Pugsley conserves land for future generations | TheFencePost.com

Pugsley conserves land for future generations

Gayle Smith
Gering, Neb.

Jack Pugsley is drilling grass seed to introduce a more productive species as part of a pasture improvement project.

As Jack Pugsley looks out across the land he has called home most of his life, he knows he has done nearly everything possible to conserve and improve it for the next generation to enjoy.

Pugsley, who makes his home in Jay Em, Wyo., has been a lifetime advocate for resource conservation. “I have been very interested in conservation since I was a kid,” he explained. “My dad was having our place soil mapped by the soil conservation service when I was in the 6th grade. I went with the state soil conservation scientist while he did the mapping, and fell in love with the possibility of being a soil conservationist,” he said.

When Pugsley graduated from Torrington High School in 1954, he attended college at the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship. Two things happened while he was in college. He met and married the love of his life, Elaine, in 1956, and he graduated in 1959 with a soil science degree. Elaine also graduated with a degree in education.

“My first job was with the Department of Roads as a soil engineer,” he explained. Pugsley was hired to conduct all the preliminary work on all roads being developed by the state at that time. “I am proud to say I was even able to work on some of the interstates that were developed at that time.”

Pugsley eventually left the Department of Roads to join the Air Force where he worked in the Department of Aeronautics as an agronomist. “I worked as a liaison between the Department of Aeronautics and the farmers who rented that land,” he explained. During that time, Pugsley recalls how interesting it was to see corn near Scribner, Neb., that was planted to camouflage the airstrip during the war.

Afterward, Puglsey worked in various conservation positions throughout New Mexico, Washington, Montana, Oregon and Idaho, before returning to the family ranch in 1974. “My father’s health was failing terribly and none of my siblings wanted any part of the ranch or farm, so I severed my job and went three-quarters of a million dollars in debt to buy the family farm,” he said.

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“We bought my dad’s place that he purchased in 1940,” Pugsley continued. “We also purchased the place my grandparents homesteaded in 1914. We’ve added more land through the purchase from a friend of ours. We are a small operation – our ranch is about 4,950 acres. We live immediately south of Rawhide Butte west of Jay Em, Wyo.”

On his own operation, Pugsley has undertaken many conservation projects over the years. One of the first things he did was pasture improvement by plowing under native grasses that were very unproductive, and replanting the land with new, more productive grass species. “We have also done some terracing, so the soil retains more water on those deep slopes to prevent gully washing,” he explained.

Pugsley also planted all the farmground back to grass. “I just felt like we couldn’t compete against all those states who can plant wheat in all their acreage every year,” he said. “Some of the farmground was planted to grass, and some was entered in the CRP program.

“We have also done a lot of cross fencing of pastures,” he continued. “With cross fencing, we needed to develop more sources of water in each individual pasture so the cattle don’t have to travel as far.”

Pugsley said he not only put in more wells to water the cattle, but also pipelines to distribute the water to all the paddocks. “We have one pipeline that is a quarter mile long and pumping 200 feet in elevation above the well. We put in a solar pump system because we believe it is more efficient. In our particular situation, we are on the upside of the Hartville uplift. Solar pumps work better than a gasoline pump jack for the summer operation.”

Pugsley has also moved his calving season to mid April to work in harmony with Mother Nature. Pugsley said they raise Red Angus Gelbvieh cross cattle in their cow/calf operation. “I like this cross because our cattle are primarily red and I can tell them apart from the neighbors,” he joked. “Actually, I have found the Gelbvieh are more docile and the Red Angus aren’t as big, so we end up with a medium-size cow. Most of our cows are 1,000 pounds, but we still have a few that are about 1,200 pounds we need to trim down.”

Like many ranchers, Pugsley has found a smaller cow to be more efficient. “We have been trying to develop a smaller cow because of our grass conditions,” he explained. “We AI all of our first calf heifers and try to select a bull with a small birth weight.”

Most of the calves still average 550-600 pounds at weaning and finish at 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. “We either sell our calves, or retain ownership and feed them out at an area feedlot. Our calves are usually fat in June,” he said.

Pugsley, along with his son, Randall, have also improved the wildlife habitat on the ranch. “We received an award from the Wyoming Game and Fish in 2001 for our wildlife habitat improvement projects. We installed some watering sites for wildlife and tree belts for habitat against some of the CRP that is idled.”

Randall, works part-time at the family ranch, and for an ethanol plant in Torrington. Pugsley has another son, Michael, who lives in North Carolina and works for Wells Fargo Bank.

Pugsley also serves on several conservation boards in Wyoming because of his concern with how the land is treated. “I like to help people realize conservation of our resources is a very important duty and responsibility of all the people. I feel like there are a lot of people who own land who need the help and guidance and provisions to conserve. We are getting a lot of new people to Wyoming who have no idea how to conserve the resources we have here,” he continued. “Here in Wyoming, our carrying capacity is not what it is in other areas because of our lack of moisture. People move here and try to overstock their land because they are used to a larger carrying capacity in other parts of the United States. I really hate to see people move into the country and try to put horses on an acre or two and demolish the grass. This is why I am so involved in conservation.”

Pugsley has been a member of the Lingle-Ft. Laramie Irrigation District for a number of years and was instrumental in helping the group pass a mil levy to fund the group. “I feel like it was one of my greatest achievements,” Pugsley proudly admits. “It took four times for us to get it passed, but once it did, it made us a more viable organization. In order to have a strong conservation district, we needed money and the state would no longer support us. It was an uphill battle to get our constituents to support it. We had to get past supervisors to help sell farmers on the idea.”

Pugsley worries about what the future will bring to Wyoming as more out-of-state people move into the state and purchase small acreages. “I think that will be our biggest issue in the future,” he said. “In the past, Wyoming has been a notably big empire operation. Now, we have newcomers moving into the state buying 30, 40, or 100 acre plots. These people need to be educated in conservation. Urban sprawl is a big issue in the more populated areas, and has become a nationwide problem. We in Wyoming have shut our eyes to it for too long. Those small acreages are hard to make a living on, so they are earning their living a different way.”

Pugsley said he is also concerned about changes in the soil conditions and growing nitrate problems in water. “We also have sprinklers that are causing ground water deterioration,” he said.

However, after years of teaching others to conserve, Pugsley said it is time for him to slow down. “It was a high point for us in 2006 because Elaine and I got this place paid for,” he said. “We also had our 50th anniversary at the Grandview Lake Lodge in Minnesota. Now, Elaine and I would like to do some additional traveling even though we have been to all 50 states. We are also considering taking a mission trip,” he said.

Through the years, Pugsley’s experience on the various boards he served has been honored many times over. His most recent honor was receiving the Outstanding Council Member for 2009 by the 10-state Resource Conservation and Development Councils Western States. Pugsley has been the chairman of the Southeast Wyoming Resource Conservation and Development Council for the past four years, and president of the Wyoming Association of the RC&D Councils for the past three years.