Conference brings ranchers, scientists to Nevada

News
Dec 24, 2009

Conference brings ranchers, scientists to Nevada

Despite blizzards and snarled air traffic nationwide, a diverse crowd of cattle producers, range scientists and government agency employees from across the country turned out to attend last week’s Fourth National Conference on Grazing Lands held at John Ascuaga’s Nugget Hotel in Sparks, NV. The event, which was jointly sponsored by the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) and the Society for Range Management (SRM), is designed to bring producers, academics, and government agencies together to share information and promote partnerships to maintain and improve grazing practices on both public and private lands. Other partners and sponsors of the event included the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the Burea of Land Management.

The theme of this year’s conference, "Grazing Lands—A Winning Hand," focused on increasing public awareness of both the economic and environmental benefits of grazing. Presenters included producers sharing their stories and strategies for improving grazing land management as well as range scientists and other academics explaining current research and findings. A number of sessions also detailed current public relations initiatives which are being used to promote a positive image of the industry’s grazing practices and inform the public about the environmental stewardship practices of ranchers.

The necessity of increasing public awareness of the benefits of sustainable grazing, particularly in the face of attacks on the industry by radical organizations, was a recurring theme throughout the conference. Allen Biaggi, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, underlined the need for industry outreach.

"You need to e-mail, you need to write, you need to tweet, and you need to blog," Biaggi told producers. "Certainly that is what your detractors are doing."

Partnership between producers, scientists, and government agencies was also an important theme of the conference. Bob Drake, national GLCI chair and Oklahoma rancher, explained that one of the key benefits of the conference was to build partnerships between producers and organizations like NRCS and ARS, to help provide producers with on-the-ground technical support to help them better manage grazing lands and remain sustainable.

"Many of the small communities across the country are having a hard time surviving," said Drake. "We were trying to bring in as many (technical) people as we could to work with the people in the audience, and partner up. We were trying to find some new ideas, and we did."

NRCS is a key cooperator with GLCI in helping ranchers improve grazing lands, both public and private. It is a federal agency that provides technical assistance and funding to agricultural landowners for resource work, functioning like a state extension agency, but on a national level. Ceci Dale-Cesmat, district conservationist for NRCS at Susanville, CA, explained, "Our mission is assisting farmers and ranchers. We implement the farm bill and provide technical assistance to producers with technical needs (such as) protecting soil, water, wildlife habitat, and forage base."

Dale-Cesmat applauded GLCI’s effort to "bring technical folks and farmers and ranchers under the same roof to get technical assistance, and to share ideas for conservation. (The conference) is an avenue to get the land owners and the scientists together (to discuss) why we need to continue public lands grazing, and the science side of it."

Founded in 1991, GLCI is "a nationwide consortium of individuals and organizations working together to maintain and improve the management and the health of the nation’s grazing lands." Among the nine organizations with representatives on GLCI’s steering committee are the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Sheep Industry, and the Dairy Industry. GLCI also aims to inform the public of the contributions of ranchers to maintaining healthy environments, and "is founded on the principles of voluntary action by those who own and manage grazing lands, and a respect for private property rights."

Conference organizers are compiling a CD of the proceedings of the conference which will be sent out to attendees, land grant university libraries, and select members of congress. Producers who were unable to attend the conference but would like to request a copy of the proceedings should contact SRM at 303/986-3309, or e-mail info@rangelands.org.

For more information about GLCI, or for those interested in opening a chapter in their state, contact Monti Golla, GLCI administrator at grazinglands@verizon.net. — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent

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