change solution. But some are questioning whether the logging and manufacturing required to produce the new material outweigh any benefits: Yale Environment 360.
  • Tree Mortality in New Mexico: Forest mortality increased nearly 50 percent across New Mexico in 2018, the first jump in five years. Near-record heat and a drought across the state weakened the ability of trees to fight off beetles and other pests: Santa Fe New Mexican.

Policy

  • WLA Policy Update: WLA’s policy director, Jessica Crowder, reports on WLA’s policy work in New Mexico including passage of Senate Bill 454 – The New Mexico Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund Act — proposed to create a self-sustaining endowment fund to conserve the state’s natural resources and agricultural heritage: Western Landowners Alliance. Keep up to date on WLA’s policy work by following Jessica’s updates on the WLA Policy webpage.
  • President Signs Colorado River Drought Plan: In mid-April, President Trump signed a plan to cut back on the use of water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River drought contingency plan aims to keep two key reservoirs, Lakes Powell and Mead, from falling so low they cannot deliver water or produce hydropower. It was negotiated among the seven states that draw water from the river: AP News.
  • Secretarial Order on Public Land Management and Access: On March 21, Acting Secretary Bernhardt signed Secretarial Order 3373 directing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to adequately weigh public access for outdoor recreation – including hunting and fishing – when determining the appropriateness of the disposal or exchange of public lands: Department of Interior.
  • Beef Policy Outlook: Nebraska Beef Industry Scholars from the University of Nebraska analyze issues, policy alternatives and recommendations providing an interesting perspective of the scope of several policy issues affecting the beef industry today and the challenges in moving forward: NebraskaFarmer.
  • RVCC Issue Papers: The Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) is proud to share three new issue papers now available for sign-ons: Rangelands in the West, Appropriations priorities + recommended funding, and Secure Rural Schools Trust Fund. The appropriations priorities and funding levels will be combined into one paper: RVCC.
  • More Tools in EQIP: The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) will soon emerge more fully equipped, so to say, for a broader spectrum of farm conservation assistance as USDA implements 2018 farm bill program changes in the year ahead. In comments to USDA, the National Association of Conservation Districts said the incentive contracts would “allow producers to implement a suite of practices by offering annual payments rather than cost share without having to meet the more rigorous eligibility standards required” by the Conservation Stewardship Program: AgriPulse.
  • Wildlife Corridor Conservation Act: The Wildlife Corridor Conservation Act of 2019 is set to be introduced into both the House (by Rep. Don Beyer, D-VA) and Senate (by Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM) soon. The Act, if passed, would create a program to designate wildlife corridors on federal public lands and also provide funds for states, tribes, and other entities to protect wildlife corridors on non-federal lands: Wildlands Network.

Tools & Resources

  • Rangeland Analysis Platform: The Rangeland Analysis Platform is a free, innovative online mapping tool that provides quick snapshots of rangeland vegetation. It allows users to easily compare trends in rangeland resources through time at a ranch, county, or watershed scale. This helps people plan conservation and management actions that improve grazing lands, bolster valuable water and soil resources, and prevent weeds and wildfire: Rangelands Analysis Platform.
  • Collaboration Resource Finder Tool (CRAFT): CRAFT is a tool launched by the Center for Collaborative Conservation (CCC) to help provide resources and learning opportunities to build collaborative capacity: CCC.
  • Preserve Bee and Butterfly Habitat: The Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund is working with landowners, conservationists, scientists and beekeepers to establish high quality pollinator habitat to ensure honey bee and monarch butterfly populations thrive. Each project will receive free pollinator seed mixes, or heavily discounted pricing depending on the size of the project, and the guidance to prepare, establish and maintain the project for a minimum of 5 years: Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund.
  • New App to Track Butterfly Habitat: Using a new mobile app, landowners can share information about pollinator habitat they’ve created. This could help to limit Endangered Species Act listing for one insect: Western Farmer-Stockman.

 Opportunities

Funding

  • Organic Research and Extension Initiative: The Organic Research and Extension Initative (OREI) has this week opened applications for FY 2019 and FY 2020 project proposals. OREI funds research, education, and extension projects that improve and advance organic agriculture – including projects that help advance soil health. For FY 2019 applications, the deadline to apply is May 2, 2019: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
  • NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program: The USDA is accepting applications for its updated Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) through May 10, 2019. The CSP is a working lands program that helps landowners sustain and build upon conservation efforts while also improving their business operations. This occurs through support to landowners to implement advanced, comprehensive practices across their entire farm and/or ranch operation: Western Landowners Alliance.
  • CO Watershed Restoration Program: Are you interested in balancing water management, recreation and river health needs? River Network can help you get there.  Selected coalitions can receive up to $8,000 for assistance to convene stakeholders, scope your project and write grant applications for funding. Coalitions led by agricultural stakeholders are eligible for additional funding. Information on assistance to scope and submit a grant is available here. Applications are due May 15, 2019. If you are interested in learning more or participating, please contact John Rizza, WLA’s Colorado Field Organizer.
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: The USDA recently announced the availability of $14 million in grant funds to help launch new and expand existing programs to train beginning farmers and ranchers. These federal grants will be awarded through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which was newly reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which administers BFRDP, released Requests for Applications (RFA) for fiscal year (FY) 2019 and 2020. Applications should be submitted through Grants.gov by 5 pm EST on May 16, 2019.

Employment

  • Associate Director, Holistic Management International: HMI is excited to announce that they are in the market for an Associate Director to help continue to build their strategic and programming capacity to better serve the Holistic Management community. Applications are due May 31, 2019. Learn more and apply here.
  • Director of Conservation, Tax Credit Connection, Inc.: Help preserve land and create financial benefits for the people of Colorado with Tax Credit Connection, Inc. as a Director of Conservation in their Berthoud, Colorado office. They are looking for a team member to help them manage the landowner (seller) side of their business. Learn more here.

Other

  • High Plains Ranch Practicum: A unique program that offers producers an eight-day deep dive into the wide-ranging, constantly changing beef industry. From heifer management to pasture productivity, ranchers can get a head start on this competitive market. Host site for the practicum is Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, WY. Many dates are offered throughout the summer: High Plains Ranch Practicum.
  • NM Seeding Regenerative Agriculture Project: The Seeding Regenerative Agriculture Project is a grant-funded project that works to identify and address obstacles to regenerative agriculture in New Mexico, with the goal of making it easier for more farmers and ranchers to protect their profitability and the health of their soils. The project works primarily with Seed Groups, or local communities of farmers and ranchers who have implemented or who are interested in implementing regenerative agricultural practices. The project runs from April 15 to October 31, 2019. Applications are available for ranchers and farmers.
  • NM Prescribed Fire Training and Demonstration Opportunity: Are you interested in learning how to use prescribed fire as a management tool on your private property? NMSU Cooperative Extension and NM Prescribed Fire Council invite you to join them in the opportunity to get a drip torch in your hand and gain firsthand experience in the skills necessary to safely and successfully use fire as a management tool. Because using fire is weather dependent, they have targeted April and May 2019 as their and will contact all interested participants 2–7 days prior given the weather forecast and proceed accordingly. If you are interested, please contact Doug Cram (dcram@nmsu.edu).
  • Collaboration Program in Natural Resources: Ruckelshaus Institute’s Collaboration Program in Natural Resources (CPNR) is a year-long training program designed to give mid- and upper-career professionals the skills and knowledge necessary to apply collaborative processes to complex environment and natural resource issues in Wyoming and across the West. Applications are due May 1, 2019.

Events & Webinars

Membership

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Rangeland monitoring – why to monitor and resources to get you started

The value of monitoring land attributes are generally known among land stewards. The greatest value is in gaining an understanding of the soils, plants and animals you manage, documenting that information and then using that information to guide future decisions.

We’re in this together

At Western Landowners Alliance, we respect land as a living community that includes both people and wildlife. Today, the movement for racial justice underscores more than ever that we are one people on a finite planet. Our care for one another and our care for the land go hand in hand. The impulses that lead people to abuse others are the same impulses that lead to abuse of land and natural resources. Yet we also have the capacity to create systems, cultures and relationships that curtail injustice, generate healing and bring forward the better aspects of our nature. There has never been a more important time to do so.

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