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Western Digest – June 2019

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News and opportunities on working lands, water and wildlife 

Sieben Livestock Co., MT. Photo: Candace Weeda.

Working Lands Economics

  • WLA, Rural Economics and Conservation: Check out this radio interview on rural economics, agriculture and conservation with WLA’s associate director, Cole Mannix, and Montana rancher Laura Nowlin: Home Ground Radio.
  • Ecosystem Services Market Consortium Expands: Just three months after its official launch, the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) has added eight more private-sector companies and nonprofit organizations to the group, demonstrating support throughout all levels of the agricultural supply chain as it seeks to advance the development of a market-based approach to promoting land stewardship: Feedstuffs.
  • Economics of Soil Health: Management practices that improve soil health can be good for the farm and the environment, but farmers need information on economics when deciding whether to adopt these practices. To address this critical issue, Cargill and the Soil Health Institute have announced a new partnership to assess, demonstrate and communicate the economics of soil health management systems across North America: AgriMarketing.
  • Compensating On-The-Ground Conservationists: The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) supports our farmers and ranchers in their effort to do what’s right by the land through technical and financial assistance. Their conservation practices have positive impacts that extend far beyond the fence line; the clean air, clean water and healthy soils benefit each of us: Prairie Populist.
  • The Economic Value of Conserving Land: A recent report from the Texas Land Trust Council adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the significant economic benefit of conserved land: Texas Land Trust Council.
  • Breeding Cattle to Withstand Climate Change: A researcher at the University of Florida is tweaking cattle genes to try to unlock one of the mysteries of Southern agriculture: developing a breed that can withstand the hot, humid weather that has become more pronounced due to climate change while still producing high-quality beef: E&E News.

On the Range

  • Breaking the Ranching Stereotype: Trout Unlimited’s Toner Mitchell breaks down the stereotype about private ranches and explains how a great many ranchers pay close attention to trends in land health – they thin their timber stands, fence off riparian areas, address weed outbreaks, and engage in planned rotational grazing that keeps the range in good health for wildlife populations: Trout Unlimited.
  • It Wasn’t the Cows After All:While the cattle industry is repeatedly accused of being the main culprit for increased global methane emissions (and a leading cause for climate change), a new study shows that the fertilizer industry is the root cause: Greener World.
  • Ranching Water Buffalo: A rancher in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado plans to establish water buffalo in the region. He talks through the opportunities and challenges of doing so: High Country News.
  • USDA Moves Up Grazing on Prevented Planting Acres: USDA’s Risk Management Agency will permit growers who plant cover crops on prevented planting acres to access that forage two months earlier than previously allowed: Agri-Pulse.
  • Cow Manure as a Climate Solution: Historically one of the most polluting industries in California, dairy farms are fixing how they contribute to climate change. And they are doing it with manure: E&E News.
  • Soil Health Study: A nine-year experiment by UC Merced Department of Life and Environmental Sciences is illuminating the importance of soil carbon in maintaining healthy and functioning ecosystems because of its influence on the microbial communities that live in soil: UC Merced.

Wildlife

  • Ranchlands Play Vital Role in Protecting Wildlife: WLA’s Lesli Allison provides insight into the value of private lands for migrating wildlife and the need to change the current dynamic. “Just as working lands sustain wildlife, so should wildlife be helpful in sustaining working lands. Wildlife are an important economic driver in western states, yet in many places, the working lands that sustain the wildlife see the least economic benefit and often experience the greatest impacts”: Mountain Journal.
  • Relationship Between Cattle and Wildlife: Ranchers must drive conversations about cattle and wildlife to highlight how beef production is critical for maintaining healthy landscapes: Beef Magazine.
  • Multi-species Management for Migration: Pronghorn and sage-grouse migrate long distances in the U.S. and Canada. Understanding how they use both public and private lands helps better connect and protect their routes for the future: Conservation Corridor.
  • Funding for Bird Conservation: Migratory birds and other wildlife will benefit from new funding increases proposed in the House Interior Appropriations bill released last month, in a move that clearly demonstrates the new U.S. House of Representatives’ support of environmental issues: American Bird Conservancy.
  • Voters Support Migration Corridors: Voters in Colorado and New Mexico voiced “overwhelming” support for efforts to safeguard wildlife migration corridors — ranging from curbing new oil and gas development to constructing more highway overpasses and underpasses — according to a new survey released: E&E News.
  • Feral Swine on MT Border: Canadian wild pigs are amassing at Montana’s northern border. It’s only a matter of time before they wander south and begin their destructive assault on everything from wildlife to agricultural fields and even archaeological sites: Billings Gazette.
  • Fish Populations Rebound after Dam Removal: The destruction of the San Clemente Dam, which had blocked the river since 1921, remains the largest dam removal project in California history. It’s still early, but one of the main goals of the project seems to be on track: The river is becoming wilder, and struggling fish populations are rebounding: The Mercury News.

Water

  • Colorado River Water Conservation Program Wraps Up: For the last four years, Green River and Little Snake River basin ranchers have been getting paid not to irrigate in late summer to conserve Colorado River water. But the pilot phase of the program is now over. The next step is developing the technology to measure how much water is actually saved: Wyoming Public Media.
  • Groundwater Lawsuit: A case making its way through court is challenging the amount of water farm owners can pump from a groundwater basin that sits below Moorpark, California. The lawsuit was filed more than a year ago by a group of Ventura County landowners and agricultural business owners: Camarillo Acorn.
  • Mapping River Connectivity: A new study of connectivity across global river networks reveals that only 37% of rivers longer than 1,000 km remain free-flowing over their entire length, and just 23% flow uninterrupted to the ocean: Conservation Corridor.

Forest & Fire

  • Thinning, Prescribed Burns Before Drought Reduce Tree Loss: Thinning forests and conducting prescribed burns may help preserve trees in future droughts and bark beetle epidemics expected under climate change, suggests a study from the University of California, Davis: UC Davis.
  • Farmers Not Liable Fighting Fires: Oregon farmers will not be held liable while fighting wildfires in the state, thanks to a new law passed by the Oregon Legislature. Senate Bill 290 encourages bystanders to assist people in emergencies without worry about being sued if something goes wrong. The law was inspired by last year’s Substation fire that destroyed 78,425 acres of dry wheat fields and grasslands: Drovers.
  • Catastrophic Wildfire Risk: The chief of the U.S. Forest Service is warning that a billion acres of land across America are at risk of catastrophic wildfires like last fall’s deadly Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise, Calif: National Public Radio.
  • “All Lands” Approach to Forest Resilience: Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) case study from the Elkhorn Mountains of northeastern Oregon highlights a multi-partner, “all lands” approach to forest resilience: RVCC.
  • Fighting Fire with Fire: Seven months after the Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed much of Paradise, and with another potentially catastrophic wildfire season getting underway, a growing body of experts say California is neglecting a major tool in its battle against mega-fires: the practice of fighting fire with fire: The Sacramento Bee.
  • Logging Project in Beetle Kill Forests: The beetle-devastated spruce stands of Utah’s Wasatch Plateau will get an extreme makeover under a 15-year plan developed by the U.S. Forest Service that is expected to result in the largest logging project the state has seen in years: The Salt Lake Tribune.
  • WA Faces Bad Wildfire Season: Wildfire responders in Western Washington are preparing for a particularly bad wildfire season. With less precipitation than normal so far in 2019 and snowpack in the North Cascades depleting rapidly, conditions are already abnormally dry and much of the western side of the state has been declared in or at risk of drought: The Skanner.

Policy

  • New “Recovery” Standards: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) now wants to nail down what “recovery” means for 85 protected species. Numbers will get a greater emphasis under the agency’s bid to add quantitative criteria for assessing whether plants and animals can be removed from the ESA lists of threatened and endangered species: E&E News.
  • NEPA 101: How does the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) work and why is it controversial? E&E News Explains provides a simple overview: World News.
  • State Soil Health Legislation: While federal interest in regenerative agriculture may be stalled, healthy soil is first and foremost in a slew of state legislation. Already this year, state lawmakers across the country have introduced 39 soil health bills: New Food Economy.
  • WGA Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative: The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) has released the Special Report for the Western Governors’ Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative. The Initiative focused on the impacts that nuisance species, pests and pathogens have on ecosystems, forests, rangelands, watersheds and infrastructure in the West: WGA.
  • House Advances $24B Agricultural Bill: The House Appropriations Committee recently advanced a $24.3 billion agriculture spending bill, readying the measure for a floor vote later this month. The bill rejected President Trump’s request to slash the budget by 15 percent, instead opting to add $1 billion to current discretionary spending levels: The Hill.

Tools & Resources

  • Monarch Butterfly ESA Info: “Endangered Species Listing for the Monarch Butterfly: what private landowners need to know” provides a 101 on endangered species, the current status of the monarch butterfly, what voluntary programs are available, and what could happen if the monarch is listed and landowner does not have an assurance agreement in place: Farmers for Monarchs.
  • Low-Tech River Restoration Manual: A design manual that provides restoration practitioners with guidelines for implementing a subset of low-tech tools—namely beaver dam analogues (BDAs) and post-assisted log structures (PALS)—for initiating process-based restoration in structurally-starved riverscapes: Utah State University.

 Opportunities

Funding

  • On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials: USDA is investing up to $25 million per year over the next five years to help support the adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation approaches on agricultural lands. USDA NRCS is accepting proposals through July 15, 2019, for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials (On-Farm Trials), a new, additional sub-program created by the 2018 Farm Bill for the USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program: USDA NRCS.
  • ID Environmental Quality Incentives Program Pilot: Topsoil loss from ephemeral gullies on highly erodible land is the focus of a new USDA NRCS pilot project. NRCS in Idaho will accept applications through July 19, 2019 from landowners seeking financial and technical assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): Capital Press.
  • Conservation Innovation Grants: USDA has announced they are investing up to $12.5 million to help support the adoption of innovative conservation approaches on agricultural lands. USDA’s NRCS is accepting proposals through July 29, 2019, for national Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG). CIG projects inspire creative problem-solving that boosts production on farms, ranches, and private forests – ultimately, they improve water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat: USDA NRCS.
  • Conservation Reserve Program: Farmers and ranchers with expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts may now re-enroll in certain CRP continuous signup practices or, if eligible, select a one-year contract extension. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) also is accepting offers from those who want to enroll for the first time in one of the country’s largest conservation programs. FSA’s 52nd signup for CRP runs from June 3 to August 23, 2019: USDA FSA.
  • Organic Certification Cost Share Program: USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that organic producers and handlers can apply for federal funds to assist with the cost of receiving and maintaining organic certification through the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). Applications for fiscal 2019 funding are due October 31, 2019.

Employment

  • WLA Communications Director: Western Landowners Alliance seeks an energetic and effective communications director to advance external relations for our rapidly growing West-wide non-profit organization. The communications director will manage and produce external communications for the organization, including strategic communications planning, media relations, social media, website, newsletters, advertising and publications.  Applications are requested by July 19, 2019. Learn more and apply here.
  • Central Colorado Conservancy Executive Director: Central Colorado Conservancy is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to build on steady growth and to help take the organization to the next level of impact. The opportunity is based in Salida, Colorado. Learn more here.
  • Ranch Manager Job Board: A number of new positions are up on the Ranch Manager Job Board offered by the King Ranch Institute of Ranch Management! Check it out: King Ranch Insitute.

Events & Webinars

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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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