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

Bob Budd has held many jobs in Wyoming. He is a former director of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, he was the manager of Red Canyon Ranch and the director of land management for the Conservation Agency. He is 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 author. He has written a book about Wyoming, its people and habitat called Otters Dance: A Rancher’s Journey to Enlightenment and Stewardship. It’s available October 4th via Amazon and all the usual places. He joins Bob Beck.

Bob Beck: It’s been a while 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 90’s. We did Send Fresh Horses and then Wide Spot in the Road, very different types of books than this one. Then I started coaching little league, having kids and other things, and just hadn’t gotten around to it for a while.

BECK: But you wrote on the side. And I understand that a lot of the stories come from that. Tell us about it.

BUDD: Well, the stories are all Wyoming stories, they’re all drawn from the things that we collectively and individually experienced in our lives in that state. They came from… maybe someone would ask me if I could come and talk to a group, or there were a few that came from books that were published, which were several essays and that sort of thing. And some of them just came out of nighttime calving and you’re sitting there and you’re not going to watch TV anymore, and you’d get an inspiration and just write it down, but then later, you’d kind of look at it and be like, “Well, you know, that’s not bad.” And I just kept them.

And then I had coaching and encouragement from a few different quarters, friends who were like, ‘You really have to do something with them.’ And I said, “Well, okay, smarty pants, what do you want me to do with them?” CSU’s Rick Knight said, “Well, I’ll call someone.” And then they said, ‘Well, actually, we like them.’ Which surprised me quite a bit, and then we just kept going.

BECK: I think people will enjoy it. There are a number of short stories and essays, if you will, on a number of things. A lot about your father, life on the ranch, growing up in the area. You may have experienced Wyoming a little differently than many, having worn many hats in your career. Can you see in your writing how your thinking has changed over time?

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BUDD: Oh yeah, it’s not just your thinking that’s changing. It is your experiences that propel you in different directions. Hopefully, when you get a little older and start saying, ‘Maybe not everything is absolute, you’ll get a little smarter.’ And certainly when you work with natural resources, which I’ve had all my life, you get humbled on a fairly regular basis. I mean, you can be the enemy of anyone trying to work in natural resource hubris. And when you start thinking that you are mightier than nature or smarter than the system, then everything unravels before you. If there’s one thing I really celebrate about doing this, it’s the recognition I get to give to the people who have been my mentors over the years. And I was so lucky number one that they were there. That they showed up when you needed them, and second, that I was smart enough to listen to them sometimes. And there are many stories about that.

BECK: Your father gives you an awful lot of advice and it seems like you always had a notebook when you talked to him about things. In your letter you state that he had many interesting thoughts. That seems to have influenced you in life. Can you talk about that and tell us a little bit about him and how that might have influenced you over the years?

BUDD: He had a lot of little jokes that I don’t know where these guys got them from. He told me when I was working for The Nature Conservancy when everyone was 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 says, ‘Yeah, it’s kind of hard to put your feet in two boats.’ And it’s like, where did you get that from?

Yes, my father is a great guy and grew up in a completely different time and world. I sometimes wonder what kind of people are like my grandfather, who wasn’t even born with cars. And then he goes through and there are people supposedly walking on the moon. How does your brain process that? how do you go through this I mean I don’t know how. It just baffles me that anyone could actually understand it. And then I think there’s another part of the book. There’s a lot in there about faith, there’s a lot in there about trusting other people and trusting the things that you come across. And that’s because I think if you didn’t you would lose your mind.

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BECK: “Bobcats in pastures are welcome, bobcats in barns are not.” I loved this line.

BUDD: That was my great grandmother. Man she would be after those damn bobcats ’cause they come in and get their chickens, which I was all for because I never really liked cleaning that damn chicken house. But she wasn’t so kind to the bobcat.

BECK: Another line you have in the book that also intrigued me, I think you’re at Red Canyon Ranch at this time and you’re writing about birds and how birds give us feedback and insight into natural resources and natural resource management Resources. Tell us about it.

BUDD: Yes, so that was an early lesson. And that, again, came from listening to people who knew about these things. And I was curious, what do you need? I asked someone, ‘What do birds need?’ And the answer came back: “Well, this is where they like to nest, that’s what they need, that’s what they need at this time of year.” And then a bird blew my mind… and I think it’s in the book. It was a small flycatcher or yellow warbler caught at Red Canyon about 10 years ago. And to think that this bird has made it to Central America and back to Wyoming ten times and weighs less than your pinky. And this is just one of them. The intriguing things that I think I’ve tried to get into the book are just the wonders of things going on. And so it’s like, well, then what can I do to make this creature’s life easier? And the answer came back pretty simply, well, if you can provide dense willow thickets, if you can do those things that they need to reproduce and keep going, then you’re going to do what you can to help them and so why Not? Yes, I think there’s a certain miracle that when we bring it back into our lives, it makes things work a lot better. We are not responsible, we are not the ones who have to make all the decisions. What we need to do is think about what is good for willow flycatchers and how can I provide that? Because the reality is that the cost of doing so is really nothing. It’s just a matter of managing and thinking about it, well if I leave it at a slightly different time I can give them an edge. If I do it a little differently… and I think that’s why a lot of these miracles happened

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BECK: They point out that people who live in this environment every day, especially on the ranches and in the wilder parts of the state, are very aware of their surroundings. So let them try to solve the problem. Is that right? Do I understand correctly what you’re saying?

BUDD: They are, but I think solving the problem might not be the right word, they just need to be involved. And that’s what we tried with the current government, the previous government, tried to convey that we have people who care, we have people who have a deep knowledge and a deep, deep personal commitment to landscapes. If you try to do all the things you want to do without them, chances are you’ll fail. If you include them in the solutions, if they become part of this process, you will definitely be successful. 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 crucial.

And it’s hard to do because they’re very busy. There’s a chapter in it about when they finally got all the boys together in the creek and found out they all agreed… that happens a lot. But you must have patience. And you must be serious when you say we want their opinion and then include them. And I think that’s something that’s been incredibly rewarding in my career. And Wyoming has been a leader in that regard. We meant business when we said, “We need you at the table” when we first started coming up with Sage Grouse plans. When we first started managing migration, we did all of these things. The people that are on the ground, the people that are most affected, they sat at the table and they brought wisdom and they brought advice and they said, ‘Here’s what I see happening in my backyard.’ And it was something for everyone to get excited about. You can rally around it, get behind it and say, ‘Okay, so how do we do the right thing?’ And we in Wyoming were lucky because we had the right people to do it, and I think we were able to set a tone that other people can learn from and do that in natural resource decisions everywhere.