CDA meeting with producers in Yuma County tense, well attended
In Yuma County, Commissioner Scott Weaver and his fellow commissioners organized a face-to-face event with Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg and newly hired Bureau of Animal Protection program manager Dr. Rebecca Niemiec. Though the meeting was contentious, it was well attended and Weaver commended Greenberg and Niemiec for attending.
Greenberg gave background on the BAP program and said the Colorado Department of Agriculture oversees the BAP by order of statute and pointed out that in the past 10 years, 94% of BAP cases were pet animals and non-livestock horses. She said the program is not about regulating the agriculture industry but is about enforcing the statutes as they relate to animal abuse and neglect.
In the past, a single director has overseen the commissioned agents across the state. Never before, she said, has the BAP had the opportunity to look at the root cause of animal abuse and neglect as many of the animal owners the BAP contacts live “in the margins” having come across hard times. With a new lead investigator position, Greenberg said Niemiec will be able to concentrate on education and prevention through understanding human behavior.
“We’ve never had the capacity to ask why this is happening,” Greenburg said. “Do these folks have the resources, what if someone fell into hard times? Is it really necessary to prevent them from owning an animal again, or do they need financial resources to get out of these hard times and essentially get back on their feet again and how can we help with that?”
Niemiec was introduced and said she spent three years at Colorado State University specializing in people’s attitudes toward conservation issues and human-animal relations. She said she studied the diverse public perspectives with regard to wolf introduction and ensuring the voices of those most impacted are heard in the stakeholder process.
She said she’s looking forward to working with law enforcement, stakeholders, the agriculture industry, and a network of veterinarians to prevent animal abuse.
When the floor opened for questions, Logan County Commissioner Byron Pelton asked Greenberg how she plans to rebuild trust.
“You see how many people are here,” he said. “We all read the article in The Fence Post, we all understand Dr. Niemiec — thank you for being here — we know you’re qualified for the job, there is some reasoning why we’re all here and it’s because we have some questions about how it was hired and the transparency. How can you build back trust with all of these community members who all have livestock and all are very concerned because we feel like we’re not being represented because of some of the actions our governor has taken in the past?”
Greenberg said as a state agency, they’re always building trust, in part by showing up again and again.
Niemiec was asked by one attendee about her involvement with the wolf introduction in the state, especially in light of the depredation by a naturally migrating pack.
Niemiec said she was not focused on advocating on introducing wolves and it was decided by voters and is now under the purveyance of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. She said she recognizes it is a contentious issue and her work was focused on how to address the needs of stakeholders.
Yuma County rancher Kenny Rogers said he’s already on record opposing Niemiec’s hiring. Rogers said when the failed PAUSE initiative was brought forward, farmers and ranchers didn’t hear either Gov. Polis or Greenberg take a strong stance against it.
“We have asked as stakeholder groups — Colorado Cattlemen, Colorado Livestock and on and on and on — we need a seat at the table because we have all of these decisions that are being made that affect us but we never get a voice in it,” he said. “That’s all we’ve ever asked for and we have yet to get that, it hasn’t happened. The same with your selection.”
ANIMAL ACTIVIST TIES
Rogers said the reason agriculture producers don’t trust Niemiec is due to her ties with Mercy for Animals, Defenders of Wildlife, and HSUS, all he said were listed prominently on her job application.
Niemiec said she is no longer working with Mercy for Animals, but she has also worked with a wide range of organizations.
“My collaborators — their mission statements, their vision, their work — is not my work if that makes sense,” she said. “My work is trying to understand people’s attitudes, trying to understand their beliefs in these diverse perspectives and what influences people’s behavior.”
She said she understands that people are wary, but she hopes to work together to educate Coloradans that good animal husbandry practices are not animal abuse. Greenburg said Gov. Polis strongly opposed the PAUSE Initiative and was vocal in his opposition, even if it wasn’t widely circulated. As a state agency, she said CDA could not take a stance on a ballot issue.
Weaver said he is hopeful that Greenberg will continue to engage agriculture producers and, for his part, he won’t give up. Greenberg didn’t immediately return The Fence Post’s request for comment but took to social media, thanking the Yuma County Commissioners, Agriculture Commission member David Blach, and community members for welcoming our new BAP program manager, Dr. Niemiec, and Commissioner Greenberg.
“The town hall today was a wonderful opportunity to hear from producers and learn from each other, not to mention the treat of hearing from the local cowboy poet!”
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