|Sen. Mike Dmitrich, left, visits with Todd Bingham at the farm bureau meeting.|
How did agriculture fare on the hill this year? Montell Seely, vice-president of the Emery County Farm Bureau introduced Todd Bingham who is the vice president of public policy for the Farm Bureau and spent 45 days with the legislature tracking agricultural bills and rallying support for the needs of the agricultural community. Bingham said one bill concerning the state engineer will enable the engineer to enforce water law and issue tickets and fines for water violations. Another bill, HB-38 makes it a felony to steal water.
In HB-142, in issues related to voters, the bill states that an initiative must clearly state if a tax increase would be involved should the initiative pass. Many voters did not know that a tax increase would accompany Initiative I, last November if it had passed. The historic trailing of cattle bill sponsored by local Rep. Brad Johnson passed. This bill provides a defense for an owner of livestock whose livestock damage property abutting a historical livestock trail that is not fenced. It enacts provisions allowing a prescriptive easement for a historic livestock trail. This bill is now in statute. If a trail has been used as a livestock trail for 20 years it is considered a historic trail. Rep. Johnson said, "This is a great bill and it passed unanimously. Statewide there is a fence out policy. If a homeowner builds a house along a stock trail, the homeowner must fence out."
Emery County has no formal policy on fencing. An incident in Ferron regarding a cow causing damage to a yard of a homeowner was pursued in court by the homeowner and excessive damages were awarded the homeowner. The road past the San Rafael Junior High is a historic trail and the cattlemen did not have a legal obligation to keep the cow off the homeowners property. As the house was built along the trail, it was the homeowners responsibility to fence out the cows, if he did not want them on his property. The cattleman in this case wanted to make things right with the homeowner and offered to pay for the damages. But, the court awarded an excessive amount for the minimal damage done.
Rep. Johnson said this case got them stirred up and they fixed the situation to protect the livestock owners. He also said some communities have turned the annual cow drives into a big event and they are promoting the activity within the communities as an attraction. Something to consider he said.
One case of concern is being watched in Cache County where cows in the roadway led to an accident and the death of a resident.
The Utah Department of Transportation is fencing wherever they can to help alleviate cattle in roadways.
HB-207 on prescriptive easements was watched closely by the Farm Bureau, the bureau doesn't support this bill and it did not pass, but was sent for interim study. This bill seeks to create language that a prescriptive easement may not be established by a motor vehicle if there is already reasonable access to the property. This bill has many potential negative impacts on rural Utah. Prescriptive easements are open, notorious and adverse. Water conveyance and language related to the historic trails bill are included in the amendment, but the Farm Bureau is opposed to the bill because of its far reaching implications.
HB-264, this bill establishes planning policies related to managing public land for wilderness considerations, allocation of grazing animal unit months, transportation to and across federal lands, and creation of roadless and unroaded areas. Farm Bureau supports this bill and is working with other groups to garner their support.
Bingham is impressed with the new governor and his understanding of agricultural issues. Mike Dmitrich also present at the legislative update expressed his optimism with the new governor as well. "If I'd of known him before the election like I know him now, I would have voted for him," said Dmitrich. Dmitrich told of special service districts being able to use mineral lease money for economic development projects. Fifteen different items have been added to the list of ways mineral lease money can be spent. Economic development councils can submit applications to special service districts for these mineral lease monies.
One cattleman present was concerned that some bull owners are not having their bulls tested for trich before they are let out. Emery County has one of the highest incidences of trich. Rep. Johnson said the brand inspectors have power in these matters and stiff penalties can be assessed to those not having their bulls tested. Bulls receive a yellow tag in their ear for this year if they have been tested. Johnson said he will make some calls and look into money for law enforcement on the trich issue.
Bingham was concerned about the draft wolf management plan for Utah. He was part of the working wolf group, but it would seem the draft copy was written by a pro-wolf individual. Utah legally doesn't have to allow wolves into the state. It is not one of the states ordered to do so by the federal government. A wolf group was formed to come up with a plan of action should wolves enter Utah from surrounding states, which they have been doing. Comments can be made concerning your opinion on the wolf draft plan on the DWR website. The wolf plan will also be discussed in the May RAC meetings throughout the state. Bingham said the draft restricts what agriculture people can do to deal with wolves. The Farm Bureau is not supportive of wolves in Utah. Wolves have caused drastic losses in Idaho and Wyoming. In Wyoming there have been significant declines in the elk population.
Bingham suggested Farm Bureau members have a bigger presence at RAC meetings to let their voices be heard on agricultural related issues. Sportsmen have done a good job at the RACs in letting people know what they've done with habitat restoration projects and the agriculture people are not as good at broadcasting what they have done for habitat and other projects they have been involved in.
Jordan Hatch was also concerned that the agencies be aware of how their person on the RAC board is voting on issues and let them know what the agency stand is on the various issues. He was concerned that the BLM and forest service representatives often side with and vote with the non-consumptive representatives. Hatch was also concerned that a member of SITLA doesn't sit on the RAC and a number of the issues the RAC addresses are related to SITLA lands.
Jay Mark Humphrey, Emery County Farm Bureau president said they have had a harder time working with SITLA concerning the coal lease on the Cottonwood tract and the affect such mining could have on Joe's Valley Reservoir. SITLA has plans to mine right up against Joe's Valley. Humphrey said they would not allow that to happen at Joe's Valley. When mining in that area ceased before they were within 1.25 miles of the reservoir.
Mesia Nyman, district ranger said once a fracture has occurred there aren't a lot of options for replacing water. There are a number of unresolved coal mining and water issues in the county. Dmitrich said careful monitoring of water has to take place before a mine is allowed a permit and the permitting process for coal mines has become increasingly more difficult with stringent guidelines than in the past.
Rep. Johnson said they have been working to get the Agriculture in the Classroom funding to be ongoing and not just year to year. The schoolchildren statewide need to be educated on where the products they use come from. Johnson has plans for a whirlwind field trip to bring urban legislators to tour a dairy farm, hog farm, turkey farm, etc. to allow them to get a feel for rural Utah.