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Wyoming author discusses ranching, family and wisdom in his new book

The cover of the book "Otters Dance."

Bob Budd has held a lot of jobs in Wyoming. He's a former director of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, he was the manager of the Red Canyon Ranch, and the Director of Land Management for the Nature Conservancy. He's currently the Director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust where he works to improve wildlife habitat. He's also very funny and a great writer. He's written a book about Wyoming, its people, and its habitat called "Otters Dance: A Rancher's Journey to Enlightenment and Stewardship." It's available on October 4th through Amazon and all the usual places. He joins Bob Beck.

BOB BECK: It's been a while actually since we've talked about one of your books, when was the last time you wrote something?

BOB BUDD: Well, the last time I published anything was in the early 90s. We did "Send Fresh Horses" and then "Wide Spot in the Road," very different kinds of books than this one. Then I started coaching Little League, having kids and other things, and just hadn't gotten back to it for a while.

BECK: But you've been writing along the way. And I understand that's where a lot of the stories are coming from. Tell us about that.

BUDD: Well, the stories are all Wyoming stories, they all come from the things that we've experienced collectively and individually in our lives in this state. They came from… maybe it'd be somebody who'd ask if I could come and talk to a group, or, there were a couple of these that came out of books that were edited, that were multiple essays, and that sort of thing. And some of them just came out of, you know, late nights calving and you're sitting there and you're not going to watch TV anymore, and you'd get an inspiration and just kind of write it down, but then later, you'd kind of look at it and go, 'Well, you know, that's not bad.' And I just kept them.

And then I had coaching and encouragement from a couple of different quarters, friends that said, 'You really need to do something with them.' And I said, 'Well, okay, smarty pants, what do you want me to do with them?' Rick Knight down at CSU said, "Well, I'm gonna call somebody.' And then they said, 'Well, actually, we do like them.' Which surprised me quite a bit. And then we just went from there.

BECK: I think people will enjoy it. There's a number of short stories and essays, if you will, in here about a number of things. A lot about your father, about ranch life, growing up in the environment. You've experienced maybe Wyoming a little bit differently than a lot of people, in that you've worn a lot of hats in your career. Can you see in your writing how maybe your thinking has changed over time?

BUDD: Oh, yeah, it's not just your thinking changes. It's your experiences drive you in different directions. Hopefully you get a little smarter as you get a little older and you start to say, 'Maybe everything isn't an absolute.' And certainly when you work in natural resources, which I have all my life, you get humbled pretty regularly. I mean, you can be the enemy of anybody trying to work in natural resources' hubris. And when you start thinking you're more powerful than nature, or you're smarter than the system, that's when everything unravels in front of you. If there's anything that I really celebrate in doing this, it's the tribute that I'm able to give to the people who have been my mentors through the years. And I've been so lucky that number one, that they were there. That they emerged when you needed them and then secondly, that I was smart enough to listen to them sometimes. And there's a lot of stories about that.

BECK: Your dad provides you an awful lot of counsel and it seems like you must have had a notebook every time you had a conversation with him about things. In your writing you note that he had a lot of interesting thoughts. That seems like it's influenced you in life. Can you talk about that and tell us just a little bit about him and how that maybe has influenced you over the years?

BUDD: He had a lot of little witticisms that I don't know where these guys got them. He told me when I went to work for The Nature Conservancy, when everybody's like… 'Oh, God, how can you work for an environmental group?' I said,' Well, I don't know, I've never done it.' And he goes, 'Yeah, it's kind of hard to stand with your feet in two boats.' And it's like, where did you come up with that?

Yeah, my dad is a great guy and raised in a completely different era and world. I wonder at times what people like my grandfather, who when he was born, they didn't even have cars. And then he goes through and there's people supposedly walking on the moon. How does your brain process that? How do you go through that? I mean, I don't know how. It's just baffling to me that someone could actually comprehend it. And then I think that's where another piece in the book is. There's a lot in there about faith, there's a lot in there about trusting other people, and trusting the things like that that you encounter. And it's because I think if you didn't, you'd lose your mind.

BECK: "Bobcats in willows are welcome, bobcats in barns are not." I loved that line.

BUDD: That was my great grandmother. Man, she'd get after those dang bobcats because they get in and get her chickens, which I was all for it because I never really did like cleaning that dang chicken house. But she was not as equally welcoming of the bobcat.

BECK: Another line that you have in the book that I was also fascinated by, I think you're at the Red Canyon Ranch at this time, and you're writing about birds, and how birds give us feedback and insight into natural resources and managing natural resources. Tell us about that.

BUDD: Yeah, so that was an early lesson. And that was from again, listening to people who knew about those things. And I was curious about, what do they need? I asked someone, `What do birds need?' And the answer came back, 'Well, this is where they like to nest, this is what they need, this is what their needs are at this time of the year.' And then I was blown away by one bird… and I think it's in the book. It was a little flycatcher or a Yellow Warbler that had been caught at Red Canyon, like 10 years before. And to think that that bird made it to Central America and back to Wyoming 10 times, and it weighs less than your little finger. And that's just one of them. The fascinating things that I think I tried to get into the book is just the sheer wonder of things that are going on. And so it's like, well, what can I do then to make that critter's life easier? And the answer came back pretty simply, well, if you can provide dense willow thickets, if you can do these things that they need in order to reproduce and to go on, then you're going to do what you can to help them and so why wouldn't you? Yeah, I think there's a certain amount of wonder that, if we put it back into our lives, that it makes things work a lot better. We aren't in charge, we aren't the ones that have to make all the decisions. What we have to do is think in terms of, you know, what's good for Willow Flycatchers, and how can I provide that? Because the reality is the cost of doing it is really nothing. It's just managing and thinking about, well, if I graze it at a little different time, I may give them an advantage. If I do this a little differently… and that's that's where I think a lot of that wonder came

BECK: You're making the point that people that live in this environment every day, especially out in the ranches and out in the wilder areas of the state, they pay very close attention to their surroundings. So let them try and solve the problem. Is that right? Am I reading into what you're saying there correctly?

BUDD: You are, but I think maybe solve the problem isn't the right word, they just have to be involved. And that's something that we've been trying with the current administration, the previous administration, trying to get across that we've got people who care, we've got people who have deep knowledge and deep, deep personal commitment to landscapes. If you try to do all the things you want to do without them, you're probably going to fail. If you include them in the solutions, if they become a part of that process, you are definitely going to succeed. And just letting go of control, letting go of some of those things, and getting the right people at the table when you're having a conversation is critical.

And it's hard to do because they're very busy. There's a chapter in there that talks about when they finally got all the guys in the creek together and found out they all agreed… that happens a lot. But you've got to be patient. And you have to mean it when you say we want their opinion and then getting them involved. And I think that's something that in my career has been incredibly rewarding. And Wyoming has been a leader in that regard. We meant it when we said, 'We need you at the table' when we started developing sage-grouse plans. When we started managing for migration, we did all those kinds of things. The people who are on the ground, the people who are most affected, were at the table and they were bringing wisdom, and they were bringing counsel, and they were saying, 'Here's what I see happening in my backyard.' And it was the kind of thing that everybody can get excited about. They can rally around, get behind it and say, 'Okay, so how do we do the right thing?' And we in Wyoming have been lucky because we've had the right kind of people to do that and we've, I think, been able to set a tone in a way that other people can learn from and do that in natural resources decisions all over the place.

Bob Beck has been News Director of Wyoming Public Radio since 1988. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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