GUEST OPINION: Wyoming agriculture is standing strong
I have often shared my grandfather’s advice, “where you find a blade of grass leave two.” These words, to me, embody the farmer, the rancher – all those engaged in ag. Ag producers value the land, animals – wild and domestic – crops and open space. Wyoming is a place where for generations we have worked to leave two blades of grass for one. Cowboys, cowgirls, and the Code of the West were born in ag and today represent Wyoming values in all industries. Ag has been integral to Wyoming since before statehood and more than 125 years later is Wyoming’s third largest industry. It is a main supporter of the number one and two industries-–energy and tourism. Wyoming ag is standing strong as Wyoming is strong. Here I will address a few of the many things important to ag and all of Wyoming.
Wyoming has established itself as a leader of the nation. We have earned Standard & Poor’s highest credit rating, AAA, four years running. We are the state with the Best Return on Investment for Taxpayers (2014), the Lowest State and Local Tax Burden in the Country (2014), and the Second Highest Increase in Gross Domestic Product (2013), among other accolades. I talk about these things, not to brag, but because they mean things are going well and people in Wyoming are doing well. These are indicators of our success historically and today. We are in a good place. There are challenges, to be sure, and we continue to be vigilant and to lead the way as we work on them.
Last year the EPA proposed new rules defining Waters of the United States. These proposed rules have sweeping negative implications for Wyoming and for ag. Wyoming has taken the lead in challenging these rules and in educating the public and policy makers on their excessive reach. We saw success when the EPA withdrew the interpretive rule redefining agricultural exemptions. The balance of the rule proposal contains onerous provisions and extends the authority of the federal government into areas of state primacy. Wyoming, after nearly three decades, successfully delisted the wolf. Wyoming’s plan provided for 10 breeding pairs and 100 individual wolves in the state and an additional five breeding pairs and 50 individual wolves in Yellowstone National Park. The plan worked; the wolf continued to be recovered; and reasonable controls – Wyoming controls – were in place. When the delisting was challenged in court, the judge found the wolf was recovered and that Wyoming’s management was effective but still overturned the delisting. We are fighting this decision on multiple fronts, but it is clear that the Endangered Species Act is broken. We need to work on the Act, as we continue to work on delisting grizzly bears and ensure that there is no need to list the sage grouse. We should recognize that these species thrive in great part because of ag and, without ag, the challenge would be a greater one – perhaps insurmountable. Wyoming’s fight against federal overreach will not stop.
This year I introduced my water strategy. Something like this – a state water strategy – had not been done before. Water is tied to everything we do in this state. It’s tied to everything we have done and it’s tied to everything we are going to do in the future. The strategy was developed over the last year, with wide public input. It is a good strategy and has ten initiatives including a 10 in 10 proposal – 10 small reservoir projects in 10 years. The time to protect Wyoming water is now. The proposed budget contains more than 46 million dollars for water construction and rehab projects. Water development is an ongoing effort. There are also other infrastructure projects in my supplemental budget. I believe my budget recommendations, many of which are in the budget that is before the Legislature as I write this, are conservative. The supplemental budget will keep operating costs relatively flat and most appropriations are not recurring.
These are exciting times, and this is just a glimpse of issues and topics of interest to ag producers. But every essay has its end, and I end by reiterating that Wyoming is strong. I wish you green grass, healthy calves, abundant crops and good prices in 2015.