As we celebrate Ag Day 2022 in Wyoming, there are certain words that are key to understanding Wyoming agriculture—past, present and future: “resilience”, “stability”, “longevity”. Each of these can be used to describe the history of Wyoming agriculture, the current state of Wyoming agriculture, and our vision for the future of Wyoming agriculture.
Agriculture in Wyoming, as we know it today, began in the 1850’s with the trailing of cattle into the state to take advantage of the abundant grass and water. In projecting the future of this nascent industry , the Cheyenne Leader stated in 1868, “That a future of the greatest importance is in store for the western plain, no one who has traveled over and lived upon them for any considerable length of time can doubt.” Four years later the Wyoming Stock Growers Association was formed by these cattle “barons”. In 2022 this organization is celebrating its 150th Anniversary. Wyoming Stock Growers together with the many Wyoming farms and ranches that are honored each year by the Centennial Farm and Ranch Program stand as testimony to the resilience, stability, and longevity of the state’s agriculture.
Wyoming agriculture has faced and overcome many challenges throughout its history. Most recently this has included the concurrent impacts of the COVID pandemic, drought, federal regulatory uncertainty, and litigation. Throughout the darkest days of the pandemic our farmers and ranchers tended their crops and livestock on a daily basis. While they faced the challenges of shortages of supplies and labor, ingenuity and commitment compensated. When our schools were closed to in-person learning, many agricultural families welcomed having their kids at home to help with the daily chores. While consumers felt the impact of empty shelves in the grocery store, these were due to processing and transportation delays, not to any declines in production at the farm or ranch level. Many consumers found relief in buying directly from the farm or ranch. Once again Wyoming agriculture demonstrated its resilience, stability, and longevity.
Today “sustainability” has become the key word driving discussions about agricultural production. These discussions far too often ignore the proven resilience, stability, and longevity record of Wyoming agriculture. Wyoming agriculture remains vibrant today because our agricultural produces embrace each day with a commitment to ensuring economic, environmental, and animal care sustainability. We can be confident that this commitment will continue in future generations of our agricultural producers. 2022 Ag day is an opportunity for every citizen to show our appreciation to Wyoming agriculture.
This week was a slow week. On June 15, the weather was calm all day and the wind did not pick up at all, so I was able to finish up several fields and eventually start on the last riparian area.
On June 16, the weather consisted of high winds and dark cloudy skies, which was consistent for the next two days. I was not able to help in the fields due to high amounts of rain, unless it was with cattle—which was a new experience.
On June 19, the weather finally cleared up and I was able to spray. This time spraying was more of a learning experience, since Paul from Lander Weed & Pest came up and was able to increase our pesticide strength. Paul will be helping Larry and I off-and-on for the next two weeks.
This week was a learning experience as usual. I figured out Larry’s process on how he runs his ranch, what I should be doing when not spraying and how he wants me to spray. What I mean by this is, I was always confused on what Larry wanted me to do since he is used to communicating with Michael (current ranch hand). I figured out that as long as I am being helpful and remembering tasks Larry has given me in the past that have not been completed, he is happy with the work I am doing.
Due to some of the communication opportunities and confusion in exact tasks to be done and task execution, I have had the opportunity to work on developing interpersonal skills as well. As I am building relationships with Larry, I am learning how to advocate for myself until I have clarity in what he wants and push to set expectations so there is less confusion on my part—and less frustration on his.
I am also learning how to have professional conversations when our expectations do not align—though those conversations may be difficult. Finally, I am learning to develop multi-generational relationships when there is a fundamental difference in understanding each other and pressing in until we can align.
This week started off similar to last. I finished spraying across HWY 16 on June 8 and moved on to fields #12 and #14 towards the middle of the day on June 9.
Spraying across the highway was the most difficult patch I have done, and I will have to come back to this area on a later date to see the progress and effectiveness of my application. For this land next to the highway, I mostly used the backpack sprayer—due to the amount of steep terrain. However, I was able to use the ATV sprayer along the irrigation ditches.
On June 9, fields #12 and #14 were much easier patches to spray because the fields are flat and very similar to the fields Larry and I sprayed the first week. This task was a great “break” from spraying on foothills and small canyons—which is seriously the most difficult task I have done in a longtime!
Towards the middle of the week, spraying was off-and-on due to high winds and our moving further into the pastures east of the highway. The pastures extend for a couple of miles and the chemical being used cannot be out in the sun for more than an hour, or it will lose its effectiveness.
While the wind was picking up, Larry showed me how to do fly rubs and more surrounding how he operates his cattle ranch. On Friday, I ended the day by spraying the tree line near the front end of the south pasture, and I intend to finish this stretch on Monday, June 15.
The Old West is revitalized each year when the historic cattle drive known as the Upper Green River Drift makes its way through western Wyoming. Cowboys mounted horseback drive thousands of head of cattle along the path, just as they have done for 124 years.
Right now, outside forces are threatening this longstanding western tradition. Radical environmentalist groups are working to issue a devastating blow to the grazing practices that these ranches have efficiently implemented for years.
Fortunately, ranchers have already made headway in the case.
An early victory came as a federal judge rejected the preliminary injunction filed by these activist groups that would have immediately hindered the grazing ability of cattle from these ranches.
To see what Mountain States Legal Foundation is doing to help ranchers in this case try and preserve the western way of life, read the story below.
Hi, my name is Zane Schneider and I am WSGA’s rangeland intern for the summer. I am a senior at the University of Wyoming majoring in energy systems sciences, with a concurrent major in energy in natural resources. I also have a minor in geology, with a concentration in GIS mapping systems. I grew up in the small town of Eaton, Colorado.
During my academic career, I have managed to accrue two years of work with reclamation monitoring and ecology experience. I had the privilege of working for KC Harvey Environmental, LLC., where I learned valuable professional skills in biomass operations, equipment maintenance, energy systems and energy efficiency. I am interested in advancing my current skills to develop and build robust, durable solutions to the most important challenges facing my profession in invasive species monitoring for rangelands.
I started the move up to Buffalo on May 16, moving into an apartment that the Vignoroli’s are allowing me to live in for the duration of this internship. On May 18, my summer internship kicked off.
On my first day, I helped put out gated pipe in fields numbered two through five, which I found on the map that Larry—the owner of the ranch—showed me. Michael, a ranch hand for Larry, discussed with me some of the main duties I will be working on with him and what he wants me to help with part of the time. Towards the end of the day, Larry and I identified the main patches of weeds and specified those which he wants me to spray and control.
The next day, Larry and I did more invasive species and weed identification in his pastures, located in the northern and northeastern parts of the ranch. While doing this, we also fixed and filled water tanks and mineral bowls for the cattle.
During the afternoon and evening, Larry and I brought the ATVs out to hook them up with a mounted sprayer and backpack sprayer for the following week. After fitting one of the ATVs with a sprayer, Larry allowed me to practice (with water) on some grass and weeds in the arena. This helped me get a bearing for what type and consistency of spraying Larry wants to see.
The next day was a busy and tiring day. A project that Larry and Michael had been planning for two years was set to take place this day. Our group set up half a mile of fencing that needed repairs. This took all day, but I had the opportunity to get to know some of Larry’s in-laws and Michael’s son, Lane. For the next two days, Larry and I did several chores around the pastures which allowed us to become better acquainted with one another.
Overall, in my first week I learned to do several things outside of both the environmental field and my suburban comfort zone. These new skills will allow me to have a broader knowledge of other manual labor applications outside of my degree field.
This is my final week at the Kane’s ranch and my final week for the Invasive Species Rangeland Internship. Reflecting on the first couple weeks of this internship, I did not expect to switch ranches, nor did I expect to deal with a lack of communication with the first ranch owner. I also expected to learn other techniques outside of spraying.
I learned control methods such as poisoning prairie dogs (with Weevil-cide pellets) and spraying. The most interesting control method I learned was the use of flea beetles for leafy spurge. The only control method I had used for the last two years in my other internships was strictly spraying for invasive species. The Kane’s broadened my methods skills by adding two control variables I had never used.
Overall, this internship was out of my comfort zone. This was not because of my invasive species work, but rather the agricultural component of my internship. I have never had an interest in agriculture (I still do not have a large interest), but this internship has opened my eyes to the pros and cons of the agricultural lifestyle. I will take what I have learned and apply the vast knowledge of fencing, gated pipe, driving manual or standard transmission vehicles, and several other hands-on-skills to my everyday life.
I have not talked about this week in specific because this week was full of either more poisoning prairie dog holes or David and I reflecting on what I have learned over the course of the last month and a half.
This week started off as usual, checking water tanks and gathering supplies for projects that needed to be done around the ranch. This week’s project was building sturdier H-braces, building “blockers” for cattle on water tanks, and finally concentrating on eradicating prairies dogs.
Kyle, David, and I built steal braces and reinforced blockers on a specific water tank, due to a float being bent from the cattle. The projects took all day, but it was easy to install all the steel bars required for each project.
The next day, Tuesday, was a little less busy, since all of us were caught up on a lot of past projects. Therefore, I built fence and checked storage tanks.
On Wednesday, David gave me the training and supplies needed to poison prairie dog towns. I enjoyed this part of the week because it has been a while since I have done this invasive species work. This continued through the rest of the week.
I am close to being finished with this half of the internship. My last week of the internship will be next week, when I will have to leave Thursday due to the University of Wyoming’s recently released COVID mandates for students returning to Laramie.
Many of us grew up watching with wide eyes the heroic folklore of western movies. Regardless of the plot, there was always something enamoring about John Wayne sauntering onscreen and calling the shots with his deep, calming voice. While the Duke was a crowd pleaser, it was his portrayal of the American cowboy and western way of life that keeps generations of families watching those old VHS tapes. The idea of driving cattle for miles, camping under the stars and fighting off any dangers the elements present is exciting to watch on the silver screen. What many do not realize however is that in some special places, those old ways of the West are still alive today, but with modern problems.
Such is the case for those families and ranches who partake in the Upper Green River Drift Cattle Drive in western Wyoming each spring. The crews come together, the horses are saddled, and cowboys, cowgirls and cattle begin the long trek north to U.S. Forest Service (USFS) allotments where the cattle will graze for the summer. Depending on their location along the Drift, some ranches will trail their cattle up to 80 miles. This cattle drive has seldom changed over the past 124 years—not even the names. Sommers. Murdock. Price. Swain. Wardell. These families have been driving their cattle on the Drift since their ranches were homesteaded in the late 19th century.
“It’s home,” said Jeannie Lockwood, of Murdock Land & Livestock. “We’re lucky.”
Jeannie is the third generation of her family to run the ranch, and she hopes to keep the operation in the family, as her children and grandchildren now also call it home.
For most of May and some of June, these ranches graze their cattle on BLM allotments in places known as the Little Colorado Desert and the Mesa. Come middle of June, ranchers begin driving their cattle north to the Bridger-Teton National Forest, where U.S Forest Service grazing permits allow ranches to utilize these federal lands during the summer months, from mid-June through mid-October.
The cattle drive is an important part of the ranching process. After the cattle have been fed at home on their ranches throughout the winter, had their calves and those calves have been worked, it is time for the herd to move to their summer grazing places. This allows the meadows and grasses back at the ranch to grow and be put up as hay—ready to be fed the following winter. After having grazed the USFS allotments for much of summer, the cattle then naturally “drift” back down south, where ranchers and hired cowboys await the herd, ready to sort cattle back to their home ranches.
This cycle is a well-thought, efficient and economical system that has been proven to work for over a century…and use of these federal lands is a key component.
However, grazing on USFS lands is not without its challenges, namely the threat of grizzly bears to cattle. While the grizzly bear is still listed on the Endangered Species List, biological evidence has shown time and again that the grizzly bear population of this region has recovered significantly.
In fact, in June of 2017 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials cited a distinct population of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears and recommended they be removed from the List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife. However, various lawsuits and environmental groups have allowed the grizzly bear to maintain its spot on the list.
Aware that grizzly bears pose a significant threat to these cattle grazing on forest lands, USFWS has allowed for lethal removal of well-documented nuisance grizzly bears that have killed a significant number of cattle.
Even with the ability to remove problem grizzlies, ranchers saw a loss of 79 confirmed head of cattle killed by grizzlies in 2015 alone. Though the Wyoming Game & Fish Department does write compensatory checks for documented grizzly bear kills, such a number still results in thousands of dollars being lost by ranchers.
Now, a new problem presents itself to these ranchers who have grazed these lands for generations—radical environmental groups. Recently, the Western Watersheds Project, along with Yellowstone to Uintas Connection and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, have filed lawsuits against the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, proclaiming these grazing practices—that have efficiently been used for years—pose a significant threat to grizzly bear populations and violate the Endangered Species Act. An additional case has also been filed in the same court by other environmental groups.
These groups are fighting to halt all lethal removal of nuisance grizzly bears.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bear population has steadily recovered and established itself over the past 45 years…even with the use of lethal removal of problem bears, which has been monitored and carried out by Wyoming Game & Fish officials. Yet even with monitoring of the population, these radical environmental groups want to prohibit the lethal removal of all grizzly bears that have been meticulously documented as having killed multiple head of cattle.
As if ranchers’ margin for profit was not already alarmingly narrow.
“These families have cared for the land far longer and far better than any agency or activist has,” said Brian Gregg, Mountain States Legal Foundation’s lead attorney on the case.
Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) is a non-profit, public interest law firm, focused on defending the constitution, protecting property rights, and advancing economic liberty. MSLF filed and was granted a motion to intervene in the case in order to defend the rights of these American ranchers to access federal land, as they have for generations, and to protect the legacy of the people who built the West. Fortunately, MSLF understands the consequences facing ranchers if these environmentalists are to achieve their goal.
“It will create open season on the cattle,” Gregg pointed out. “Bears will be allowed to kill livestock with impunity essentially. There will be no remedy beyond nonlethal and potentially pretty ineffective options for trying to save the herd.”
While skilled range riders tend the cattle through the summer, there is only so much that ranchers can do to cohabitate with grizzlies. The threat of which requires them to move cattle often, in a futile attempt to navigate the grazing area to reduce the number of kills.
Any rancher with cattle in high stress environments understands that this can lead to lower gain per head, and less money coming back to the operation in the fall due to lower weight calves. Allowing the grizzly bears in the area to have free reign on these herds—not to mention the hands taking care of them—is about as stressful as the situation can get.
“On top of all their usual duties, range riders have the duty of watching out for the grizzly bears, identifying cattle that have been killed, and contacting our wildlife officials to document the kills,” said Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. “It’s inevitable we have put those humans at a greater risk because of the grizzly bears being there.”
MSLF is representing WSGA, the Upper Green River Cattle Association, Price Cattle Ranch, Murdock Land & Livestock Co., and Sommers Ranch LLC on the case. Significant progress has already been made, for in mid-June a U.S. District judge rejected the preliminary injunction filed by the environmental groups that would have immediately stopped the use of lethal removal. This could have had dire consequences, being that these ranchers were moving their herd to these northern allotments.
“It’s nerve wracking,” added Lockwood. “Even with the risk we still take our cattle to the Forest Service allotments because pasture is so hard to find. We can’t go anywhere else.”
Lockwood has been a part of the drive since she was a child and can remember many of the children from neighboring ranches joining to ride. After high school she even served as a range rider for a summer near Green River Lakes. Lockwood recognizes the importance of this drive, these grazing allotments and the cultural significance of this way of life. Luckily, she is not the only one.The Upper Green River Drift is the only ranching related Traditional Cultural Property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The history and culture of this cattle drive is something that the families involved hope to continue for generations. Legal help from organizations like MSLF is vital to ensuring that hope comes true.
The soft melody of Willie Nelson’s, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” comes to mind as I learn more about this epic cattle drive. This phrase has always rung true for me, whether it be John Wayne, the cowboys that have made up my family for generations or my own father, who I continue to learn from daily. They all serve as role models to me.
The ranchers and riders of the Upper Green, who have worked hard and put in long days moving their cattle north for the summer—always maintaining their role as good stewards of the land and the animals that roam it—most definitely are included on this list. There is something incredibly noble about raising livestock to feed the world.
Ranching is by no means an easy way of life, but for most of us—we would not want to live any other way. For ranchers like Lockwood, the dream is that love for the land and western way of life can continue for generations…despite the obstacles thrown in the way.
“I don’t know,” Lockwood concluded. “I hope that we continue to do what we are doing. I hope we can continue on.”
I believe that just like in the great western movies, the good guys will win. The heroes will prevail. After all, my heroes have always been cowboys.
This week was busier than usual due to the fact we worked with yearlings, I moved the last of the flea beetles, and Terry and David were down in Denver for a conference.
The start of the week was slow and uneventful. Kyle and I checked water tanks and made sure the pipeline sensor for the storage tank was cleaned. We did not find any water tanks on the pipelines that had major problems.
On Tuesday we did more water tank checks and repairs. Later in the day, I welded holes in old fuel tanks to be used as water tanks in the future. Tuesday and Wednesday were not great days for gathering bugs due to rain and lightning.
David and Terry arrived from Denver around 10 p.m. on Wednesday. The next morning, I gathered bugs and delivered around three batches to draws in the back pastures.
Friday, I headed back to Laramie to visit family and catch up with some timely errands that could not wait.
This week was another productive week. Starting on Monday, I collected four coolers of flea beetles (10 plastic containers) and made more releases into draws and pastures to control spurge.
This continued until Thursday. David had made several releases into draws a few years back and I am contributing to his work in other draws that did not contain bugs.
On Thursday, several hands went up to Freeze Out Point, which is part of the Kane family’s allotment in the Big Horn Mountain range. We moved the cattle from last week one more time into a pasture eight miles from Freeze Out Point.
This was an easy ride but took longer than expected due to the cattle moving slower through sagebrush. On Friday, Kyle and I went over to Wolf Creek to gather wire panels and a water tank, which had been used for the big cattle move last week.
Overall, I was more prepared for the tasks and jobs that were given to me this week and I am learning a lot more about ranching operations.
This week was a very fun and eventful week. Starting on Monday, July 13, Kyle (one of the hands) and I helped Nate (the Kane’s youngest son) by going out to Wolf Creek to do a few things to get ready for a large cattle move. We rounded up cattle that were lame or not paired up and then traveled along Smith Creek to set up a water tank in the place that we were going to move the cattle to.
The big cattle move began on Tuesday and ended on Thursday. I helped out Terri with lunches and I helped David with moving cattle when they needed an extra hand. The first move was from their property in Parkman, WY, to the water tank near Skirt Creek. The second day was the easiest. The cattle were able to move up the mountain to a certain point, which made moving the cows a breeze. The third and final day was the most complicated due to lack of reception and having to drive up steep and rocky roads. On this day we had the most help as well, since Terri and I are great with logistics.
On Friday, July 17, Kyle and I checked water tanks, repaired any tanks that needed it and started on the invasive species work on other parts of the ranch. Instead of spraying for leafy spurge, David uses bugs called “flea beetles.” The beetles are set on large, thick patches of spurge and then over time they will eat the patches completely.
This was a new form of control for me since I learned in school and while working for companies that spraying and reseeding is usually the faster and more obvious choice. I am doing more research on flea beetles and will add this knowledge to future control methods if applicable.
My final week in Buffalo was different from what I had been doing this summer. I started on Tuesday this week, after having returned from being in the Rawahs (Rocky Mountain National Park) with my family for the holiday weekend. This was a good break.
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday sweeping more of Larry’s property, for reasons that were not communicated. After wrapping up my duties for the first half of my internship in Buffalo, it was time to move east to Sheridan County, where I will be working at SR Cattle Company with the Kane family for the second half of my internship.
I moved to SR Cattle Company on Thursday. The Kane’s took me in and put me to work, doing things like fencing, moving cattle and helping move hay within the first couple days. Not only did I learn new skills, but I was also able to show the Kane’s my ability to work.
Their willingness to work with me and show me new skills in just two days, made me feel very positive about what this second half of my internship experience will bring.
On my first day with the Kane’s, June 9, I fixed fence and reviewed maps of their operation. This gave me a better idea of what my purpose around the ranch is and provided a clear understanding of what I want to learn on this ranch.
The next day, we moved cattle from the “OTO House”, which is the main pasture. This time moving cattle was different than using ATVs and I thought it was more enjoyable.
So far, I think the second half of my internship will help me grow in my skills and give me new experiences.
This was a usual week. On Monday and Tuesday, I resprayed fields and pastures that Larry and I sprayed at the beginning of my internship in Buffalo.
Wednesday and Thursday brought stormy weather, which conflicted with our respraying schedule because it added three inches of water to Clear Creek. In order to respray the last of the fields and riparian areas, I need to travel across the creek and due to the high water levels, this will have to be push back to next week—my eighth and final week here in Buffalo.
This was also a week of chores that—in my opinion—kept me busy but added no further experience into studying or identifying rangeland species. Going more into detail, Wednesday and Thursday was spent in the garage sweeping for eight hours, two of which I spent fixing a backpack sprayer, which I did not mind.
Friday of this week and Monday of next I am taking off to visit my family in the Rawahs (Rocky Mountain National Park) for the 4th of July weekend. When I return next week, I will begin to respray the riparian areas across the creek, if water levels are permitting.
After having finished up the first half of my internship here in Buffalo next week, I will be joining the Kane family in Sheridan to finish the remainder of my internship at SR Cattle Company.
The week started off as a regular week. I re-sprayed a couple fields in front of the pastures, so that Larry and I can start planning for the back pastures. This is how Monday and Tuesday went.
On Wednesday, Larry and I went to the back four pastures and started to scope out what spraying would look like. We started with the windmill and elk pastures, which are the pastures furthest away from HWY 16. We looked for grasshoppers and leafy spurge. Most of the spurge we found were in draws and hills. The grasshoppers were more sporadic, since they can actually move around. We found little to no grasshoppers in any of the four back pastures.
Larry then sent me out to finish scouting those two pastures so we could move on to the front two pastures. In the elk and windmill pastures, I found large patches of spurge, in only a few areas. I didn’t find enough grasshoppers to make it a concern.
The next day we scouted the front two pastures, which are called the south and center pastures. These two areas had exponentially more leafy spurge and grasshoppers. However, there still were not enough grasshoppers to warrant spraying for the species.
On the last day (Friday), Larry and I brought up a map of his property to label the areas where we needed to spray. We needed to label where we found invasive species to provide these details to Lander Weed & Pest, in order for them to spray these areas. We will get an answer sometime next week on how they will spray and the chemical they will be using.