Dennis Sun of the Sun Ranch outside Casper Wyoming works to improve sage grouse habitat on his ranch through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Sage Grouse Initiative

Working with other stakeholders is the norm for the Sun Ranch west of Casper, Wyo. Like any ranching operation, it is multi-faceted and complex at times. A series of cause and effects reflect on the landscape showing change regularly, some good and some bad. It is important for Dennis Sun, owner of the Sun Ranch and publisher/owner of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, to make daily strides toward a healthier ranching operation.

One of the components to the Sun ranch’s stewardship is ensuring healthy habitat for sage grouse. The sage-grouse is a ground-dwelling bird native to the sagebrush ecosystem of the American West. It has experienced a significant decline in population over several decades.

Approximately 40 percent of all sage-grouse are found in Wyoming and The Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI), spearheaded by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is proactively addressing habitat loss and working to keep populations healthy enough to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing. Sun implemented the SGI on his ranch and has already been successful in raising bird populations. The Sun Ranch houses a large wintering area for over 600 sage grouse, as well as annual habitat that is extremely important to the overall population of this species. For example, over 300 birds have been counted on one sage-grouse lek (breeding areas).

Scientific studies and Master’s senior thesis projects conducted by Cheryl Mandich, who holds a Master of Science in zoology and physiology, began on the Sun Ranch. In recent years, the sage-grouse population has increased, but the numbers are still low compared to 2005. Like many species, environmental factors, such as habitat and weather, can affect populations. According to Mandich, the estimates of sage-grouse annual survival range from 35-85 percent. A main concern is loss of sagebrush habitat and protection that the birds rely on for survival, including survival from predators like coyotes, fox, ravens and raptors.

Findings from Mandrich’s thesis project and help through the SGI may further benefit the sage-grouse population. Grazing management practices have benefited the population by leaving more sagebrush behind. Retired NRCS State Range Conservationist Everet Bainter had previously developed intensive monitoring programs for the Sun Ranch. Monitoring provided a detailed inventory of habitat and grouse, inventory of ecological sites, potential growth of plant diversity and inventory of sagebrush height and density. Through SGI and Mandich’s work, Sun has implemented additional practices to reach higher sage-grouse numbers.

Dennis Sun of the Sun Ranch outside Casper Wyoming works to improve sage grouse habitat on his ranch through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Sage Grouse Initiative

Traveling out to the Sun Ranch, miles and miles of sagebrush stretch out to the horizon leaving the city of Casper far behind. Joint efforts from agencies such as NRCS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Natrona County Weed and Pest and Wyoming Game and Fish have helped Sun reach rangeland goals. Sun explained that he only made a few simple changes to become a suitable candidate for SGI, including adding fence reflectors and more escape ramps on stock tanks to help diminish the risk of bird death. In the past 10 years, the ranch has implemented numerous range improvements including five solar-powered water wells, spring development, stream bank restoration, invasive weed management and over 20 miles of new fenceline to divide large pastures for grazing management.

Sun’s future plans to improve habitat and production of his ranch consist of a series of check dams on Casper Creek that raise the water table in the riparian area and eventually lead Casper Creek to flow year around. Earlier construction of these check dams in the upper reaches of Casper Creek resulted in increased forage along the creek from 2,200 lbs of forage/acre to 5,500 lbs of forage/acre. This created more habitat and wildlife use in the area along with improved grazing.

The success of SGI is dependent on individual producers like Sun. Increased sage-grouse numbers and improved sagebrush habitat happens in the field on ranches. It is through the efforts of producers like Dennis Sun that will help prevent sage grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act.

From RealPartner Haley Lockwood, NRCS Wyoming Public Affairs Intern

Teichert Angus on the Wyoming Angus Tour

The Wyoming Angus Tour visits Teichert Angus. These cow/calf pairs are on summer range between Cokeville and the Idaho border.

The 2011 Wyoming Angus Tour, Sept. 17-18 in Southwestern Wyoming, was a success with breeders from every corner of the state making the trip to Lincoln and Sublette Counties.

Cow/Calf pair in Wyoming

Jensen Angus cow/calf pair

According to the American Angus Association, Angus cattle first came to America from Scotland in 1873. The breed is naturally hornless and most are black or red. They are one of the most popular breeds raised in the U.S. and more than 60% of all American cattle have Angus influence, according to a representative from Certified Angus Beef.

Mark Teichert of Teichert Angus in Cokeville, Wyo.

Mark Teichert discusses Teichert Angus in Cokeville which he operates with his brothers, Matthew and Tim

The tour included breeder stops at Teichert Angus in Cokeville, Hepworth Angus in Auburn, Jensen Angus in Boulder and Lucky 7 Angus in Boulder.

Tour participants load into a truck to view the cow/calf pairs at Jensen Angus in Wyoming

Tour participants “loaded up” to get an up close view of the cow/calf pairs at Jensen Angus in Boulder, Wyo.

The Hepworth Family raise angus cattle in Auburn, Wyo.

The Hepworth Family (L-R) Hal, Dixie, daughter-in-law Stephanie and son Tyson, own and operate Hepworth Angus in Auburn, Wyo.

Riders on horseback at the Lucky 7 Angus on the Wyoming Angus Tour

Lucky 7 Angus riders hold the herd in place during the Wyoming Angus Tour. Lucky 7 is owned and operated by Jim Jensen and his family in Boulder and Riverton.

The tour also stopped at the Afton Civic Center for a tour of the CallAir Museum and at the Denbury Resources office in Big Piney for a presentation on their Riley Ridge Gas Plant Project that is nearing completion.

Ranchers explore crop dusting history at the Afton Civic Center

David Oedekoven of Sheridan and Wyoming Angus Assn. President Neal Sorenson of Spotted Horse explore the CallAir Museum at the Afton Civic Center. CallAir was a pioneer in developing crop dusting planes

Scott Stinson with Denbury Resources talking about the Riley Ridge Gas Plant

Scott Stinson, project manager with Denbury Resources, discussing their Riley Ridge Gas Plant in Big Piney

Tour Sponsors included the Wyoming Angus Association, Denbury Resources, Farm Credit Services of America (Brad Willford), Rock Springs National Bank, Accelerated Genetics (Don Cox), Jensen Angus, The Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Chef Wendy Schwartz, Colonel Dave Stephens Auction Service and The Boulder Store.

From Curt Cox – Wyoming Livestock Roundup

NOTE: This article appeared in the March 5, 2011 issue of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and was written by Cat Urbigkit. It features Boulder-area rancher and County Commissioner, Joel Bousman. We posed a question about the Wild Lands Order on our Facebook page and want to share the testimony of a RealRancher.

Wild Lands Order opposed in Wyoming

Photo by Stephanie Russell - http://www.cowgirlgraphics.net

Boulder rancher Joel Bousman testified before the U.S. House Natural Resource Committee in late February, speaking in opposition to the Obama administration’s Wild Lands Order (SO 3310) and its impact on jobs and economic growth. Bousman was speaking as a Sublette County Commissioner and President of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association.

“A skeptical and calloused view might be that the Department of the Interior is attempting an end-run on Congress by repackaging what we once knew to be a Wilderness Study Area and simply calling it something different,” Bousman said. “But looking at the guidance used to implement SO 3310, it seems that an end-run is exactly what is being attempted.”

The Wild Lands Order proclaims that protection of “lands with wilderness characteristics” (LWCs) is high priority for the Bureau of Land Management, and the open and productive natural state of such lands should be protected through designation as Wild Lands. The order instructs the BLM to maintain an inventory of LWCs that are outside areas currently designated as wilderness study areas.

Bousman argued that little has changed in terms of the environmental landscape that would change the inventories completed pursuant to Congressional mandate of more than a decade ago.

“Where the environment has changed, it has most likely moved away from a wilderness condition,” Bousman said. “Simply put, Mother Nature does not ‘create’ new wilderness in the span of 20 years. She does so either very abruptly with eruptions, earthquakes and floods, or very gradually, over hundreds of years. Thus, this present-day call to arms to protect wilderness lands is merely an excuse to loop in hundreds of thousands of acres of public land into an overly prescriptive management regime, when in fact, the land in question is no more wilderness than it was in 1964 following the passage of the Wilderness Act or at the conclusion of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act inventory in 1993.”

Wild Lands Order opposed by Wyomingites

Photo by Stephanie Russell - http://www.cowgirlgraphics.net

Bousman’s written testimony noted that according to the draft policy, grazing may be consistent with wilderness characteristics.

“However, grazing management practices (range improvement projects, vegetation manipulation and motorized access) ‘could conflict with protection of wilderness characteristics.’ Reservoirs, stock water tanks, pipelines and fences have all been installed (often at permittee expense) to distribute livestock across the allotments and improve the range resources (water, wildlife, soil, vegetation). These projects and their maintenance are vital to the economic viability of the ranching unit. Treating grazing and grazing management practices differently under this policy would have significant cumulative impacts on the grazing industry,” he said.

“Restrictions on the placement, construction, or maintenance of range improvement projects would have a significant financial impact on both the individual operator and local economy, most notably tied to increased labor cost associated with potential restrictions on motorized use within LWCs,” Bousman stated. “Further, the loss of vital water sources (used heavily by wildlife as well as livestock), tied to maintenance and water development restrictions, would likely cause livestock to concentrate around remaining water sources making it difficult or impossible to achieve the Wyoming Standards for Healthy Rangelands (a permit requirement). In addition, the loss of range improvements would likely result in a reduction in stocking rates. Finally, predator control would be severely limited due to motorized use restrictions, which in turn would increase predation on livestock as well as wildlife.”

Bousman said the Obama administration should rescind its Wild Lands Order.

“It is not supported by the law and is contrary to thoughtful public policy,” Bousman said. “New wilderness designations are and should remain the province of Congress.”

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