WGFD awards: 2020 Landowner of the Year awardees selected
On Sept. 28, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) announced the selection of seven families for the 2020 Landowner of the Year Awards.
Each year, WGFD presents these awards to Wyoming landowners who have demonstrated outstanding practices in wildlife management, habitat improvement and conservation techniques on their properties.
“Today’s landowners are more than ranchers or farmers, they are key partners,” said WGFD Director Brian Nesvik. “Landowners preserve critical migration corridors, they improve habitat through costly enhancement projects and they provide important access, which allows for our hunting and angling heritage to continue into the future.”
Eagle Ridge Ranch
Located in Natrona County, a few miles west of Casper, Eagle Ridge Ranch was selected as the 2020 Landowner of the Year awardee in the Casper region.
According to WGFD, Stacey Scott’s father, Dr. Oliver Scott, moved to Casper in 1948 and bought the Eagle Ridge Ranch in 1956. In 1971, Scott expanded the operation by purchasing the Two Bar Ranch.
In 1980, Scott placed all of his deeded land, nearly 8,400 acres, into a conservation easement with the Nature Conservancy, creating the largest conservation easement in the state of Wyoming at the time.
Today, Eagle Ridge Ranch is operated by Stacey, his wife Janice and their family. The Two Bar Ranch is run by Stacey’s brothers Cliff, Pete and Charlie and their respective families.
The two ranches span 95,000 acres, providing seasonal and year-round habitats for a broad array of wildlife including black bear, mountain lion, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, antelope, beaver, coyote, turkeys and more than 140 species of birds.
Both operations have assisted WGFD with sage grouse monitoring for decades and have portions of land enrolled in WGFD’s AccessYes Program, allowing public access to hunt antelope, deer and elk.
Stacey has also partnered with WGFD to thin out encroaching juniper in riparian areas and sagebrush stands and made improvements to mesa areas through brush mowing and non-herbicide cheatgrass control projects.
John and Nancy Joyce, of JA Corp, received the 2020 Landowner of the Year Award for the Cody region. The Joyces manage their property, east of Manderson, with the help of their sons.
The Nowood River winds through JA Corp for seven miles, supporting both a cold and warm water fishery. Here, one can find 20 different species of fish, including sauger, burbot, flathead chub, mountain sucker, smallmouth bass, brown trout, stonecat and channel catfish, just to name a few.
The Joyce’s maintain 1,500 acres where they graze sheep and grow crops using water from a diversion off the Nowood River, known as Harmony Ditch.
From 2003 to 2014, the Joyce’s worked with WGFD on conservation improvements, after a study found over 55,000 fish were entrained into the Harmony Ditch each irrigation season and permanently lost from the Nowood River Fishery.
From this, a project was designed to improve fish passage and sediment transport, reduce fish entrainment and annual maintenance and stabilize approximately 1,200 feet of streambank.
The Joyce family has also opened 371 acres for walk-in hunting as well as 3.3 miles of walk-in fishing access for the public.
From the Green River region, the Hickey Ranch of Lonetree, was selected for the Landowner of the Year Award.
The Hickey Ranch has been in operation since 1874 and is made up riparian areas, irrigated hay meadows and native sagebrush habitats.
Through many generations, the ranch has continuously strived to create the most wildlife-friendly landscape they can on the 8,000 acres of deeded land they run and public lands they lease.
In fact, in 2005, Jack Hickey was the recipient of the award. Since then, Jack has passed, but his family continues to carry on his legacy of land and wildlife stewardship.
A recent example of this, according to WGFD, is the collaboration between the Hickey family, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and WGFD in 2019 to repair a fence that had killed five calf elk in a one-half mile stretch.
In January 2020, the fence was taken down to allow elk easier passage, and in June 2020 the family helped WGFD and BLM rebuild the fence to be more wildlife friendly.
Asbell Family Ranch
Carl and Kim Asbell, of Fremont County, are the award recipients for the Lander region.
In 2018, the Asbell’s donated a conservation easement to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission on their 396-acre property. This land provides high-value habitat, including crucial winter and summer range for mule deer, elk, antelope and upland bird species including chukars and Hungarian partridge.
According to WGFD, the easement restricts any future development, including relinquishing all future residential development rights.
The Asbells continuously show their dedication to wildlife conservation by supporting local Lander and Riverton wildlife fundraising events, such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Muley Fanatic Foundation and the Wyoming Outdoor Weekend and Expo.
Carl is the current president of the Water for Wildlife Foundation, which has contributed millions of dollars toward wildlife habitat projects and more recently, funded internship positions with WGFD.
Double Four Ranch
The Double Four Ranch, headquartered in the North Laramie River Canyon and operated by Wayne Larson and Brandon Munn, was selected as the 2020 Landowner of the Year awardee in the Laramie region.
The ranch, which encompasses more than 45,000 deeded acres, has played an integral part in wildlife conservation since it was initially purchased in 1957.
Double Four Ranch has been instrumental in helping numerous Bighorn sheep hunters secure access to Pine and Split Rock Mountains, and since 2015, the ranch has enrolled 9,140 acres of access for antlerless elk harvest in Hunt Area Seven.
Double Four Ranch has also helped fishery biologists in the Laramie region to monitor and assess water quality conditions following the 2017 Arapahoe wildfire.
High Lonesome Ranch
High Lonesome Ranch, owned by Jim and Charlotte Finley includes over 12,000 continuous acres of sagebrush steppe, aspen hills, streams and willow-dominated riparian habitat, supporting moose, mule deer, antelope and sage grouse.
High Lonesome Ranch was chosen as the 2020 Landowner of the Year awardee for the Jackson and Pinedale region.
According to WGFD, fish and wildlife management on the property has been a main priority for the Finley’s since they purchased the ranch. One emphasis of the High Lonesome Ranch is the conservation of native fish and the management of habitat for the Colorado cutthroat trout.
Over the years, the Finleys have made numerous improvements to their property to benefit fish and wildlife. They have adapted their livestock grazing strategy to improve riparian habitat and reduce browsing along critical stream corridors.
Additionally, they have actively participated in a number of projects to modify and improve irrigation structures to increase the efficiency of water delivery, improve fish passage and reduce entrainment of migratory cutthroat trout. They have also developed water management strategies to improve productivity and maintain seasonal stream flows.
The White Ranch
From the Sheridan region, the White Ranch, operated by father/daughter duo Bill and Beth White, received the 2020 Landowner of the Year Award.
The White Ranch encompasses over 6,700 acres along the Tongue River and foothills of the Big Horn Mountains near Ranchester, consisting of riparian lowlands, irrigated farmland and rolling grasslands.
The ranch is home to a multitude of game and non-game species, including mule deer, white-tailed deer, antelope, sage grouse, turkeys, pheasants, golden eagles and elk.
The operation has been involved in the department’s AccessYes Program since 2018, allowing access to 70 acres, in addition to providing increased access to 2,900 acres of state trust land.
The Whites have also been critical partners to Sheridan County Weed and Pest and the University of Wyoming (UW) in combatting invasive grasses in Sheridan County. In fact, the White family has been active in mapping medusahead and ventenata on their ranch and provided researchers from UW with research plots to study the effects of different chemical and fire treatments to control these grasses.
Information in this article was compiled from WGFD’s website at wgfd.wyo.gov.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.