Grazing review: Former sheep allotments reviewed for cattle use
Sublette County – Five years ago, a historic sheep ranching family retired its grazing permits on the Upper Green River, after being bought out by a group to reduce contact between domestic sheep and native Bighorn sheep high in the Gros Ventre and Wind River ranges.
The Thomans held permits for four areas – the Elk Ridge, Lime Creek, Rock Creek and Tosi Creek grazing allotments in the Pinedale Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF). They agreed to a buyout led by the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation – neither the first nor the last to retire their U.S. Forest Service sheep grazing permits.
The proposal to turn the Thomans’ former sheep rangelands into new cattle allotments was announced by Pinedale – and acting Big Piney – District Ranger Rob Hoelscher on June 6.
The proposed Elk Ridge Complex Rangeland Supplementation of about 31,000 acres would allow Upper Green permittees to move cattle into the complex, depending on public comment submitted through June 25 followed by an environmental assessment, Hoelscher explained.
“The Bridger-Teton National Forest is undertaking a process whereby we’re taking a look at all of our vacant allotments and assessing their suitability for cattle grazing,” he said. “There are a number of vacant allotments vacated by sheep which were turned back without preference, and we’re looking at the potential impacts of cattle grazing up there.”
The Forest Service’s multiple-use management calls for livestock grazing to be accommodated, he said. An environmental assessment would have to analyze the entire area’s suitability for grazing.
This is the only BTNF vacant allotment complex which has been proposed for a review.
“This one we jumped into because of where it’s at and its potential. There are other vacant allotments we will be looking into down the road, but not right now,” Hoelscher said. “We’re choosing the highest priority first.”
The change would benefit current Upper Green River Grazing Association permittees, who send their cattle up the historic Green River Drift every spring, according to the proposal.
“These existing allotments would be utilized within the rotational grazing system of adjacent allotments in the Upper Green area,” Hoelscher said. “This would provide flexibility by allowing currently permitted cattle within the Upper Green River additional acreage to better address seasonal fluctuations, weather conditions, predators and impacts from wildfire.”
Pinedale Rancher and Upper Green River Grazing Association President Albert Sommers said, “I support cattle grazing in the Elk Ridge Complex, but it will take some infrastructure. We are not sure yet, as an association, if we are interested.”
Greys River Ranger District is also developing a similar plan for sheep-to-cattle grazing on a vacated allotment but the Pinedale proposal is farther along, Sommers said.
“The Forest Service has analyzed the area for sheep,” he said, adding the two animals graze very differently. “We should analyze whether or not cattle should be on that allotment.”
Hoelscher said this is a collaboration among the Upper Green River Grazing Association, BTNF and Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
Joy Ufford is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.