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Les Barkhurst named President of the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming for 2020

 

March 25, 2020

Joshua Wood

Les Barkhurst, a fourth generation rancher in the Valley, was elected president of the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming in January.

Among the many bills that were introduced during this past legislative session, one that may have caught the eye of ranchers throughout Wyoming was House Bill 0244. This piece of legislation, introduced by Representative Hans Hunt, would have repealed Wyoming State Statute 11-37-108, which may fine a rancher up to $750 for not paying the beef check-off dues currently owed to the Wyoming Beef Council.

The bill failed by a vote of 27-29-4, Representative Jerry Paxton was excused, and so the $1 per beef check-off is still to be paid by ranchers within the state. One group that was hoping for the bill to pass, however, was the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW). Formed in 2007, the grassroots group recently elected Valley resident Les Barkhurst as the president of the organization.

"There is no lobbying money coming in. We address legislative issues and bills that come up and we show support, or the lack of support, and by being a grassroot group the direction is a base that helps all cattlemen," said L. Barkhurst. "A base of ideas and principles."

According to their website, newsite.icowwy.org, the group was formed by Moorcroft rancher Judy McCullough as an affiliate of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA). McCullough still serves on the leadership of ICOW as the secretary. Elk Mountain rancher Joyce Menke currently serves as the treasurer.

According to Barkhurst, ICOW views the beef check-off dollar, which is paid per head before sale, as a tax that does not aid the cattlemen. 

"If we could do away with the beef check-off nationally, as it is today, then there are organizations that want to hold onto that penalty in the state of Wyoming that, if we did not pay the 50 cents out of that dollar that goes to the state organization-which would be the Wyoming Beef Council-that that would defunct that," L. Barkhurst said. "We're in favor of not putting in any money into either one. The national or state beef councils."

This viewpoint goes in line with one of the topics that ICOW is concerned about; taxes. 

"We have always been against increasing taxes-an income tax, a state income tax, those kinds of things-because we can see what other states have done," said L. Barkhurst.

The president of ICOW opposes any increase in taxes as they believe that organizations and governments need to work within their means. One such increase in the past, which would have added an additional dollar to the beef check-off dues to the Wyoming Beef Council, was opposed by ICOW and ultimately failed.

"ICOW has fought against the Wyoming Beef Council being able to receive an additional dollar on top of the first dollar and, if the first dollar isn't working, why add another dollar to it? The lower the cattle inventory in Wyoming gets, the less beef check-off dollars that is used for the Wyoming Beef Council to contract for advertisement," L. Barkhurst said. "The Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming have sat with the Senate Ag Committee and presented our position and that additional dollar was shot down."

In addition to their position on taxes, ICOW also places importance on education.

"We love to educate and we want to continue the education of our youth. We want them to come back to the ranches but why do they want to be on the ranch when there's not enough prosperity to even maintain (the ranch)? The kids tend to go off into other entities that are not ag related and that is financially affecting the communities in our rural town communities," said L. Barkhurst.

The fourth generation rancher says he has talked with other ranchers in the Valley about joining ICOW, but says that many appear to be dissuaded by the $50 per year dues to be a member of ICOW. L. Barkhurst believes that they should view this as an investment, not an expense.

"My theory is that if you have 300 cows the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming has stopped a tax of an additional $300, so your membership would not only increase the broadness of the group, the dynamics of the group and the voice of the group but it would also save you some tax," L. Barkhurst said.

"It's not any corporation. It's not any special interest group. It's people that are living and dying, literally, off the land. A lot of entities criticize ranchers and farmers for destroying the land, and I think there's probably some corporations that have caused that mentality in society, but when you sit down and you walk out in that field and you see him on his hands and knees looking at the soil," said L. Barkhurst's son, Byron. "There are no better stewards of the land than the ranchers and farmers that live off of it. I'm talking about the guys that live and die by the soil."

It is L. Barkhurst's hope that the membership of ICOW can continue to increase and will allow the organization to fight for a more fair market for Wyoming cattle. While there are a number of differing opinions, as one might expect with a grassroots organization, L. Barkhurst says the goal is the same, "to bring health and wealth back into our communtiies."

 

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