Stockgrowers hold annual meeting

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RBC | The Rio Blanco County Stockgrowers held their annual meeting and banquet last Saturday in Meeker.
After quickly discussing group business the stockgrowers got down to one of the primary purposes of the annual meeting, providing an opportunity for local ranchers to hear updates from various county and state entities.
The first presentation was given by Sheriff Anthony Mazzola who discussed new legislation. Senate Bill 005 would allow handguns to be carried in schools by trained teachers. Similarly, Senate Bill 006 would allow underage military service members to achieve a concealed carry permit.
Two new bills that Mazzola thought might hold particular interest for the group included a House Bill attempting to recall the current magazine limit on firearms and one which would highly regulate diesel emissions. Additionally, there is consideration of a new mandatory sentence for felony DUI convictions requiring 90 days in county jail. Mazzola was not supportive of the new requirement, citing a high fiscal impact on the county.
“We don’t need to be doing the state’s job,” he said.
He was, however, supportive of a new proposal from the Governor’s Office which would limit the number of marijuana plants that can be grown in a residential home.
According to Mazzola the county is currently seeing a slow upward trend of calls into the Sheriff’s Office following a drastic drop in 2013. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office has also undertaken a Memorandum of Understanding with the Colorado Humane Society to help determine health condition of animals, including livestock, which the department receives complaint calls about.
Jake Lewis spoke on behalf of the Forest Service and said that while visitation of the White River National Forest continues to climb (they have higher annual visitation rates than Yellowstone) their budget is stagnant. Lewis was encouraged by a 2016 partnership with the county to help fund weed management, which he says was very successful. According to the Forest Service the Lost Solar fire, which started on Aug. 8 and burned for about a month, consumed 77,000 acres and provided many benefits for the ecosystem.
The USDA snow report was provided to attendees. The report shows 127 percent of normal snowpack for the White River Basin.
Kent Walter, BLM White River Field Office Manager, began his update discussing wild horses. This year Walter hopes to gather 77 horses currently trespassing on private land. According to Walter, the local BLM would like to see all excess horses removed, however they do not have room to keep them in long term holding facilities. “We are pretty close to having more wild horses than we’ve ever had before,” said Walter. The BLM is working to fence 154 miles around the Piceance Creek Herd Management Area. Last year they were able to complete around nine miles of the project.
Walter also warned ranchers that last year the Wildlands Defense organization began appealing all grazing permits. He recommended that the stockgrowers become more vocal about the importance of livestock grazing to both the nation and the range, allowing the BLM to present the other side when challenged in court. “You guys are the silent majority,” he said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife updated the group on a few personnel changes and winter conditions, which are said to be improving with the recent warming temperatures. CPW reports 90 percent survival on collared fawns and 100 percent of does this winter.
CPW is preparing to begin the three year Piceance Creek predator management study on lion and bear populations with the hope of increasing fawn survival. However, WildEarth Guardians have brought a lawsuit against CPW to prevent the study. Despite the suit CPW has no plans to postpone beginning the study this spring.
Additionally, CPW is expecting an increase in resident hunting license fees this year, which have not been raised since 2005. It was pointed out that if fees were to keep up with the consumer price index the price would be about double what it currently is.
Chris Colflesh of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts was happy to announce the formal adoption of the new Land Use Plan after a two-year long creation process. The district has already used the plan to request the removal of overpopulated wild horses around the county.
Frank Daley spoke on behalf of Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, who are currently celebrating their 150th anniversary. Daley introduced the stockgrowers to CCA’s new northwestern representative, Tom Harrington from Carbondale. Both men encouraged all livestock producers to sustain CCA membership.
Renae Neilson, county assessor, provided a county value update. According to Neilson Rio Blanco’s current value is down 27 due to the loss of oil and gas. Personal property currently makes up 66 percent of the county value, which she said was higher than most urban areas. She also provided some perspective on local taxes and the way they impact various industries. Neilson compared a property valued at $500,000 based on its purpose. A residence at that valuation would have an annual tax bill of $1,312. A business property with the same value would pay $5,800 while the same valuation of property in the oil and gas industry would pay $17,500 annually.
The evening banquet included a fundraiser for Stockgrowers President Rodney Dunham who was severely injured in a recent snowmobile accident. The group auctioned off heifers and accepted donations to support the family and help cover costs incurred from the accident.