7E, LU ranches receive awards for excellence
Cheyenne – This year two of Wyoming’s ranches will receive the Society for Range Management’s (SRM) Excellence in Rangeland Stewardship Award at a Nov. 19 awards banquet during the joint meeting of the Wyoming Section of the SRM and the Soil and Water Conservation Society Nov. 18-20 in Cheyenne.
The LU Ranch in the Big Horn Basin and the 7E Ranch in the Shirley Basin are the 2008 award recipients. The LU Ranch occupies land in Hot Springs, Park and Washakie counties in the foothills of the Absaroka Mountains while the 7E Ranch sits in a hollow along the North Fork of the Little Medicine Bow River in the midst of the Shirley Basin between the Shirley and Laramie mountains.
Ron and Linda Heward own and operate the 7E Ranch, while Mike Healy of Worland owns and manages the LU Ranch and employs Danny Love and Steve Griffin to help with daily ranch work.
A Scotsman named Dave Dickey founded the LU Ranch in the late 1800s. Healy’s grandfather became involved in the operation when he bought shares of the corporation throughout the Depression years, eventually becoming majority owner and ranch manager. Following his grandfather, Healy’s father became manager and Healy began his work on the ranch in 1982, assuming full management in the 1990s after his father’s death. Today the ranch remains a corporation, with the majority of its shares held by the Healy and Dickey families.
Ron Heward’s grandfather, along with his two brothers, his sister and his mother, came to the U.S. from England in 1906. After working in the coal mines near Hanna for a few years they bought the original 7E Ranch homestead from a man named Oscar Reed, whose cabin sat on the plot of land the main ranch house now occupies. The ranch raised sheep until 1971, when the last great uncle died and the operation began shifting to cattle.
While the ranches are centered in very different landscapes, both have dedicated much time, labor and resources to fencing and water development. Both ranches operate with cow/calf pairs and the 7E Ranch has retained a portion of its sheep herd.
As a part of good rangeland management and sage grouse habitat restoration, the Hewards have installed fences to divide pastures and make a rotational grazing system. “We’ll eventually get to the point where we’ll rotate from when we move the cows into the meadows until we start feeding them and we’ll be in each pasture only once during a season,” says Ron. “We’ll have 10 pastures when we’re all done, and hopefully we’ll be able to stay 21 days in each pasture and leave at least one or maybe two completely empty.”
The new fences on the 7E are three-wire suspension fences. “We have one we put in 25 years ago that has been a really good fence for us, and we’ve never had a problem with stock getting mixed except for on rare occasions,” says Ron. “It’s just as functional as any five-wire fence, and it’s a lot less expensive and a lot less labor-intensive because we’re putting posts 80 feet apart instead of 16.”
“Water development has been a big one for us, out of necessity,” says Healy. “Fourteen years ago we set out to develop water and reach the point where we could get rid of our water truck.”
He says the ranch accomplished that several years ago – the very first project eliminated three months of hauling water – but he jokes the operation still holds onto the truck out of paranoia. “We now have water systems in all our desert pastures where we winter cattle. Before we had a lot of reservoirs and during the drought they dried up with no mercy. We decided we needed to drop our reliance on reservoirs and go to wells, buried pipelines and tanks to get water to the livestock.”
In addition to the winter water development the LU has now begun to develop summer water. “Water distribution in our summer range was inadequate when the issue was pressed, and last year we installed a six-mile line with 12 tanks – all fed with one really good spring,” says Healy. “Before the cattle depended on the creek in the middle of the valley, but now we’re getting willow growth coming back in and it should look better every year we have it in the rotation.”
The BLM has begun searching for and receiving grants for prescribed burn projects on the LU. “The burns pushed us into breaking our pastures into smaller pastures and making manageable blocks of land through fencing,” says Healy. “Now we can time graze and we implemented a rotation to bring other pastures in and alternate spring and fall use. That was a practice that came about from trying to capitalize on the effort of what the BLM volunteered to do.”
The LU also has a partnership with the Hot Springs Weed and Pest to tackle weed problems, particularly with Canadian thistle and Russian knapweed. “We’re making headway there, except once you start spraying weeds you start seeing more weeds so you don’t know if you’re really getting ahead,” says Healy. “Before we were colorblind, but now we realize we have the problems.”
The NRCS has cost-shared some of the 7E projects, as well as the Wildlife Federation and the Wyoming Game and Fish. Ron says at this point the sage grouse projects on his ranch are more experimental than anything, but when it comes to sage grouse everything anybody’s doing is an experiment. “There are a lot of theories out there, and nobody has a concrete answer to what’s happened to them,” he says.
“But it’s fun to be a part of it, and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for sage chickens,” he adds. Ron closed the 7E to sage grouse hunters 10 years ago. “The first year I closed it people were a little upset with me, but most of them came hunting antelope that fall and they never did see a sage grouse and then they understood why I shut it down.”
“Ron and his family manage the landscape as a whole, maintaining natural impact in addition to the need for controlled short term human impact to preserve a balance with the environment,” says the 7E nomination form. “It is satisfying to work with a producer that is able to look at the drought conditions, variable climatic changes and overall unpredictable weather and still maintain a positive, flexible operation with the livestock and land resource in balance. They are a pleasure to work with on conservation projects because they are willing to try new techniques or experiment with development and to adjust to gain the desired outcomes.”
“Heward is a name that captures what the family is all about,” says the nomination. “Their desire to maintain the landscape and continue a successful livestock operation, while continuing a tradition of family, is hard to find in today’s society.” The 7E Ranch will celebrate 100 years in 2009, and the Hewards have begun with plans to celebrate and honor the occasion.
This summer the LU will continue with their list of goals and projects, which includes leveling and two new pivots on a hay meadow, rebuilding a set of corrals and purchasing hay equipment and harvesting their winter feed themselves after losing their custom baler this year. A second conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy will be completed in December 2008.
“The LU operates in an area of Wyoming that faces the special challenges of ranching on public lands in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” says Mike Phillips of the Worland BLM office in the LU’s award nomination. “The LU continually meets these challenges with a positive attitude and treats folks with whom they don’t always agree with respect and courtesy. This approach allows both the ranch and the people with whom they work to come up with innovative solutions to complex problems.”
“Improvements to land health on the LU have occurred while the ranch has remained a viable economic operation,” says Phillips. “The LU is truly a hallmark for a successful public lands ranching operations that is a model for its industry.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.