Federal, state agencies tell county stockgrowers what 2016 holds; commissioners offer updates

RBC I Saturday afternoon brought together livestock producers, elected officials and government representatives for the annual meeting of the Rio Blanco County Stockgrowers.

The meeting, which allows for speakers from all over the county and state to present information to the membership, kicked off the speaker portion of the session with a presentation by veterinarian Dan Love from Montrose speaking on vesicular stomatitis, or VS. VS is a zoonotic virus (meaning humans can catch the virus from animals) that has reared its head in Rio Blanco County over the last several seasons.
The virus presents in horses and cattle as lesions on the mouth, tongue, ears, feet, chest and belly. Typically, the virus, which is usually carried by flies or spread by contact, lasts no more than a week and is not serious.
Sores on the mouth or tongue often prevent the animal from eating for a short period of time, and animals known to have the virus are required to be quarantined.
However, Dr. Love said that a serious case around the hooves can result in a hoof sloughing off entirely, leaving the animal lame. Love also said he believes it is highly unlikely that an animal will contract the virus two years in a row and is confident that Rio Blanco County will not see VS again for some years.
Love wanted to emphasize that while VS presents similarly as Foot and Mouth Disease, they are very different. Foot and Mouth is a very serious disease that results in the death of 25 to 30 percentof infected animals and travels into the blood stream of the animal, while VS is a skin virus that is relatively minor.
The next speaker was Hal Pearce of the Meeker White River Forest Service Office. Pearce informed the group that the Forest Service, like many agencies, is working on doing more with less money.
Pearce said the White River Forest, which is comprised of five districts, had a budget of $650,000. The 2016 budget is $478,000. Despite the decrease, the Forest Service is planning an increase in weed management, working in cooperation with the county, as well as a few planned burns.
The Blanco Ranger District currently has 34 allotments with 19 permitees, five of which are recent additions.
Pearce also informed the group that the 2016 grazing fees had been set at $2.11 per AUM (animal unit month). The grazing fee formula is based on a base price, cost of production and current markets.
The White River National Forest is the most visited forest in the nation, primarily due to the skiing opportunities.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner had a staffer from the Grand Junction office attend the meeting and inform the livestock producers about issues Gardner, who sits on the Foreign Relations, Energy and Natural Resources and Small Business committees, is currently working on. The list included concerns about North Korea’s nuclear capability, which Gardner is responding to by pushing for deep sanctions on North Korea and its economic partners.
Gardner’s office also expressed concern about agricultural employment visas being held up and the lack of a solution for the Veterans Administration problems meeting the needs of veterans.
Similarly, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton sent a staffer to discuss bills of interest that have been introduced. The first bill discussed was the Water Rights Protection Act, which was described as an “administrative fix” to the issue. The aim is to protect ski areas and other federal lands permitees from being required to hand over water rights to obtain their permits.
The Wild Fire Protection Act was also discussed. In its current form, it will allow governors to provide input on areas of concern for potential fires as well as make recommendations for areas that require treatment for fire prevention.
Tipton’s office is currently seeking input on projects and appropriation priorities from constituents. Currently on the list are the delisting of the wolf as an endangered species, sage grouse and the Trans Pacific Partnership program.
Meeker’s Ben Rogers informed the audience that the Cattlemen’s Land Trust was encouraging producers to apply for grant opportunities, while Mike Lopez reminded the ranchers that they should try and be present when receiving a brand inspection and make sure that all paperwork is fully filled out to prevent a potential court challenge later. Lopez also reminded everyone to watch for rustlers.
Kent Walter, the White River Field Office director for the Bureau of Land Management, discussed last fall’s wild horse gather in the West Douglas Herd Area. The gather removed 167 horses from the range.
The BLM is working to gather monitoring data on the Piceance Creek/East Douglas Herd Management Area to inform upcoming decisions. Additionally, they are working to improve the fencing around the area. They are also planning to complete another gather and more prescribed burns in 2016.
Last year, the local BLM burned 1,000 acres and hopes to accomplish another 1,500 acres this year.
State Sen. Randy Baumgardner gave an update on issues pending at the state capitol. He said there is pressure being exerted by groups such as the Humane Society of the United States to end hunting and fishing. In response, there is currently discussion about a Right to Hunt and Fish Bill.
Baumgardner talked about a number of different water issues including a resolution on state water rights to protect those rights from the federal government. The state is also looking at rain barrel use, water storage across the state and a damn restoration resolution.
Baumgardner expressed concerns about the state of Colorado’s highway infrastructure and the state budget, which, he said, currently spends 34-38 percent on Medicaid.
Baumgardner also said there is a severance tax bill under discussion which aims to send severance monies back to the impacted counties rather than allowing for state use of those funds.
Rio Blanco County Extension Agent Bill Ekstrom warned of a new weed, perennial pepperweed, popping up around the county, and he predicted that fertilizer prices will be softer in the coming year.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Agent Terry Wygant was also in attendance representing the local CPW office. Wygant told the group that the state of Utah is planning to increase the bison population in the Bookcliff region by four times the current levels. This is significant for the Rangely area, as the bison often cross over into the area south of Rangely.
CPW has spent the winter trying to mitigate the impact of this year’s heavy snow fall by baiting the elk herds away from feed lines and hay stacks. Wygant said the biggest challenges on this front exist in the Craig area, however, many livestock owners are having issues.
The Colorado Wildlife Commission recently passed a popular resolution to not introduce the Mexican Gray Wolf into Colorado habitat. The commission based their decision on the fact that the Mexican Gray Wolf was never historically present in Colorado.
Baumgardner asked Wygant to respond to discussions he’s heard around the state capital about a potential ballot initiative to end mountain lion hunting in the state. Wygant said he wasn’t aware of any plans to end the hunts and described the current lion population as “healthy.”
The group also listened to short presentations from Colorado Cattlemen’s and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as well as discussing a small number of group business items.
Local stockgrowers want Rangely and Meeker high school students to be aware of their $750 scholarship opportunity which is renewable for a second year and open to students interested in pursuing a career in agriculture.
Meeker and Rangely high schools have the information about the scholarship.
District 3 County Commissioner Jeff Eskelson reviewed county activities, stressing that the current commissioners were riding high on the shoulders of previous commissioners who had built a significant county financial reserve.
He expressed contentment in the hiring of county project coordinator Eric Jaquez, who is keeping various county efforts online and on budget. The new county justice center is not only on time, but under budget.
While there are some complaints about the courthouse re-modeling being too costly, Eskelson said the courthouse is an extremely important piece of the county’s infrastructure.
WPX has partnered with the county to rewrite the land use planning regulations.
And, he said, the county is pushing to get a better share of locally produced severance tax dollars that have consistently been raided by the state.
Jon Hill, the District 2 commissioner, updated the group on a number of county issues. The first was a consistently hot topic throughout the meeting, the issue of Utah bison moving into the southwest area of Rio Blanco County. Hill stressed the importance of working with the state of Utah.
Hill also discussed water plan agreements and the importance of keeping Lake Powell at its 3,500-foot elevation for electricity production and banking against compact demands.
Hill also touched on the touchy Oregon ranchers’ situation, saying that while we might agree that counties and states would potentially be better managers of now-federal public lands, the Malheur Refuge situation approach [by the Bundy gang] is not the approach to take.
He expressed disappointment that Sen. Baumgardner’s bill for a study of the potential for state, or local federal land management hadn’t passed last year. Baumgardner later confirmed there was such a bill in the Legislature again this year.