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“The biggest challenge that all of us face in agriculture is trying to maintain local control over our existing programs and our lands, waterways and environment,” explains Shoshone Conservation District Supervisor Russell Boardman. 

“Water is becoming more and more of a precious resource, or scarce resource, and we will continue to see more regulation with it,” says Boardman. “It’s important for producers to tell our story and that we are involved with it.” 

Cultivating conservation

Boardman has been involved with and interested in conservation his whole life and has carried that through his career of being an educator, agricultural producer and now with the conservation district. 

What drew Boardman into conservation was the idea that conservation and agriculture go hand in hand.

“Most of us involved with production agriculture depend on land and the environment to make a living,” he says, “and we need to take pretty good care of it because if we don’t, no one else will.” 

Watershed meetings 

Conservation efforts Boardman is involved with include his participation in the steering committee for the Big Horn River and Shoshone River watersheds plans, as well as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

TMDLs are calculated by the maximum amount of a pollutant a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards. 

“We keep our fingers and eyes on what is going on to try and maintain local control because that’s where it is effective,” says Boardman. 

“The big thing about becoming involved and getting a seat at the table is that we can have some say in what the government regulations are,” mentions Boardman. “That’s probably the most important thing about these watershed projects and the TMDLs – they are government driven.”

“The government has to be able to listen to us on a professional level and our expertise on the watersheds,” adds Boardman, “which is very important when we start talking about regulating water.”

A few years ago, the legislature granted conservation districts special expertise status that allows them to be able to sit in on official meetings about watersheds. 

Natural Resources Committee

Boardman also testified in front of Congress at the Natural Resources Committee hearing in April 2013 against the designation of the Yellowstone River watershed as a “National Blueway.”

“The National Blueways would have basically tied up 44 million acres of our local waterways into federal control,” states Boardman.  “Through our congressional delegation of Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Bobbie Frank and others, we were able to not only stop that delegation, but reverse the whole national trend for the National Blueways.” 

“That was very rewarding to see a combination of efforts from the local, state and national levels to enjoy some success against Washington, D.C.’s bureaucracy,” admires Boardman.

Through Boardman’s outstanding performance and testimony before Congress, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts nominated him for the Outstanding Supervisor award, which Boardman received in November 2013.  

New septic system

The Shoshone Conservation District also has several natural resource conservation programs that are available to local producers. 

One of those programs is to help people install new septic systems for existing households, if their current system is starting to fail. 

The application for the new septic system is a one-page application requiring the approval of the county. The application must also meet the specifications of the county planner. The Conservation District will fund up to $3,000 for a household to receive a new septic system. 

“It’s a nice incentive for people who have failing septic systems to get them replaced without a lot of red tape,” says Boardman. 

“We are able to see a lot of on-the-ground projects being completed because we are able to cut through a lot of red tape, and that’s very satisfying to actually see the project up, working and utilizing the full use of tax payers dollars,” describes Boardman. “Too many times tax dollars get bottled up into administration and paperwork.” 

Conservation projects

Another program the Conservation District has is to bury open drains that are numerous in the area. Boardman mentions by burying the drains, producers are able to keep the livestock from entering drains and are able to alleviate a lot of standing water to reduce the risk of West Nile. 

“We partner with local irrigation districts to help fund some of their engineering practices for irrigation systems to help conserve water,” states Boardman. 

The Shoshone Conservation District has also recently awarded an $8,000 grant to Rocky Mountain High School in Cowley to help them purchase a greenhouse. 

The Big Horn County School District and Wyoming State FFA Foundation also helped the school with the project. 

“Those kids will be able to explore biology in plants, growth, erosion and conservation with that greenhouse,” comments Boardman. 

Madeline Robinson is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

SIDEBAR:
Conservation districts

Conservation districts are an important entity dealing with local-controlled governments, and Shoshone Conservation District Supervisor Russell Boardman mentions they have a state organization that supports them.

There are 34 local conservation districts in Wyoming, and five elected officials govern each district. 

“Conservation districts also deal with conservation of soil and water resources, control and prevention of soil erosion, flood prevention or the conservation, development, utilization and disposal of water within the district utilizing a watershed approach,” explains Shoshone Conservation District Supervisor Russell Boardman.  

Their statutory responsibilities also include the stabilization of the agricultural industry and protection of natural resources including, but not limited to, data and information.

 

Gillette – When a friend and fellow rancher approached Chris Ellsworth to help out with trail rides on a guest ranch’s mountain permit, Ellsworth knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I was a ranch hand, and my friend asked if I would help take guests up on a trail ride,” Ellsworth says. “He asked if I would talk about horses and horsemanship before we took off.”

He continues, “I had always been shy, but I found out that I loved talking about horses.”

His first day on the job went well, and Ellsworth has been bridging the gap between horses and humans ever since.

From guests to clinics

Shortly after he started taking guests on trail rides, Ellsworth was asked to teach a clinic.

“I’ve stuck with it ever since,” he comments.

Ellsworth, who came to Wyoming for college after living across the West as a child, has been in the state for the majority of his adult life.

“After going to college in Sheridan, I started working at ranches,” he explains.

He worked on cattle ranches in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota for nearly 30 years before he was faced with a decision.

“Being a ranch hand is a great career, but I had to choose between that and working with horses,” Ellsworth says. “It was no contest for me. I love working with horses.”

“While on ranches, I met and worked with some of the greatest horsemen people have never heard of,” he explains. “Their innate grasp of what to do and when to do it inspires me to this day.”

Today, he spends the spring, summer and fall on the road, from April to October, teaching clinics across the country.

Ellsworth concentrates on the relationship between horses and their owners to improve the dynamic and increase the effectiveness of the relationship using the motto, “Get close to your horse and never stop getting closer.”

Inside the mind of a horse

Ellsworth bases his work on understanding the world around him, especially horses, situations, cattle and the relationship between them.

“The thing about a horse is, he tells us what we need to know about our own life,” Ellsworth explains, “and the horse is honest with us.”

Horses provide insight into the daily lives of their humans, he continues.

“If we’re willing to see the world the way our horse sees it, he’s got some good advice for us,” he comments.

Through years of practice, Ellsworth says he’s able to discern the relationship a person has with their horse.

He says, “Oftentimes we blame our horse for not seeing things the way we do, but if we can make small changes in our demeanor, how we move or what we do to let our horse know what’s coming, it’ll often turn things around for the relationship.”

Starting a clinic

When he begins working with clients, Ellsworth says they start with groundwork.

“We don’t get on the horse until everyone’s ready,” he explains. “What we do on the ground translates directly to what we do in the saddle.”

Within a very short amount of time on the ground, Ellsworth says he is often able to pinpoint challenges people experience while riding.

“I try to teach people how to use observation to objectively see what’s happening with their horse,” Ellsworth explains. “I tell people why is much more important than how. Once we figure out why something isn’t working, fixing the problem is simple.”

“People who come to my clinics should expect me to point out little things that make a big difference in how they work with their horse,” he explains.

The future

As Ellsworth looks forward, he says he hopes to keep traveling and working with people and their horses as long as possible.

“When I start seeing one layer to the relationship between horses and their riders, there’s always another,” he says. “There’s no limit to what we can do.”

Ellsworth adds, “It’s important for me to work with the humans, as well as the horses. There’s a lot of good in both horses and people, and we can work to improve the relationship.”

The biggest challenge for Ellsworth is when people are unwilling to open their minds and see more.

“People who come to my clinic have to realize we have to change what we do to get better,” Ellsworth explains. “There can be resistance. My challenge is to present the horse in such a way that their owner wants to see more.”

“I can’t twist anybody’s arm into seeing more with their horse, but when people realize how much their horse has to offer, they want to see more,” he continues.

Seeing transformation between horses and their owners is his greatest joy, says Ellsworth.

“It’s very fulfilling for people to open up and see what our horses are trying to show us,” he says. “They’re worthy creatures with a lot to offer.”

“The more time I spend around horses, the more I know there are things I haven’t seen,” Ellsworth comments. “There’s always more to a horse, and I want to learn more.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Greybull — Wilford and Beverly Brimley, along with a group of Greybull area residents, will host a special event July 17–18 with entertainment by Red Steagall. The two-day event is part of an effort to kick off a new non-profit group to provide funding for area residents in need.
    A famous actor and Greybull area rancher, W. Brimley launched an idea to help Big Horn Basin residents down on their luck. Others soon joined the cause forming a non-profit organization and dubbing the group Hands Across the Saddle. Contributions and proceeds from the annual event, the first of which to be held mid-July, will benefit families and individuals in need of assistance with medical and other types of emergencies.
    A committee of Big Horn Basin residents including B. Brimley, Stan and Mary Flitner, Pablo and DaNae Good, Scott Good and Dr. Joel and Kathy Pull manages the fund. The committee will confidentially review requests and award funds based on need and availability.
     W. Brimley explains, “This money goes strictly to help folks who need it for travel expenses to seek medical care, a widowed grandmother who has to put back something on the grocery store shelf because she doesn’t have the money, folks who need help affording a prescription, and things like that.” He continues, “There are no government forms to fill out, and no silliness to go through. Folks who need help should simply contact one of the committee members.”
    Hands Across the Saddle will host a Dinner Dance on July 17 at the Shell Community Hall in Shell. Red Steagall, well-known cowboy storyteller and singer, will provide the entertainment. The band Cooper and the Crowd Thinners will play for the dance. Auction items include a handmade Bill McCullough saddle with a sterling silver horn cap embossed with the Hands Across the Saddle logo. They’ll also be selling a Gist sterling, gold and ruby belt buckle carrying the logo. Other auction items include a four-wheeler, an elk hunt and numerous pieces of artwork.
    On July 18 the group will host an Open Five-Steer Team Roping and a Five-Steer Drawpot Team Roping at the Brimleys’ arena east of Greybull, just off Highway 14. The roping will begin at 9 a.m., with entries closing at 8:45 a.m.
    “Every penny that’s raised will go into the fund. Red Steagall is donating his performance, and everyone associated with this is donating their time,” comments W. Brimley.
    B. Brimley adds, “People have been so good in donating nice, high-quality auction items, and helping out. So many people want to give back to their communities.”
    Wilford Brimley appeared in films such as Cocoon, The China Syndrome and Absence of Malice. He was also in Turner Network Television’s film Crossfire Trail with Tom Selleck. He appeared in ads for Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical. Prior to his acting career, Brimley worked as a ranch hand, wrangler, blacksmith and as a bodyguard for Howard Hughes. He then shod horses for film and television. He began acting during the 1960s as a riding extra and stunt man in westerns. Two years ago Brimley and wife Beverly moved to Greybull and purchased a ranch, which they have rebuilt.
    Committee member Stan Flitner, who neighbors Brimley, says, “Wilford Brimley has really been an asset to our community. He is a good guy and he wants to give back and help others. We need more like him. This is a great event for a good cause, and I believe we can accomplish a lot of good.”
    W. Brimley adds, “I believe that people who can should help their neighbor, that we have a responsibility to give back. If all we do is take, pretty soon we wind up with nothing.”
    Tickets for the BBQ dinner, dance, auctions and Red Steagall performance are $50 a person. Tickets are limited at 300. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call 307-272-4466 or 307-765-2332. For more information on the roping, please call 307-765-4609 or 307-765-9642.

Torrington – Whether it be Russian olive and salt cedar removal, weed management or the Platte River Valley Coordinated Resource Management program, Goshen County Weed and Pest Supervisor Steve Brill has been involved in facilitating and working with a variety of projects through his 28-year career in the county.

Brill got started working in weed and pest districts in Nebraska after his service in the Army and a 10-year stint farming.

“After I got out of the Army, I farmed for 10 years,” he says, joking, “I quit because of health reasons – the bank got sick of me.”

He worked for a short time at Kansas and Nebraska Gas in service and then ended up in Scottsbluff County, Neb. working for the weed district.

Weed management work

“I started out spraying weeds, and they were looking for an assistant supervisor,” Brill says.

Two years later, he was serving as the superintendent of the district. However, friends in the farming community and neighboring weed and pest districts encouraged him to move to Wyoming.

“I worked as superintendent in Nebraska for three years and got to know people in Wyoming at the weed districts,” Brill explains. “I applied for a couple of jobs in the state and ended up getting a job in Goshen County.”

Brill laughs, “For my first two weeks in Goshen County, I was still supervising the district in Nebraska. I ran two weed districts in two states for two weeks. It was quite an experience.”

After 28 years in Goshen County, Brill has been involved in many projects, seeking to improve the landscape in the area by tackling the tough weed and pest issues that landowners encounter.

Pet projects

While he has enjoyed his work across a wide array of diverse projects, Brill comments that restoration work on the North Platte River has been his favorite project.

“I really enjoyed working on the North Platte River drainage system on Russian olive and salt cedar removal,” he says. “That has been the highlight of my career.”

Starting on the North Platte River, Goshen County Weed and Pest began removing Russian olives and salt cedar from the river drainage. They progressed to the tributaries of Horse Creek and Bear Creek.

“I’ve covered a lot of area,” Brill says. “We haven’t gotten rid of all the trees, but in nine years, we covered the whole area.”

At one point, Brill mentions that he and University of Nebraska Extension Educator Gary Stone walked over 140 miles of the river with backpack sprayers treating salt cedar.

“It took us three or four months, and it was a challenge, but it was also a lot of fun,” he says. “It was also different to look at the river from that perspective.”

The project also included development of a DVD titled, “River of Time: Wyoming’s Evolving North Platte River.” The 34-minute film looks at the changes that have evolved on the river through the removal of invasive species.

“That project was later extended to include eight counties,” Brill adds.

Brill references many projects, including a bio-control program that utilizes bugs as weed control, and the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people, but says, “The North Platte River Project has been the highlight of my career.”

Working together

In all of the projects that Goshen County Weed and Pest has completed over the last 28 years, Brill comments, “None of this was personal accomplishment. It was all through working together.”

He cites work with college students as summer employees, the district employees and the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council as being great experiences that contributed to an overall positive career.

“The Board of Directors for Goshen County are really a great group of people to work with, and they were very supportive,” Brill adds. “We all worked hard and we worked together to accomplish these things.”

Brill also notes that they have been fortunate enough to be recognized through the years, particularly as it relates to the Goshen County Coordinated Resource Management program and the North Platte River restoration work.

“We received a stewardship award, as well,” he explains. “We were also recognized in Washington, D.C. because we had some federal grants to do work.”

“It was great to be recognized as a team because there were a lot of people who put in a lot of hard work here,” Brill adds.

Other perspectives

From around the state, weed and pest supervisors have commented that they appreciate Brill’s work and service.

Wyoming Department of Agriculture Weed and Pest Coordinator Slade Franklin comments, “I work with 23 weed and pest supervisors around the state, and Steve is one of the guys that I call when I have questions or need an opinion.”

Franklin adds, “I have a lot of faith and trust in his opinions on how things are going and if we need to change anything. It will be a big loss to not have him around.”

Franklin further notes that he has long been impressed with Brill and the Goshen County Weed and Pest for effectively utilizing a relatively small budget to accomplish landscape-scale goals and implement programs that are recognized at the state, regional and even national level.

“Steve has always done a very effective job of helping landowners,” Franklin says. “He has been one of the most proactive supervisors, and he’s been really great to work with.”

A look forward

Brill will officially retire on Feb. 5, and in the meantime, he is working with Bob Baumgartner, who will take over as weed and pest supervisor, to ensure a smooth transition when he leaves.

In retirement, Brill says, “I plan to do some traveling, and I’ve got a list of things to do around the house.”

However, with a long career in weed management, he says he’s open to opportunities in the future.

“We never know what opportunities might present themselves,” Brill comments. “I’m open to taking advantage of any opportunities that might come forward.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Opal – In the 1870s, Bill Sears’ grandfather, James W. Chrisman, moved to the land north of Opal where the original homestead still stands near the house. 

“Bill’s grandfather put together 13 ranches over two counties,” says Bill’s wife Alice. “He was in the legislature, he was a banker, he was a sheepman and he was a cattleman.”

The original family brand – the flying W – is still held by one of Bill’s cousins.

“We ran as a family operation into 1998, when we began exchanging our family shares that we ranch today,” Alice continues, referencing three separate ranches. “Bill is the third generation, and he’s always believed he is a caretaker for the ranches. He’s got a lot of history here.”

Ranching beginnings

Bill was born and raised in Kemmerer and Opal, ranching through his youth and childhood. In his early days, Bill worked in the mines and drove semi trucks, but when his uncle needed his help, he returned to the ranch in the late 70s. 

“He’s grown up on the ranch,” Alice explains. “When his uncle died in an accident in 1984, Bill took over then.”

Horseshoe Spear

Another old family brand was that of the horseshoe spear, which is the brand Bill now holds on the Horseshoe Spear Cattle Company. 

Horseshoe Spear Cattle Company was formed in 1998. They run a herd of Angus cross cattle.

“It’s a good English-based cross, mainly black-hided,” notes Alice. 

“The idea is to buy high and sell low, and I’m in the midst of buying another 100 head of cows,” he explains. “I’ve done all kinds of things to make the operation work.”

Each year, they begin calving at the end of March, in an attempt to avoid cold weather and blizzards. They then brand in early May. 

New experiences

Alice notes that there are a number of things that they have changed over the years in order to continue operating and improve the ranch. Last winter, for example, they wintered another rancher’s cattle for the first time.

“It was something we had never done,” says Alice. “We had some excess hay, and we had a man contact us to winter his animals.”

For the future, she adds that it is something they may do again. 

“We’ll either buy more cows or winter someone else’s,” says Alice of the future of the business. “This is Wyoming – we do what we can to stay in business.”

They have also had to seek new places to summer their cattle. In most years, they turn out on upper BLM range or Forest Service allotments, but they decided to take voluntary non-use of the allotments for controlled burns. In search of new summer range, Bill stumbled on Anadarko’s Company Ranch.

“We’ve worked with Anadarko for many years, and they like the way Bill treats the land,” Alice explains.

The Company Ranch

“Bill and one of our neighbors, George Collins, are in a partnership, and they are running the Company Ranch for Anadarko,” say Alice. “It is a very, very old historical ranch, and it needed some work.”

 With the Company Ranch in need of some significant rehabilitation, they have begun working to restore it to its glory.

“We’ve been working with the Game and Fish Department, the BLM, Anadarko and NRCS,” she comments. “We are trying to bring it back to full production and bring all the old water sources back.”

In the work that has been done, Alice notes that there are signs of sage grouse showing up more frequently, and the wildlife corridors are being opened again. 

Work on the ranch includes removing fences and working with NRCS on a comprehensive ranch plan.

“We are looking at every water source, spring and old pond to see what can be reworked,” says Alice. “They are also trying to bring the irrigation systems back.”

They are also working to reestablish hay fields and rehabilitate land where the Ruby Pipeline went through.

“We inter-seeded, fertilized and fixed a lot of irrigation. Last year, we were able to get some hay off the land,” she continues. “This year, we didn’t get any hay off of it, but we’ve raised some good pasture.”

“When it benefits, everyone is going to benefit,” adds Alice. “It really has been a good project.”

Uncertainty

In light of the changing political climate, changes in the industry and changes in society, Alice notes that the future of agriculture is very uncertain.

“We are uncertain whether the climate is going to be conducive to passing on the ranch,” Alice says. “It’s the challenges.”

Bill marks labor uncertainty as being particularly difficult.

“Trying to get kids or young people to come and help is hard,” he notes. “They don’t want to do chores or feed horses.”

With difficulty finding help and no children interested in taking over, he worries about the future of the operation.

Alice also adds that rules and regulations also make it very difficult to continue operating.

“Every time we turn around, there is a new rule,” she says. “We have to stay on top of things, and they have changed so fast.”

Holistic management

In order to maintain healthy rangelands and systems, Bill focuses on the ranch as a whole, considering the cattle, rangelands and wildlife.

“I’m a holistic manager,” says Bill. “I really like being able to leave some grass out there to graze.”

“Bill isn’t a cowboy, he’s a rancher,” says Alice. “He loves the land, he loves the animals and he’s got a lot of natural knowledge.”

“It’s not how much money you have,” Bill comments. “It’s the time you are here – that is what is of value. I try to make the best of my time here.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..