Improving the ranch:Garrett’s work to improve ranchland earns them Environmental Stewardship Award
Bates Hole – Just south of Casper on Highway 487, Garrett Ranch has a long tradition of ranching, and in the last 40 years, they have focused on improving the habitat on their ranch to improve grazing for both wildlife and livestock.
This year, they were recognized with the 2017 Environmental Stewardship Award, which is presented by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Sand County Foundation.
“My dad, granddad and uncle started in 1937 up the creek from here, and we moved down to our current headquarters in the winter of 1948,” says Pete Garrett, the ranch owner, who notes that they have gradually expanded their operation to offer more opportunities for their children to come back to the ranch.
Just over 20 years ago, Garrett Ranch acquired the Sneur Ranch, where Pete’s son Steve currently lives.
“Today, we’re a commercial cow/calf operation, and we run mostly Hereford cattle,” Pete comments. “I’m the third generation on the ranch today, Steve is the fourth, and his kids Tyler and Dalton are the fifth.”
Pete’s daughter Laura Miles and her husband Jack are also on the ranch. Steve’s wife Kim is also involved in the operation.
Currently, they winter their cattle on Golden Creek and Bolton Creek. In January, they bring the cows closer to home and their hay meadows.
“Then, we start calving the first of April for 60 days,” Pete explains. “We ship all the steers and light heifers in the fall, and we keep most of our heifer calves.”
The Garrett’s preference for Hereford cattle stems from the history of the operation.
“Herefords paid for this outfit,” Pete says.
His wife Ethel adds, “They’re hardy cattle, too.”
And Steve comments, “The Herefords are also easy to work. They like people.”
“The Herefords have been here since we started,” Pete continues. “We’ve been putting black bulls on some of them, and we’re keeping a few black cows, but the majority of our cows are Herefords.”
Pete explains that, in the late 1980s, the Garretts began working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to implement rotational grazing strategies.
“We’ve done a lot of fence work and water development, so we can go into a four-pasture rotation in they summertime,” Pete says. “On our winter bases, we want the cattle closer to home, and the rotate through our hay meadows.”
Also in the late 80s, the Garretts started burning sagebrush to get rid of heavy, decadent sage with no understory.
“We burned sagebrush with BLM until the early 2000s, and then we stopped because of sage grouse,” he continues, noting that they didn’t stop their work to improve the rangeland and remove decadent sagebrush stands there. “Four years ago, we got permission to go into the heavy draws and start grinding paths up through the heavy sagebrush patches.”
In grinding sagebrush, they leave islands of sagebrush to provide cover and vegetation to capture snow, but the native grasses are able to grow better in areas where the brush has been removed.
“In the first year, we got a lot better vegetation, and the deer and sage chickens really pulled into that area,” Pete says. “Laura was gathering cows up there, and she never went through a patch where she didn’t see sage chickens.”
They have continued grinding sagebrush to provide better habitat for sage grouse, deer and other wildlife, as well as better grazing for their cattle.
Improving the range
In addition to decadent sagebrush stands, Pete notes that they have worked to reduce cheatgrass and cactus stands on their ranch, as well.
“We’ve been spraying cheatgrass in cooperation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD),” he says. “The antelope migrate onto the ranch in the wintertime, so we’ve worked to get rid of the cheatgrass.”
Pete adds, “We’ve sprayed nearly 20,000 acres of cheatgrass.”
When they purchased the Sneur place, Pete also notes that the land had an abundance of cactus on it.
“We bought the place because it made a thumb into the middle of our ranch, and the first thing we did when we got it was sprayed the cactus,” he says. “Then, we went in and sprayed cheatgrass, and we did a lot of sagebrush grinding.”
Perhaps some of their most widely recognized work comes from the efforts they have taken to improve the water on their ranch.
“On the Sneur place, we had a reclamation company come up and remove the tall, heavy brush,” Pete explains. “That made a lot better habitat for antelope in the wintertime to get them off the sagebrush.”
“We also started working on Bolton Creek,” he continues.
Almost eight years ago, Pete says that Bolton Creek was primarily just a mud flat with almost no bank or vegetation.
“We put in what we call insta-dams,” he says. “When we started, WGFD had a project on Muddy Mountain where they were doing aspen work. They hauled the aspen down to the ranch and used it to feed the beaver, but they ate themselves out of house and home, so we started building the insta-dams.”
The dams are built by using fence poles and then putting trees to form faux beaver dams.
“Through these dams, the creek has narrowed up, and the vegetation has grown back in,” Pete says. “We used the broken trees from Winter Storm Atlas in 2013. The City of Casper hauled them out here, and we used them in the creek.”
“This is highly erodible ground,” he continues, “so we’ve continued the work using leftover Christmas trees from the City of Casper.”
Ethel adds, “When we use trees, it’s helpful because they decompose and there isn’t anything left in the ground that we have to worry about.”
In addition to benefits in the creek, Pete notes that their efforts have reduced erosion, keeping silt out of the North Platte River.
Similar strategies have been used to reduce the head-cuts on the creeks and slow the water down so it doesn’t wash out.
“We started putting the insta-dams in during 2010, and we’ve done a little bit every year,” says Pete.
“The creek has really changed because of it,” adds Ethel. “It has narrowed up, and the vegetation is coming back. The willows are starting to come back, too, which is good.”
Success and failure
While they have seen many successes in their work, Pete also notes that not everything they’ve tried has worked out.
“We’ve had some other projects, as well, that I call failures,” he says. “Not everything works, but we don’t know until we try.”
For example, prior to using trees in their creek work, the Garretts used fiberglass piling and rocks in the creeks.
“The rocks washed out, leaving the fiberglass pilings,” Pete says. “It was dangerous for livestock and wildlife because it left shards.”
“It’s been a learning experience,” he adds. “We’ve experimented with things, and we’ve had failures, but we don’t know if it will work unless we try.”
And the success they have seen has been worth the time and effort put into projects.
“We’ve seen our AUMs increase from 500 to 700, and the grass is a lot thicker compared to what it was,” he says. “The creeks are narrowing up, and we’ve seen western wild rye and willows come in. It’s good for this place.”
However, they didn’t do the work with the plan of winning awards.
“It’s awesome that we were even nominated for this award,” says Ethel. “It’s a really prestigious award, and we’re proud to have won.”
Steve adds, “All our hard work was recognized, which was nice.”
“The WGFD has really helped us along the way,” continues Pete, “and we appreciate that they nominated us. We also appreciate being recognized, and we’re going to continue doing this work because it helps the ranch, it’s good for the wildlife, and it’s good for the livestock.”
The annual Environmental Stewardship Tour will be held on Garrett Ranch in the summer of 2017. Look for announcements in late spring about the tour date.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.