Niels Hansen: Avoid Communication Drought During Dry Years

Niels Hansen

Originally published: Wyoming Livestock Roundup 

04/09/21

By Niels Hansen

Like many of you, I received the dreaded, but expected, drought letter from the BLM or Forest Service not too long ago. Content of the letters vary from state to state, but all of the letters tell you the range conditions are dry and there may be a need to make some kind of adjustment in 2021 grazing plans. As we head into spring and summer pasture where pastures are dry and situations change quickly, it is important to have good, open communication with your range professionals in the Federal agencies.  I sure most if not all of you have received a letter informing you that.  

On our ranch, it took two range toursmultiple calls, and countless emails to move into 2021 with an updated grazing plan that everyone is comfortable with.  While drought raises a variety of scenarios that require additional planning, a few things come to the head of the list. For us, it was planning for the possibility of emergency water projectsWe looked at temporary watering sites using hauling and pipelines to disperse the livestock and wildlife and keep the range healthy Everyone agreed on the value of the effort and the proposed goals, but when looking to put those plans into action, we ran into some road blocks. 

The Executive Order President Biden signed his first day in office on oil & gas development has been expanded to cover all surface disturbing activities. This would, of course, impact things that ranchers and agencies want to do in order to alleviate drought concerns – both for livestock and for wildlife. The Public Lands Council has been communicating with Department of Interior (DOI) in an effort to get clarification on Department’s intention and share real, on-the-ground impacts of broad decisions like this. We all know that all too often, something looks like it will be good on paper, but doesn’t work in practice or has unintended consequences. After visiting with some ranchers in other areas, it became clear that internally, DOI hasn’t given a lot of clear guidance on how to move projects forward in a timely manner, emergency or otherwise. 

Whether you’re assessing the potential for an emergency water haul or discussing ongoing monitoring, I urge you to contact your range person and discuss your situation. By working together to make a plan for this year, you will be able to get your thoughts and needs for a dry year on the table. Learn what obstacles or issues BLM or the Forest Service sees that may slow or prohibit you from doing what you need to protect our livestock and the land. If you are in a Herd Management Area, ask BLM to implement a water hauling program for the feral horses. Whatever the issue, whatever the timing, stay in contact with your range professional.   

Dry years are always tough to deal with, but working together and keeping conversation flowing is the best way to decrease stress, improve outcomes, and set the stage for the productive years to come. 

Niels Hansen is a third generation rancher from Rawlins and currently serves as president of the Public Lands Council. He has served as chairman of the Wyoming State Grazing Board and president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.