Ranch carries focus on family, wildlife
Daniel – “Stewardship will make it possible for us to continue to enjoy the lives we have now in agriculture,” said Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Director John Etchepare at the 13th annual Environmental Stewardship Tour in western Wyoming.
This year the tour, organized by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the WDA Coordinated Resource Management program, featured the lush meadows and managed sagebrush of Pape Ranches, Inc. north of Daniel.
Pape Ranches, said Norm Pape in a ranch presentation, has maintained a strong focus on family and wildlife. The current ranch is operated by Norm and his wife, Barbara, and their sons Fred and David and their families.
The ranch began to form in 1897 when one of Norm’s great uncles came to the Green River Valley. After establishing a homestead he sent word to the family of grass and water and by 1904 three more Papes arrived. Norm’s grandfather bought a homestead from Gibson Blackwell and thus today’s ranch began to form.
“The Depression years were tough for people, but my father trapped and these people had gardens and they could fish and hunt. They were so much better off than those in the cities with bread lines,” said Norm of his family’s early days. “At least here they had something to eat and a place to live.”
Norm’s father kept several Russian wolfhounds to chase coyotes in late winter when pelts were at their prime and he was able to make good money on muskrat, beaver and coyote, among others.
Primarily a sheep ranch at its outset, the family kept about 800 ewes and a few cattle at one point and began to gather new land to fit the ranching operation. “In the early 50s there were some isolated pieces of public land that Dad bought to fit into the Pape Ranch,” said Norm.
The ranch’s last addition came in 1960 with a piece along the Green River. “We’ve had opportunities for other purchases, but we’ve been really careful to avoid a big debt, and I think we were really smart in doing it this way and not being any bigger than we are,” noted Norm.
Norm’s grandfather was a charter member of the Hoback Stock Association, which holds a Hoback Canyon-area grazing permit with the Forest Service. “We’ve had our differences with Forest Service people, but we’ve ironed them out and over the years it’s worked really well,” said Norm, who now keeps the Association books. “My father was secretary for 30 years and when he passed away in 1975 I took over the books so the Papes have been keepers of the book for over 60 years.”
“Over the years, as the irrigation water was moved away from the river, the homesteaders put in a lot of hard work to scoop out the dirt and level the land. They spent months moving the water into the ranch and burning out the brush and sub-ing it,” said Norm, referring to sagebrush removal through sub-irrigation.
Today the ranch fences most of its willows to keep cattle away. “We can’t put a value on trees and willows, and they’re hard to grow here so we fence each side to keep the trees intact,” explained Norm, noting they also make the place a little more beautiful.
“We’re fortunate to be in this part of the world with this wonderful resource,” said Norm of the wildlife on the ranch. Wildlife-friendly fencing is one way the ranch facilitates the seasonal migration of deer and antelope. Conservation funding has helped the ranch replace most of its woven-wire sheep fencing with fencing wildlife can move over or under.
“We are friends of moose and we are in moose country,” said Norm. “Our favorite animal is the moose.” He said moose watching is like quail watching, and he’s gotten to where he can tell moose apart through individual characteristics.
Spraying sagebrush on a few pastures in a mosaic pattern has encouraged the growth of forbs and grasses for migratory deer and antelope.
“In the past 10 or 15 years, because of drought, we had been bringing cattle off pasture earlier. We either had to get rid of cattle, find more land to lease or increase production on our own land,” said Fred of the sagebrush management. “We worked with the NRCS to spike about 1,000 acres and put in cross fences. We left some brush in a mosaic to catch snow and provide for sage grouse and deer.”
The cross fences enable one pasture to rest each year. “We used to have deer migrate through the pasture, but they’d never stop,” explained Fred. “As soon as we sprayed the brush the deer would congregate in the pasture. We’ve increased production on this ground by about three times what it was.”
Norm said monitoring has always been important to the family. “We keep a diary and on Monday we gather to visit about things. If we’re not sure what happened the year before, we go to the book and over time we’ve benefitted with this,” he said, crediting Barbara with the ranch’s business success. “Without her as our businessperson we wouldn’t be here. She can cook, she can sew, she’s beautiful and she can really keep the books.”
When Fred and David returned from college the ranch began its move from sheep to cattle. Now the Papes raise Hereford/Angus cattle at 60 percent black, 40 percent red. All the cattle from the ranch are raised for slaughter, and calves are kept over to 18 months.
“We keep our own replacement heifers and the only cattle the ranch buys are the breeding bulls,” says David. “The ranch last bought cattle in the 1920s, which is unique, and we usually sell around 900,000 pounds of beef annually.”
Being in deep snow country, the ranch feeds cattle for five and a half months through the winter. “We plow a trench to move the cows home to calve,” says Norm of the older cows fed east of the ranch. “We also have to use trenches when we start calving.”
“I’m humbled by what our ancestors did when they dug these canals, and what we’ve done in our generation is a small portion of helping the ranch become what it is,” said Fred of his family’s ranch.
“In 1910 this wasn’t here,” said Norm, noting an area that now supports otters. “The meadows, willows, wetlands and water weren’t here, and it’s hard for people to understand the hard work and struggle that provided both the wildlife habitat and this place for this family.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.