Ranching in tune with nature: Pape Ranch maintains conservation as a priority
Daniel – This region in western Wyoming is surrounded by the Wind River Mountains to the east, the Gros Ventre Mountains to the north, the Wyoming Range to the west with the Green River winding beneath the foothills.
Frederick Herman Pape came to this area in the late 1800s with his three brothers and started their first ranch – 160 acres they called the Home Place. Dave Pape, Frederick’s great-grandson, is running the ranch today, along with his brother Fred and their parents. Dave shares the family has always managed their ranch with the wildlife in mind, as the wildlife was there first.
The current ranch was started in 1904, and then the family bought nearby homesteads when neighbors sold out or left due to hardships.
“The ranch today consists of about 10,500 acres,” Dave says. “In early years, the family lived off the land, hunting and trapping, and they didn’t have very many cattle.”
He adds, “The third generation raised sheep and only had a few cattle. In the 1970s, they transitioned into cattle, and now we just raise cattle.”
The Papes have a commercial herd of about 900 cows.
“We buy our bulls, but raise all our females,” Dave says. “The herd is about 75 percent Black Angus and 25 percent Hereford/Angus cross.”
“About half the bulls we buy are Hereford and the other half are Angus,” he says. “We buy our bulls from about six purebred breeders who raise the kind we want.”
Dave shares, “Originally, it was mostly Herefords in this part of the country, but now most people have black cattle. We are probably one of the few ranches in this area with Herefords.”
The cattle graze at high elevations. The ranch headquarters sits at about 7,300 feet in elevation, and the cattle graze anywhere from 7,000 feet to 9,000 feet.
“In summer, the cows and calves are in about four different pastures on deeded property which includes some leased private ground and on a Forest Service grazing permit,” Dave says.
The Papes are charter members of the Hoback Stock Association, which is made up of seven ranchers who hold summer grazing leases on the Bridger-Teton National Forest. While the cattle are in the mountains, some of the home meadows are utilized to grow native hay for winter feed.
“We keep all our calves over winter and sell them as yearlings, after they graze in the summer in four different groups of heifers and steers,” Dave explains. “We keep the yearlings home on deeded pasture around the ranch and sell them at about 18 months of age.”
In a typical year, steers weigh 950 to 1,000 pounds when they are marketed through a video auction, according to Dave. Heifers and any cull cows are taken to the Riverton Livestock Auction.
Dave shares it is harder to sell the females – especially to other states – because a large concern in this part of the country is brucellosis. This disease is spread to cattle from elk and bison coming out of Yellowstone National Park that share grazing ranges with cattle. Ranchers in this area try to keep elk and cattle separate, but this is not always possible.
“We fence all our hay corrals with high fences to keep elk out,” Dave says, sharing brucellosis mitigation practices. “The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) donates the materials for these projects, which helps ranchers. They are very good at trying to help us keep the elk and cattle separate.”
Dave adds, “There are two elk feeding grounds within eight miles of the home place, and WGFD has a problem with predators pushing the elk off the feedgrounds sometimes.”
All female cattle have to be vaccinated for brucellosis as calves and must be tested when sold.
“Even if they don’t have brucellosis, many feedyards do not want to buy intact females – they just don’t want to deal with the possibility of a ‘hot’ one coming in, or having to retest them for brucellosis,” Dave explains. “If there are other feeder heifers available from other parts of the state, feedyards prefer to buy those instead.”
Dave shares the proximity and chance of exposure to the disease is a major disadvantage to ranching in this area.
Winters are usually fairly harsh, with a couple feet of snow on the level.
“We are generally feeding hay by Thanksgiving,” Dave says. “We feed our native hay in round bales – about 23 tons per day.”
He continues, “We supplement weaned calves with some alfalfa hay we purchase from Idaho. This year, alfalfa is expensive because of the drought, so we’re not sure what we will do.”
Cows start calving the first week in April and are fed hay until mid-May. By the first of June, they go to summer pasture.
Three generations working together
This five-generation ranch currently has three generations working the ranch: Norm and his wife Barbara, their sons Fred and wife Michelle, Dave and wife Ranae and Dave’s daughter Hadley and husband Casey Manning. Dave’s stepson Gus and several extended family members provide crucial help during haying, branding and other busy times of year.
Norm is 91, but is still active and helps.
“My brother Fred has two daughters who are not on the ranch, and we also have a sister, Jane, who lives in California with her husband Chuck, but she still loves to come back to the ranch to help us. She’d like to be here full time but the ranch isn’t big enough to support more families,” Dave says.
Most of the ranches surrounding the Papes have been bought by wealthy absentee owners.
“They are good neighbors and are keeping the land open rather than subdividing,” Dave says.
Importance of conservation
The Pape family received a Wyoming Centennial Farm and Ranch Award in 2010, and was selected for the Wyoming Leopold Conservation Award in 2008.
Each year, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) and the Sand County Foundation jointly present the Leopold Conservation Award to a Wyoming rancher who exemplifies the spirit of a land ethic that maintains a relationship between people and their land. The Papes were nominated for this award by the Sublette County Conservation Service and the National Resource Conservation Service based in Pinedale.
The family has been a leader in the community for several generations, being on many county and state boards, and Norm has been a member of the Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association for decades. The family supports 4-H and many other organizations, and Norm and Barbara opened their home to youth to educate them about the importance of wildlife and natural resources.
The Pape family has a long tradition of utilizing conservation practices to keep their operation economically and environmentally sustainable by placing high emphasis on grazing management to increase forage production for cattle and wildlife. The family also uses fencing to maintain naturally occurring windbreaks and allow passage of wildlife. They partner with the WGFD and Wyoming Department of Transportation to install wildlife-friendly fencing along Highway 191.
“We try to be good stewards,” says Dave. “My grandfather was very concerned about how the land was taken care of, and we try to keep this tradition. If we don’t treat the land right, it won’t treat us and our cattle right.”
He continues, “We like to see wildlife on our property and share hunting opportunities with other people. We allow antelope hunting on one part of the ranch for anyone who asks, and another part of the ranch we save for handicapped and disabled hunters, such as veterans.”
The Pape Ranch is home to deer, antelope, elk and moose at different times of the year. Though the ranch often runs into problems with predators, especially grizzly bears and wolves.
“Some of the other concerns on the ranch is the increasing cost of doing business,” Dave says. “More and more people want to remove cattle from the land and this issue becomes harder and harder to deal with.”
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.