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Campbell County Conservation District Board Candidate Questionnaire: John Daly

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Election season is well underway and County 17 has sent a list of questions to each candidate who has filed to run for office in contested races.

These questions are designed to give our readers a better understanding of the people behind the names on the ballot. All candidate responses submitted to County 17 are republished as they are received. County 17 solely made minor edits to the responses, for clarity. Minor edits may include correcting punctuation, capitalization or spelling.

Below, get to know John Daly, who is running for a spot on the Campbell County Conservation District board.

Due to technical difficulties, John Daly’s questionnaire was conducted via recorded interview at his ranch near Gillette on Oct. 20. This is a transcription of that recording.

  1. Please introduce yourself and describe your educational and employment history. Please include your name and hometown along with highlights of your past involvement in the Campbell County community.

My name is John Daly. I was born and raised in the house right over here, behind us. It’s been torn down now. It’s gone. Tear down, floor fell in.

I graduated from Campbell County High School in 1965. I was in FFA, which was very strong, the program, was at the time. And then I went to the University of Wyoming, where I majored in agriculture economics. As such, I took a lot of courses in agriculture. Not specific areas of econ, but specific as to soils, plant-type grasses, for example, had a whole class of grasses, poisonous plants. Those are all courses that I would have had at UW.

I was married in 1966, and we had three children. As such, I went did a lot of work when I was in college. I worked in the dairy plant at the university at the time. Why the university had a dairy plant with one dairy or two dairies in the whole state of Wyoming, I can’t answer that question. The state was spending more on dairy than they were making on dairy. Anyway, I was on the dairy products judging team. I was on the meats team. I was going to be on the meats team. I was on the wool team, judging, so I had courses in all that. I say I was eligible for the meats team, but my dad became injured in a horse wreck. And I came back in the fall of ’69, I believe it was, to the ranch. Calved 720 head of heifers pretty much by myself. My wife helped some, don’t discount that, but she didn’t ride a horse. I’ve done a lot of cowboy work since then, horseback.

In fall of 1969, I went to law school, which I had planned to do all along. In law school, of course, we had classes in water law, oil and gas law, mineral taxation. Anyway, some of it was pure law school, lawyer stuff. Other of it was more of the natural resources problems, and I had experience in all of that.

I graduated law school in 1972. My first case was two days after I graduated, for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, housing discrimination case for one of the Black 14. We lost that case, unfortunately. I came back to Gillette with my law degree and was admitted to the bar. There were only five other lawyers in Gillette, maybe six other lawyers in Gillette. Three of them were prosecutors. Two of them were judges. And that left me and one other fellow to do all the defense since there wasn’t anybody else. So I did a lot of public defense. As we got a few more lawyers in Gillette, I did some time as a city court judge, city court prosecutor at one point. Basically, as lawyers, we filled in where it was needed. And there are many stories that go with all that sort of thing.

In addition, I was on the ranch. We built this house in 1974. And I continued to work at the ranch and at the office, both of them. The oil boom of 1969 was important because that’s when the kitty No. 1 blew in. Kitty No. 1 refers to an oil well that blew in and was on fire for a month. When I came back, they were releasing like crazy. I had a lot to do with resource management and allowing the oil companies to come in and trying to get equitable payment for the ranches that were involved for that oil development. Educating the oil companies about the importance of small things begin to make a big difference in the management of soils and the management of plants. When you do the spray weeds when you minimize the road use or minimize the number of roads that you have to access certain areas. It all goes to the soil management and plant management and, to some degree, people management. I did a lot of that. And I still continue to do some of that today.

I then served as a district bar commissioner from the judicial district here in Campbell County, and Crook and Weston County were a part of that district. I served as secretary of the Wyoming State Bar, president-elect for Wyoming State Bar, vice president of the Wyoming State Bar and president of the Wyoming State Bar. I continued to practice law in all that. I had one of the largest civil settlements ever made. It’s still paying out today for some of the clients.

I was on the Mountain State Legal Foundation Board of lawyers, board of attorneys, that serves that group. Hageman was on part of that time that I was on that board, so I know her. She’s married to a person from our class in law school. I served on church board three times, First Presbyterian Church. Last time, I declined to serve as Chairman, just wanted to be a member and was. I helped found and was on the Health Care Foundation Board for 20 years and thinking what else, probably 10 other things I did in that period of time.

Some of those boards don’t have much to do with natural resources, they have to do with the allocation of dollars and from that were generated by the oil in the allocation of those monies in the county for different projects, you know, new courthouse, an addition to the new courthouse, new jail, all that. I didn’t actually serve on any of those boards.

There’s a relationship with the feds and the county and there’s a board on that and I don’t know if that’s still working on that or not, but I served on that. And then I was on the museum board for seven years. I drew up some terms of people who died and people who were unable to serve during that period of time, ended up filling in, and I ended up serving my own two terms of that board. So I was on that museum board for quite a while.

My ranching experience includes my mother came from a ranch in Sheridan County. I worked for them several times, not full-time employment, just a week or two helping out up there. I helped on the ranch in Newcastle, which was affiliated with the ranch here till 1960. We had to split the ranches up because of just the management of “Who bought this can of oil?” if you will. But that was a very peaceable thing and we continue to trade labor for the ranch in Newcastle and the ranch in Gillette.

My cousin and I wrestled over 2,000 calves one year, when they still did it on the ground. We were tough hombres, I mean to tell you.

I broke some horses in there. Looked at different ways of marketing livestock. Satellite sales came in; we started with that. That was a new thing. Probably some other things  I’ve forgotten about.

I served as vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. It and the Bar Association are the only two organizations that are mentioned in the Wyoming Constitution. I served as president of the one and vice president of the other. Certainly, the Stock Growers involves a lot of discussion of particularly invasive species, and that sort of thing today, I mean, they’re still very active in range management issues. I’ve worked primarily with the BLM and not with the Forest Service, because we don’t have any Forest Service lands in this area. We’re working with isolated tracts of BLM pretty much. Right now, I think we have a good working, and I think we’ve always had, a good working relationship with the Bureau of Land Management.

2. What prompted your decision to run for the conservation board?

An interest in conservation is always there. I get a number of publications every month about it from the Bar Association, different things. So, I have an interest in it. Plus, I’ve done so much in range management issues on our own ranches. I don’t have a degree in range management. Other members of the family do. But we are all always involved in that.

What do you see as your role on the board?

The first rule for any newbie coming onto any board, they ought to listen. So that’s my first job: to listen. I’m not out there to create a new entity.

And then the second part of that is, after you’ve listened, is to ask questions.

And after you’ve done that for a while, some period of time, depending on how often and how much activity the group is involved in, you begin to maybe make some decisions that you truly vote on with knowledge. So my involvement with the soil conservation board is first to listen.

(Clarifying) County 17: If the board has to make a decision at its first meeting, would you vote?

Daly: Depends on the issue. There’s no right or wrong, black or white about that. Generally, too, the other thing you look for on the public boards, 90% of what they do is a unanimous vote. On almost all public boards that’s true. The remaining 10%…it’s healthy to have some dissent sometimes on public boards. I’m not there to create that dissent, but if I don’t understand or am opposed to something, I’m going to vote “no.” And if I’m out there all by myself, so be it.

Then you must respect your other board members. That’s a very important aspect of serving on any public board, is to respect your fellow people, what they believe and what they say. They feel strongly about some of those issues. You have to respect that opinion.  Doesn’t mean you have to vote for it. But you have to respect them as people with that opinion. And that’s important.

I think I’ve used the expression, “We all drink out of the same pitcher. We just use different straws.” And so be it with so many other things, you know, that you might be faced with on the board.

The other thing you need in a public board is that you’re passing on the work of the administrator, who’s doing something. If you can’t agree with him 90% of the time, you know, you’re wasting it. And if you agree with him 100% of the time, you don’t need him. So you better have some healthy dissent, if necessary. As far as I know, there’s no big bleeding issues with the soil conservation board. And that goes to the last part of your question that you asked. You were looking for something perhaps more controversial. It isn’t. It’s probably the least controversial of a lot of the boards. We’re not buying land; we’re not selling land. We’re not running bankrupt. We’re not having an extra 100 kids show up for kindergarten.

3. How do you plan to help your constituents through your role on the board? Please address rural and urban residents, energy and business development stakeholders, and ranchers.

Listen, and be sensitive to them and their opinion.

4. What do you think Campbell County’s biggest environmental and water quality
challenges are?

That’s too broad a question. Water quality issues are pretty minimal in Campbell County. The biggest problem we have with water is the multiple numbers of wells that have been drilled to service the small tract homeowners. People with 40 acres have to have a well. That’s a lot of straws in the pitcher. It’s a quantity thing, not a quality thing. And you have to understand the law of prior appropriation when you talk about those people. Those first in time, first in right. And that’s the law. So I would have a hard time avoiding my lawyer training.

What should the board’s priorities be?

I have no idea what the board’s priority is, probably to preserve the soil. Probably their main duty is to oversee the paid employees. That’s true of any of our public boards with paid employees or partially paid employees or people that are subject to supervision. You have to deal with those issues in an appropriate manner and respect them. If you have personnel, personnel is always your leading issue.

5. What would be the ideal relationship between the Bureau of Land Management and Campbell County?

Have an office here. There are no governmental offices in Campbell County. We don’t have a four-year college, as does Laramie. We don’t have a Capitol, as does Cheyenne. We don’t have a prison, as Rawlins. We don’t have a coal miners’ hospital as does Rock Springs. And we don’t have a state hospital for the “insane,” and you can put that in quotes, like in Evanston. We don’t have any of those. Sheridan has the veterans’ hospital, Buffalo has the state soldiers and sailors home. If you haven’t been there, you ought to go and see what a big facility that really is. You go right down the line. And what happens is, Campbell County has never had a real governmental supplement to their name. Casper has the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. So on down the line. Campbell County doesn’t have that.

The BLM would be better if they were closer to what they were doing.

A BLM person was out, I think, yesterday. And we like to know who’s coming on the ranch, what they’re doing here. And the BLM has been very good about calling and saying we’re coming on Thursday. We say, “That’s fine. Thank you for informing us.” We know there’s a BLM truck out there someplace. And, for example, with an oil company, they show up with five pickups and you say, “Well, that’s $100 apiece for each one of those pickups that’s going in to look at this problem.” All of a sudden, they only need two pickups. That’s just an example of preservation. The BLM has been very good about that.

I suppose there are some things that we can do to improve that relationship, but I don’t know what they are off the top of my head. That’s one of the things you’ve got to listen and ask questions about. That’s true of almost all the issues that you might raise.

I think anything that regulates, any portion of the government that regulates, needs to be its closest to those who benefit from the regulation as they can.

6. What’s one upcoming project the conservation district is planning to accomplish within the next few years that you think Campbell County residents should definitely know about? What’s your perspective on it?

In general, people need to understand the importance of soils. We’re living on 6 inches. That’s all there is. The soils below that don’t grow much. They also need to know the importance of the actual soil base and the importance of the plants that will grow here in that soil. Banana trees won’t work.

The district also has a program where they sell trees, and that’s healthy. I don’t know that that’s their most important one, but it’s one of them. I want to go to a board meeting and listen and see what they’re doing. They only meet once a month.

7. Is there anything else should voters know about you?

Natural resources are very important to what we do on these high plains. It’s unique. If these grasses were trees, we’d be one of the great biological centers of the world. Instead, the grass is grass. We have about 30 species of grass in Campbell County, and we’re just at the junction between the short grass prairie and the tall grass prairie. By the time you get to Chadron, for example, you’re in the tall grass prairie. We’re also at the juncture of the growing season, which begins to get shorter here. This year, it hasn’t, but lots of times by Sept. 20, the growing season’s over, whereas, as you drop down in elevation, Alliance, and Chadron and some of those places on the Niobrara River, they have another month before they hit winter. This will all be gone in a month. Bad weather coming. And you’re not going to do too much in the winter, although our experiments on the ranch, if you get a little melt in January and you get a little mud on top of the ground, about an inch thick, you can do a real good job of getting grass to come in the spring and ugly grass down in that kind of muddy substructure. Because that’s how these grasses evolved. They evolved with a wet winter. Even though it’s really cold, they get their roots in and start growing. You don’t see see them until May, but…

There’s something that I’ve done that perhaps is appropriate — we developed what’s known as the Daly mix-in grass seed. So we require all people who come in to do work on the ranch and do tear up the foliage [educated guess, recording unintelligible] on top of the ground to use that Daly mix for restoration. And it is popular with the oil companies because it grows and it’s been very successful.

And as a matter of fact, I understand that the BLM is even switching over for some of them. I don’t know that for 100%, but that’s what I’ve been told by people: “Oh, we know about your Daly mix. Yeah, the BLM is doing it in certain places.”

And, of course, the invasive species are a real problem with grasses right now. There’s about three invasive grasses that are cheat grasses being relieved legally: bulbous bluegrass and of course you have Canadian thistle, which is a major problem in this county.

Recognizing the difference in soils for the people who are out there doing activity on the soils is important. For example, they’ll recognize high selenium soils. They’ll recognize soils that have a methane gas leak to the surface up through them. There are a number of things you can see by just sitting and looking. The archaeologists completely missed the whole bedground for the cepes [educated guess, recording unintelligible] because they don’t know what they’re looking for. So I point out the bedgrounds, and then they can see them, which takes just a little bit of management.