Wyoming ranchers use, improve grasslands and water systems
Ranchers are often a steward of the land, creating a stronger ecosystem for their own livestock as well as wildlife.
Pete and Ethel Garrett, along with their family, perfectly fit the bill by making constant improvements to the grasslands and water systems a high priority, and their efforts have gained attention. They are the 2017 recipients of the Wyoming Leopold Conservation Award, presented in partnership by Sand County Foundation, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association through their Environmental Stewardship Award Program.
Pete and Ethel are the third-generation to occupy the ranch south of Casper. They are joined by fourth-generation, Jack and Laura Miles and Steven and Kim Garrett, and the fifth-generation, Tyler and Dalton Garrett.
“Ranchers know that we must take care of the land. My great-grandfather always said that where you find one blade of grass, leave two,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead in a Wyoming Business Report article about Garrett Ranch. “The Environmental Stewardship Tour and Leopold Conservation Award celebrate those who have truly left more for future generations, all the while feeding the country and preserving our open spaces and ranching heritage.”
Tours of the ranch commenced on June 21, which was Wyoming Environmental Stewardship Day. The proclamation was signed by Gov. Mead during a ceremony in celebration of Earth Day April 21 in the Governor’s formal office.
“The tour was for guests of the Sand County Foundation and Wyoming Stock Growers. They invited a lot of people, and they supplied the transportation,” Ethel said. “A lot of our projects are far apart and on two-track roads, so they only hit ones they could get buses to. They have put a lot of work into this award and we are very humbled by it. Their dedication to awarding conservation efforts made by the ranching community in many states shows their passion for the future of maintaining a balance with nature and keeping the land healthy for future generations to enjoy and benefit from as we have. We are very honored to be able to show some of our projects.”
The Garretts were presented with a $10,000 award and crystal depicting Aldo Leopold at Wyoming Stock Growers Association’s Cattle Industry Convention & Trade Show Awards Luncheon June 9 at the Bomber Mountain Civic Center in Buffalo, Wyo.
80 years in the making
In 1937, Pete’s grandfather, Henry Garrett, and his sons, Labin and Adron, purchased the beginnings of the ranch which was the William Jones’ property on upper Bates Creek, with funds from the sale of their Texaco gas station.
“This was good summer pasture, but difficult winter conditions, so in 1947 they bought the Freeland Livestock Co. on lower Bates Creek for winter pasture,” Pete said. “It is now the headquarters of the ranch. In 1952 or 1953, the Body Estate was being settled. It tied our upper ground in with our lower ground. Then in 1962, we purchased the Anda Sheep Co. for more winter ground on Stinking Creek and Bolten Creek. In 1992, the Schnoor Ranch was purchased because it tied in to our Stinking Creek pasture and provided more winter pasture and spring pasture to help our rotational program.”
Toward the late 1980s, the Garretts worked with the Bureau of Land Management and the state of Wyoming to burn half of the heavy brush in one pasture, thereafter splitting the pasture to establish a rotational grazing program. The BLM also installed a solar pump in another pasture, allowing for two water tanks and a reservoir to be installed.
“We also pump water over a pass that is 600 feet high. We placed a storage tank at the top of the pass; this made it possible to get water to a part of the pasture that had been almost unusable before. When we leave that pasture, we fill the storage tank so it will keep the water tanks full for wildlife use,” Pete said.
In the early 1990s, the BLM helped develop accessible water in what the Garretts call the Lawn Creek pasture. They installed three solar systems, which benefit three different allotment holders and users of the stock trail.
Around the same time, they installed five other stock tanks and an additional storage tank through the ranch and extended the stock trail. The Lawn Creek Pasture was split in half to continue the rotational grazing efforts.
“With the help of the BLM and Wyoming Game and Fish, we decided to do a controlled burn on Lawn Creek Flats, Seismograph Road and Long Draw. We also burned the Mountain Mahogany in the breaks in Lone Tree,” Pete said. “Early 2000, we fenced off Upper Bates Creek for better livestock control and to improve the riparian for more shade on the creek to help keep the water cooler for the fish.”
LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
After the 1992 purchase of the Schnoor place, the family, with help from Wyoming Game and Fish, sprayed the cactus and cheatgrass littering their new pastures, as well as some established pastures. They also mulched brush on the flood plain in Stinking Creek, improving the forage for livestock and wildlife.
“Also, it is not taking as much water as the brush did, raising the water in the creek. The deer and antelope have been seen there quite often,” Pete said. “The Game and Fish were concerned about runoff of silt into the Platte River from the Bolten Creek drainage and other creeks in the area. They want to test some control dams made of mulch and Christmas trees in dry washes. They even planted some beaver in the creek. We can see where it is really improving the flood plain. It is filling back in with silt, and the vegetation is coming back.”
Old-growth sage was ground up in 2015, allowing for more habitats for mule deer, sage chickens and livestock. The objective, Pete said, was to take out the center of old growth, allowing for edges to act as a wind block and act as cover.
“Half of the ranch is in hunter management with the Wyoming Game and Fish for antelope and elk, a quarter of the ranch is closed to mule deer hunting. The meadows on the home ranch are reserved for first-year hunters and physical disability hunters,” Pete said. “We have had a good response from the public on this program.”
The three generations on Garrett Ranch have made other improvements and will continue to do so to create a better ranch for the generations to come.
“Most of the projects have been successful; others have not done as well, so we then try something else,” Pete said. “We plan on doing improvements wherever we can in the future and to keep trying new things.”
While they keep their focus on the future, one element of the ranch remains in the past. “Since Herefords paid for the ranch in 1937, I decided to keep them as the breed of cows that pay the bills every day,” Pete said in a Sand County Foundation article.
The herd has expanded to 600 Herefords, grazed on more than 70,000 acres of deeded, and state- and federally-leased land.