From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 32 - November 7, 2002
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Conserving ranchland in Sublette County

by Cat Urbigkit

About 20 county residents participated in last week's two-day forum focused on conserving ranchlands in Sublette County.

Sublette County Commission Chairman Bill Cramer explained that himself, fellow commissioner Betty Fear and County Zoning Commissioner Suzy Michnevich had attended a Sonoran Institute forum on western community stewardship this spring in Estes Park, Colo. As a result, the commission requested the Sonoran Institute come to Sublette County and put on a planning workshop for county residents. With the county's growth and current emphasis on the development of large tracts, the forum was to look at ways to conserve agricultural lands from development.

Representatives of the American Farmland Trust and the Trust for Public Land joined the Sonoran Institute in giving presentations to forum participants last week, from profiling ag in the county to campaigning for the use of public funds to purchase development rights from ranchers.

First on the agenda, Jeff Jones gave the group an overview of agriculture, including the following:

Overview of Ag - Rocky Mountain

218 million acres in production - 40 percent of the land base

$15.8 billion in market value of agricultural products sold in 2001

Livestock production dominates the region, with wheat, hay and dairy making up the bulk of ag sales

Ag in Sublette County provides:

Income $2.4 million to ag employees and $2.6 million to agricultural operators in 2000

Employment 411 jobs in 2000 or 10 percent of county employment

Open space 591,000 acres, 68 percent of which is pasture and rangelands

Wildlife habitat Big game winter range, elk calving areas, riparian, wetland and sagebrush areas

Profile of land use and growth in Sublette County

81 percent of the land in public ownership

County population grew 22 percent during the 1990s, from 4,843 to 5,920

Population growth should be put into context, given the low population

Very low population density: 1.2 persons per square mile

Private lands are crucial to wildlife habitat and migratory corridors; future growth in key areas could have a significant impact.

County has exhibited less small-lot subdivision in the past decade than many rural, high-growth counties in the West

Most of the land division has consisted of large-tract development

Many ag lands have been sold in the last decade

The price of land increasing at a brisk pace

Cost of county infrastructure and services has not been significant in the past

In the last 10 years, the average price per acre for ranches 400 acres or greater went from $510 at sale time to $2,670 per acre.

The number of ranches in Sublette County has increased by 18 percent since 1982, according to data presented by the American Farmland Trust.

Boulder rancher and Green River Cattleman's Association president Jim Bousman said he believes this number is a reflection of ranches being sold and divided into smaller ag outfits.

Forum participants were asked to rank issues in order of importance in describing ranchland. Topping the list was rural character, followed by open space. Small town economics and business came next, followed by wildlife habitat and migration corridors. A new issue, written by Boulder's Suzy Michnevich was next. It the preservation of working family ranches. Tying for the last three slots were preservation of private grazing lands, access to public lands and grazing permit allotments and ranchland prices.

Rancher and realtor James Rogers pointed out that the rural character and open space are what attracts people to come to Sublette County, although having more people here is what will take those characteristics away.

The workshop included presentations on tools for conserving ranchland, from "Right to Farm" laws to zoning alternatives and compensation programs.

When it came time to discuss what tools could be used in Sublette County, rancher Albert Sommers said he feels that it is important that county government and the citizens of the county have an understanding of agriculture and support ranching and public lands livestock grazing. He suggested that the county commission take a greater role in federal lands issues as an affected interest and that individuals be encouraged to write letters in support of ranchers and ranching and go to meetings to stand up for agricultural users.

Sommers concluded that while ranches have moral support from people, "we need action."

That began a discussion about the need to organize an education and support process focused on the importance of agriculture to the county. This eventually led to the idea that the county hire a person to represent the county commission at various agency meetings to express the commission's views on resource issues, ranching included.

The idea that an agricultural advocacy program be created was suggested, but it wasn't clear who should initiate such a program.

It was suggested that a brochure be developed that would welcome the reader to the West, noting that Sublette County is a ranching community, and listing some information a new person may need to know, such as the fact that if it's not a county road, it may not get plowed and that school bus routes are top priority.

Another suggestion was that there be a strong statement in support of ranching in the county comprehensive plan.

In a strange turn of events, Meredith Taylor of Dubois, who is employed by the Wyoming Outdoor Council, attended the second session of the two-day forum and suggested that the purchase of development rights is a top strategy that should be used in Sublette County.

Several people spoke favorably of having the Sonoran Institute return to the county for another workshop, this one discussing ag diversification and planning tools such as cluster development.

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