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Western Digest – March 2019

News and opportunities on working lands, water and wildlife 

Sieben Livestock Co., MT. Photo: Erika Peterman.

Happy spring! Articles in this issue range from a new WLA publication focused conservation economics on western working lands to a closer look at the 2018 Farm Bill and from sustaining migration corridors to a Colorado River deal to harnessing technology to improve conservation effectiveness. 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

  • Conservation Economics on Western Working Lands: What policy conditions would empower landowners to allocate time, talent and resources to biodiversity and connectivity? This question is the center of a recent WLA paper, which treats conservation primarily as a certain desirable form of economics, focusing less on conservation as the setting aside or protection of lands. Ultimately, it argues, the next era of conservation must focus on creating fertile conditions for private stewardship: Western Landowners Alliance.
  • Wyoming Blockchain and Price Premiums for Beef: Blockchain startup BeefChain will help Wyoming ranchers who use certain management practices like rotational grazing or grass-finishing to reap the pricepoint benefits that consumers are willing to pay for sustainably-raised beef: AgFunderNews.
  • Agencies Reduce Grazing Fees: Two federal agencies are cutting the fees that ranchers and other land managers pay them to graze their animals on public land. The BLM and the USDA Forest Service announced that the fees would be $1.35 for each month that an animal unit — one cow and calf, one horse, five sheep or five goats — grazes: The Hill.
  • Planning for the Transfer of Your Estate: Making decisions concerning the transfer of assets in one’s estate is very difficult and as a result, the proverbial can is often kicked down the road in hopes that something magical will happen to resolve this difficult task. Lack of planning can lead to expensive legal issues, unwanted tax implications, and sadly to ugly family disputes and feuds. This article offers some tips and tools to help you get started planning: Noble Research Institute.
  • Goodbye, Small Farmer? Today, 30 percent of American farmland is owned by non-operators (many of whom are financial investors) who lease it out to farmers. With the median age of the American farmer at close to 55, it is anticipated that in the next five years, this number will greatly increase: The New Food Economy.
  • Beef Prices to Decline by Summer: Harsh winter weather could affect cattle market throughout 2019: Western Farmer-Stockman.

On the Range

  • Preserving a Ranching Way of Life: This article highlights ranchers in Colorado who, even as their roles evolve with modern circumstances, are finding enterprising ways to preserve the lifestyle and livelihood they love, an essential part of the American West: Spoke and Blossom.
  • Cows are Not Killing the Climate: As the scale and impacts of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat is a popular target for action. A key claim holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. However, the author of this article argues that this claim is demonstrably wrong and that its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change: The Conversation.
  • Move to Year-round Grazing: Are you interested in moving to year-round grazing, but not sure where to start? Dean Schneider describes the process of making the switch at his place in Oklahoma: OnPasture.
  • Testing a Virtual Cattle Fence: Much like an invisible dog fence can keep canines corralled in the yard, Leo Barthelmess, a WLA member and northern Montana cattle rancher, is looking forward to experimenting with virtual fences for managing cattle. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program was recently awarded a $70,000 grant to help fund a demonstration project for the virtual fencing on Barthelmess’ ranch: Billings Gazette.
  • Young Farmers and Ranchers: What are young farmers and ranchers thinking about?  Finances, stress and perception top the list of problems: Western Farmer-Stockman.


  • Working Lands Sustain Migration: A new paper entitled ‘Beyond protected areas: Private lands and public policy anchor intact pathways for multi-species wildlife migration’ highlights the importance of private and public working lands in sustaining wildlife migration in the Northern Great Plains: Conservation Biology.
  • Gray Wolf De-listing Proposal “Soon”: In a recent statement, a USFWS spokesperson said acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had announced that the service “will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the lower 48 states and return management of the species back to the states and tribes”: AgriPulse.
  • BLM Approves Sage Grouse Plan Amendments: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized amendments to Obama-era management plans for sage grouse habitat in the West to better align federal plans with state plans to conserve the species: Capital Press.
  • CA Landowners Guide for Monarch Habitat Restoration: A new resource is now available for landowners in California who are interested in creating and restoring monarch butterfly habitat: Environmental Defense Fund.
  • Can Cities Save Pollinators? Many pollinator insect species like bees, butterflies, and hoverflies are on the decline, due in large part to habitat destruction driven by conversion of land and urbanization. But, new research finds that urban areas could play a key role in conserving pollinator communities: Pacific Standard.


  • States Sign Deal to Conserve Colorado River: Seven Western states have agreed on a plan to manage the Colorado River amid a 19-year drought, voluntarily cutting their water use to prevent the federal government from imposing a mandatory squeeze on the supply: The New York Times.
  • Study Shows Changes in Ogallala Aquifer: According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), producers are extracting water faster than it is being replenished, which means that parts of the Ogallala Aquifer should be considered a nonrenewable resource: WeatherNation.
  • Getting to the Core of Underwater Soil: Soils all over the Earth’s surface are rigorously tested and managed. But what about soils that are down in the murky depths? Although not traditional soils, underwater soils have value and function: EurekAlert!
  • ‘Dry Farming’: ‘Dry farmers’ in California are growing crops without irrigation. While unfamiliar to many consumers, dry farming is an age-old practice that entails carefully managing soils to lock winter rainfall into the top layers until it’s time to begin growing crops during the spring and summer: The Mercury News.

Forest & Fire

  • California’s Drought Over But Forests are Dying: According to the ecologists who compiled this year’s Forest Health survey, the end state-wide of California’s drought is expected to be a breeding ground for the fungus responsible for Sudden Oak Death: ABC10.
  • Study Aims to Improve Wildfire Modeling: An Oregon State University project backed by more than $2 million in federal money could help firefighters better predict how wildfires behave in central Oregon and beyond. A team from OSU’s College of Engineering was chosen by the Department of Defense to spearhead a four-year research project to determine what conditions affect the way different plants and shrubs burn: The Bend Bulletin.
  • Conservation District Improves Colorado’s Forests: Colorado’s Big Thompson Conservation District is using a technical assistance grant from the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and the NRCS to grow its Healthy Forest Initiative program with new staff and new projects: NACD.
  • CA Awards $63M to Promote Healthy Forests: The grant-funded projects include thinning dense and pest-impacted forests; using prescribed fire to reduce hazardous fuel loads; and planting trees in forests diminished by fire, drought, insects and disease: NBC Bay Area.
  • Community Forest Program: The U.S. Forest Service’s Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program (Community Forest Program) is a a program for communities and private landowners designed to manage forested private property for public access and the good of the community: National Association of Conservation Districts.


  • Bernhardt Signs Order Promoting Recreation, Access: Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed a secretarial order requiring the BLM to consider public access for outdoor recreational activities like hunting and fishing before deciding whether a federal parcel should be sold or exchanged. Specifically, Secretarial Order 3373 directs BLM to make those considerations part of the process when revising or amending resource management plans: E&E News.
  • Closer Look at 2018 Farm Bill: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) digs deep into some of the programs and policies of the 2018 Farm Bill including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), implications for future conservation title funding and more: NSAC.
  • Clean Water Act: The Supreme Court is taking up another far-reaching debate over the scope of the Clean Water Act. The justices this morning agreed to hear County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund, a case involving whether the law covers pollution that moves through groundwater before reaching a federal waterway: E&E News.
  • NM Wildlife Corridors Bill Passes: New Mexico Senate Bill 228 authorizes the Department of Game and Fish and the Department of Transportation to work together to create a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan and a Prioritized Wildlife Corridors Project List. The departments’ work would specifically look at barriers to wildlife migration and make recommendations to eliminate those barriers in ways that protect animal and human safety: The Grant County Beat.
  • Senate Confirms Wheeler to Lead EPA: The Senate on Thursday voted to confirm Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a 52-47 mostly party-line vote: The Hill.

Tools & Resources

  • Harnessing Technology to Improve Conservation Effectiveness: NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife organized a symposium at the 2019 Society for Range Management conference called “Harnessing Technology to Improve Conservation Effectiveness on Western Working Lands”. Nine different presentations, covering innovative new technologies that land managers and producers can use to improve their conservation outcomes, were recorded and are now available through SGI’s website and YouTube page.
  • The Power of Real Assets from US Trust: Real assets are an essential element in a well-managed investment portfolio. This asset class—which includes agriculture, timberland, commercial real estate and energy—can provide the opportunity for long-term total returns, inflation protection, and the ability to offset the volatility of equity and fixed-income investments. Learn more from US Trust.
  • Colorado Crisis Services for Ag Producers: When a farmer and rancher is facing a financial crisis, it can create an emotional toll on every aspect of life. The agricultural community comes together to help our neighbors in a time of need and that is what this effort is all about: pulling together to help others through this stressful time. We encourage you to reach out to the Colorado Crisis Services if you, or someone you love, is struggling: Colorado Department of Agriculture.
  • WY Native Bee Field Guide: A native bee field guide for Wyoming and surrounding states is hot off the press. The guide features all the bee genera and each genus has full color photos, descriptions, plant associations, nesting, lifestyle and key features for identification: University of Wyoming.



  • Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund: The purpose of the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund is to help accelerate the pace and effective practice of place-based, collaborative landscape conservation across the United States. The Fund specifically seeks to build critical capacity and forward momentum in landscape conservation partnerships by supporting the key building block activities and collaborative processes that move partnerships forward. The fund will provide $335,000 in fudning through competitive grants in 2019. Pre-proposals are due April 26, 2019. Read the Request for Proposals here.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP): NRCS plans to invest $450 million this year in conservation easements through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This program helps private landowners, tribes, land trusts and other groups wanting to restore and protect critical wetlands and protect agricultural lands and grasslands. NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment period, which have application deadlines set by the states: USDA NRCS.
  • CO AgDRIP: The Agricultural Data Reporting Incentive Program (AgDRIP) compensates agricultural producers that report their water use on a monthly basis during the growing season. Invitations to eligible irrigated landowners were sent in mid-February. Currently this program is provided to producers in Colorado and Georgia. If you are interested in participating in the 2019 season, more information is available here.


  • Salazar Center Program Director: The Salazar Center for North American Conservation is seeking a Program Director. The Salazar Center, which began operations in 2018, uses convening, communications, national engagement and interdisciplinary cooperation to address some of the 21st century’s most challenging conservation issues, including habitat connectivity across political borders, urban conservation and engaging new and diverse voices in conservation policy development. Applications are due April 1, 2019. Learn more and apply here.
  • Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project Coordinator: The Wyoming Natural Diversity Database is seeking a coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project (RMAP), a collaborative effort to monitor amphibian populations in the National Forests of Wyoming and Colorado. Applications are due April 12, 2019. Learn more here and apply by sending cover letter, resume and 3 references to Ian Abernethy at fisher@uwyo.edu.
  • NMLC Stewardship Coordinator: New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) seeks a qualified and highly motivated individual to build its burgeoning Stewardship Program, including the coordination of its conservation easement monitoring and legal defense activities; strengthen the organization’s flagship Petchesky Conservation Center as a community resource, as well as provide technical support as needed for conservation projects in accordance with the organization’s mission and its established policies, plans and strategies. Deadline for applications is April 30, 2019. Learn more and apply here.
  • Curator, Draper Natural History Museum at Buffalo Bill Center of the West: The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, an AAM accredited museum at the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park, is looking for a visionary collaborative leader to serve as Curator of the Draper Natural History Museum. Applications are due May 4, 2019. Learn more and apply here.


  • Soil Metrics Survey: Carbon180 is conducting a survey to figure out what soil health metrics would be most useful for (1) producers, (2) corporate entities and (3) scientists in their efforts to gauge and track soil health. The survey responses will be used to inform our work in MT and other states (namely CO and NM to start), especially as many groups are ramping up to take baseline measurements and launch demonstration projects. Take the survey here.
  • CSU Extension Land Management Stewardship Program: The CSU Extension Land Stewardship program offers online training for those who own, live on and manage small-acreage properties to help understand the fundamentals of sustainable land and resource management. Courses in this program are self-paced. Study on your own schedule, and customize your learning experience to match your individual goals. Learn more and register here.
  • Bee Surveying in San Luis Valley: Marilyn Kirkus, USFWS Volunteer, is surveying bees this spring and summer in the San Luis Valley, Colorado. She will be conducting thorough surveys of the Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges for the purpose of further understanding the diversity of native pollinators in the Valley. Marylin is interested in support from landowners in the region to extend her survey beyond the refuges. If you are interested in helping with this study or have questions, please contact Marilyn at mbkircus@gmail.com or 512-944-7738.

Events & Webinars


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