Rancher, Government Official Swap Jobs
WASHINGTON - California cattle producer and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) member Mike Byrne flew to Washington, D.C., this week to “walk in the boots” of Sara Braasch, assistant regional chief - west for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Byrne’s three-day visit was part of the "Walk a Mile in My Boots" work-exchange program.
“Technically I was walking around in my own boots, since Sara’s shoes were too small,” jokes Byrne. “But being included in the down-and-dirty daily routine at NRCS headquarters made me better appreciate what goes on at the federal level. These guys are constantly sticking up for farmers and ranchers amongst the hugely urban presence that presides here in Washington, D.C. - or ‘inside the beltway,’ as they like to call it.”
While walking in Sarah’s shoes, Mike participated in an array of meetings to discuss key policy issues affecting cattle ranchers back home, including endangered species reform, conservation initiatives and environmental regulations.
“I met with tons of folks here including Bruce Knight, the head of NRCS, who listened to my concerns regarding science-based environmental regulations and emphasized that interactive programs like Walk-a-Mile are a great opportunity to make a difference in Washington, D.C.,” says Byrne. “If we learn about how it works, we can learn more about how to fix it.”
This award-winning program was originally launched by NCBA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in summer 2003, and for more than two years has provided government employees and cattle producers with on-the-ground work experiences in each other’s professions. This year, the program expanded to include partnerships with NRCS and the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).
“Sarah hails from a cattle industry background, and we met some exceptionally talented folks at NRCS this week,” says Byrne. “But what we also learned is that federal agencies hire thousands of new employees each year who have never set foot on a farm or ranch. They care about land conservation, but do not understand sustainable agriculture or the benefits of incentive-based conservation. They go to college, get fancy degrees, but never get out on a real-life cattle ranch. Then suddenly they are running oversight on our industry’s issues.”
“This partnership is aimed at resolving these differences, and we look forward to more cattle producers like Mike participating, who can invite urban officials to their ranches,” explains Stacey Katseanes, NCBA’s program representative. “Past exchanges between NCBA members and government employees were rewarding experiences for everyone involved, and we encourage more involvement this year.”
Any cattle producer, NACD member, FWS employee, or NRCS employee can apply for the exchange program. The length of an actual exchange runs anywhere from 2 to10 days.
During the exchange, cattle ranchers can visit local or national government offices, work on refuges or in labs, or travel to national headquarters in Washington, D.C. Government employees have the opportunity to visit cattle operations and get hands-on experience working the ranch.