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Conservation

Glendo — The deeds to our ranches, commented Wyoming Stock Growers Association president Frank Shepperson during the July 2 stewardship tour, give us the right to take care of them during our lifetime.
    It’s an assignment most Wyoming ranchers take quite seriously. It isn’t, however, an endeavor that’s often congratulated, celebrated with the local community and highlighted among fellow ranchers.
    July 2 provided a chance to do those things when members of the ranching community invited conservationists, media, elected officials and those interested in the management of natural resources to join them at the Foy Ranch near Glendo for a daylong tour. For ranchers it was an opportunity to learn new practices that might benefit their own ranches. For others, the event provides an opportunity to see ranchers who are committed to properly managing the natural resources in their care for the mutual benefit of wildlife and livestock.
    “By what they’ve done,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna of the Foy family, “they’ve brought recognition to the ranching industry in the state of Wyoming.”
    Kevin McAleese with the Sand County Foundation noted Aldo Leopold’s belief in private conservation. Captured in Leopold’s book, “Sand County Almanac,” McAleese summed the great conservationist’s beliefs in saying, “It has to come from a personal ethic within the landowner to do the right thing.” McAleese said the Sand County Foundation, created in memory of Leopold, presents its Aldo Leopold Award for Conservation to those ranchers and individuals who have accepted and recognized the land ethic. The award was among those presented to the Foys on July 2.
    “Those people who use the land are some of the people who are the best conservationists on the land, who take the best care of the land,” said Randy Teeuwen of EnCana Oil and Gas. Sustainability, he noted, is part of a good business plan.
    Rocky Foy, who has a reputation of grasping learning opportunities that might add value to his ranch, said openness to change and a willingness to look at ranching practices from a new angle have been the most important lessons he’s learned. “We can’t expect kids to come back to the ranch if it’s not fun and profitable,” he said.
    The Foys have developed stock water and changed the fencing and grazing rotations on their ranch using electric fence. While goats are not currently present on the ranch, in recent years they’ve been a tool in addressing weed problems and reducing sagebrush canopy. In the years to come, Rocky said they’ll phase out their hayfields and make them part of the grazing rotation. Irrigation will continue on the fields to enhance production and to protect their water rights from abandonment.
    Changes on the ranch, said Rocky, have resulted in an additional two months worth of grass. Seeing that improvement during the recent drought, additional benefits may be forthcoming with a return to better precipitation patterns.
    Of the need for events like the July 2 tour, McAleese stated, “We don’t believe the public has a full grasp and appreciation of the important role that people on the land play.”
    “One of the easiest jobs I’ve ever had is being involved in the nomination of the Foy family for this award,” said Southeast Wyoming Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Coordinator Grant Stumbough. “The Foys are proactive and creative and every day they’re thinking of ways to improve their land, thinking of ways to make it better and do what it takes to make it better. The Foys are heroes of the ranch and heroes of the community.”
    “We want to keep it fun,” said Rocky. “Life’s too short to not enjoy what you’re doing and there’s no reason we shouldn’t be enjoying this.”
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Glendo – 2017 marks 100 years for Cundall Ranch, operated by Larry and Ruthie Cundall, and the milestone is also marked by Wyoming’s highest conservation honor awarded to the couple. 

This year, Larry and Ruthie Cundall are the recipients of the 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award (ESA), presented by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Department of Agriculture. 

“We’re so appreciative of the people who have helped us through the years and nominated us for this award,” Larry Cundall comments. “It’s really exciting and humbling to receive this award.”

Looking back

Cundall Ranch was established in 1917 by Harry Cundall and his sons Paul, Ray and Walter. 

“The original base of the operation was on the Platte River,” describes Cundall. “They had a lot of irrigated acreage back then, but when Glendo Dam was built, the main ranch buildings were inundated.” 

The ranch was split up between the generations, and today, the Cundalls run on the original summer range.

“We’ve still got the nucleus of the original place,” he says.

Ranching near Glendo

Cundall Ranch is a cow/calf operation today, but Cundall explains the family started in the seedstock business.

“In the 1920s, my family started with purebred Herefords,” he says. “When the partnership broke up, the seedstock part went to another branch of the family, and my dad ran a yearling operation.” 

Cundall returned to the ranch after serving in the Vietnam War and marrying Ruthie, noting it was at that time he switched to a cow/calf operation. 

“When I came home, I wasn’t as keen on yearlings,” Cundall comments. “We went back to the cow/calf operation, and that’s what we’ve done for the last 45 years.”

Cundall’s Angus cattle are run across leased, deeded, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) and state land. Cundall says he has dabbled in crossbreeding through the years, but today, he runs black cattle with a few Hereford bulls, choosing to artificially inseminate the heifers. 

“Ranching has always been in my blood, and it was always what I wanted to do,” Cundall says. “I enjoyed ranching when I first started, and I still enjoy it today.” 

Conservation focused

From a young age, a conservation ethic was instilled in Cundall.

“When I was young, my dad had a few Great Plains Projects with the Soil Conservation Service, before the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). I could see the improvements on the land when he was working on those projects,” Cundall explains.

As he works day-to-day, Cundall notes he takes note of areas that need to be improve on the ranch, and he’s continued in his father’s stead, working in partnership with NRCS to complete a number of projects. 

“We’ve done cross-fencing, water projects, grazing plans and more,” he explains.

Improvements

Among their many projects, Cundall says water projects have been central to their operation.

“When I was 10 years old, we carried sprinkler pipe by hand, and my wife and I carried sprinkler pipe until about eight years ago, when we installed three pivots through the Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP),” Cundall says. “We saved water and increased our production, as well.” 

Additionally, the Cundalls have installed solar wells to increase the number of cattle for grazing in short-duration pastures. 

“Windmills worked great in the 20s and 30s, but a windmill won’t water 150 cows on our ranch,” Cundall says. “The water development has helped us to develop better grazing plans.”

They further distribute water using nine miles of waterlines and over 10,000 gallons of underground storage tanks. 

More than 10 miles of cross-fences have also been added to improve distribution of cattle across the landscape.

“Grazing and water development not only improve the grass but can improve water quality as a result of good cover in extreme weather events,” Cundall comments.

Research focus

At the same time, he has implemented conservation projects on the ranch, Cundall has focused on advancing agriculture research, as well. 

“As I began working to implement different conservation practices, I ended up being on the University of Wyoming’s James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) Advisory Board in Lingle,” he says. “For the past 20-some years, I’ve had an interest in research, which is also part of conservation, in my mind.”

Additionally, Cundall is the chair of the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education board, which focuses on providing grants and education in 17 western states and the Pacific Islands. 

“I get to see a lot of research, and I see how these practices are used on the ranch,” Cundall explains. “It’s exciting. Research is interesting. Sustainable ag is interesting. Conservation is fun.” 

He further adds, “Many of these things can also be profitable. It’s natural instinct for me to want to improve our property and improve our livestock. It’s something I do.”

Research for sustainability

For Cundall, research on grazing, water, genetics and more is necessary to continue to advance and sustain the agriculture industry. 

“It’s exciting to see research projects done, and the organizations I work with do it from a grassroots level. It’s not top-down,” he says. “Farmers and ranchers come up with ideas to try to improve the ranch. NRCS has been willing to listen and try ideas for different projects, as well.”

Cundall comments, “To me, research, conservation and agriculture go hand-in-hand, and they all three have to happen to be sustainable.”

Opportunities ahead

While Larry is involved in research, Ruthie also actively participates on the Farm Service Agency county committee, and before that, the Farmer's Home Administration Farm Loan Board. Ruthie's involvement allowed her to stay engaged in the ag community, as well.

As Cundall looks towards the future, he sees some uncertainties, along with a number of opportunities. 

“Over the years, we’ve never been lucky enough to have children, so we’ve brought other kids to the ranch,” he says. “We’ve mentored dozens of kids over the years.”

“We’ve doing thing differently now,” Cundall comments. “We’re slowing down, but there are still a lot of exciting things on the horizon for the ag industry.”

This summer, Larry and Ruthie Cundall will host a tour of their ranch in summer 2018. Look for more information on the Environmental Stewardship Tour in upcoming editions of the Roundup. Learn more about the Cundall’s operation following the tour.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cheyenne – Wyoming’s agriculture, energy natural resources and wildlife communities gathered on Jan. 13 at the Sage Grouse Implementation Team (SGIT) meeting to discuss continued challenges in implementing Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) plans that were released in September 2015.

“We’ve been working to parse out the different management directions in the Records of Decision (RODs) from the BLM and FS and determine how that is going to apply to grazing permits and permittees,” said Joe Budd, Wyoming Department of Agriculture senior policy analyst. “We are trying to figure out what the RODs will look like on the ground, but until we have the BLM Instruction Memorandums (IMs) and FS pocket guides, we can’t be certain.”

Areas of concern

For many livestock grazers, one of the largest concerns has been in the vegetation objective tables.

“In the BLM vegetation objective tables, or grazing guidelines in the FS documents, the numbers have been a big concern,” Budd said. “The big take-home here is that these numbers are objectives or desired conditions. They aren’t requirements.”

Budd noted that many people are concerned that they see “seven inch screening cover.”

“Seven inches is considered by the federal agencies to be ideal, but this isn’t going to be applicable everywhere,” he said.

“They aren’t hard and fast rules,” he commented. “Heights can become rules, but there is a process and a number of footnotes on those tables that say we have to adjust for local conditions and realities, so there shouldn’t be any blanket prescription of seven inches.”

On the ground

To determine the local conditions, Budd explained that BLM must have ecological side descriptions (ESDs) range-wide.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Wildlife Biologist Brian Jensen explained that ESDs are a landscape-scale tool that should be used as that.

“ESDs are intended to be a landscape tool on a one-to-24,000 base map unit,” Jensen explained. “When we do planning, and when our federal partners do planning, we need to get to site-scale.”

At the same time, state and transition models (STMs) in place across the state contradict what actually happens on the ground.

“Most of the time ESDs and STMs are going to be what we expect to happen, but that isn’t always the case,” Budd said, noting that a frequently used paper written by Cagney, et. al. from 2010 recognizes that case. “That paper very specifically outlines that there are certain transitions that might be represented by an STM that are never going to happen.”

Dave Pellatz of the Thunder Basin National Grasslands Prairie Ecosystem Association echoed, “For the ESDs we have in our area, the current states and transitions don’t quite match up with what we see on the ground.”

At the same time, Jensen also noted that the NRCS soil survey hasn’t been completed across the state of Wyoming yet either, but the project is in progress.

“There are parts of Carbon, Hot Springs and Sweetwater counties that still don’t have an initial soil survey complete,” he said. “That is a priority to get done, and it is chugging along at a slow clip.”

Data from the soil survey is also helpful in determining the potential of an area’s production capabilities or limitations.

Budd added, “People have to be cognizant of this when they start, and we have to have ground-truthing of our expectations to adjust for reality.”

Deep details

In his half-hour presentation, Budd covered what might happen as BLM and FS begins to implement plans, but he also noted that there are a number of possibilities that arise from the level of detail present in the plans.

“There is so much detail in these plans,” he explained. “I covered a large portion of the livestock grazing management direction, but we also have to consider there is direction related to grazing under sensitive species, fire and fuels management, vegetation treatments and guidelines and in other places.”

Budd continued, “So much of this information is tied together that it is hard to summarize what we need to do or how BLM and FS will implement the plans in one statement. This is our best guess right now based on the RODs.”

He also noted that there is significant room for the agencies to make other decisions.

“Managers have to remember they have the ability and the responsibility to adjust locally and deviate when appropriate,” Budd added.

Moving forward

As SGIT looks forward, the next documents to be released by BLM are a set of IMs and FS “pocket guides.”

“As soon as the IMs and pocket guides come out, we will look at those,” Budd said. “We are hoping they are broad enough that Wyoming BLM can give more refined direction to its field offices, and the FS can do similarly.”

However, he further noted that there is no indication of what might be included or how in-depth they will be.

“We have no idea what they are going to look like,” he said. “It is hard to say what we will have to deal with. The IMs could nullify all the work we’ve done up to now, or they could support it. We don’t know.”

The IMs could be out as soon as the end of January, but they may also take a significantly longer amount of time to complete.

“They might come out next week, or it might be March. We have no idea but everyone has to stay patient,” Budd added. “This is a hurry up and wait game. It’s a tough spot to be in, but no matter what happens, we’re going to be involved with implementing these plans well into the future.”

The next meeting of the SGIT will be in March. Watch the Roundup for more information.

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..

Casper – “If we have healthy soil, we will have clean air, clean water, healthy plants, healthy animals and healthy people,” stated Gabe Brown of Brown’s Ranch in Bismarck, N.D. “It all starts with the soil, and we need to focus on the soil resource.”

Brown spoke in Casper on March 27, addressing farming practices that promote healthy soils.

“What we have developed over time are five keys to regenerating a healthy soil. These are the same on any operation, anywhere in the world,” he explained.

Brown’s five keys are minimal mechanical disturbance, surface armor, diversity, live roots in the soil and animal impact.

Mechanical disturbance

“If we mechanically disturb the soil, we are going to destroy roots and lose organic matter, and we are going to lose the ability of that ecosystem to cycle nutrients,” he noted.

In a native ecosystem, there is no tillage, and plant roots stay in place.

“They cycle nutrients and take in sunlight, converting it into carbon in the soil to feed life,” he added.

By using no-till practices, Brown explained that important soil structure is left intact.

“When I started farming, our soil could infiltrate one-quarter inch of rain per hour,” commented Brown.

After leaving conventional farming practices behind and moving to a no-till system, those same soils can now infiltrate up to eight inches of water per hour, according to the most recent Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) testing.

“It is not how much rainfall we get. It is how much we can infiltrate into our soil,” he said.

Armor

Armor on the soil, the second principle that Brown discussed, is the concept of keeping residue or plant matter on the surface, instead of leaving bare ground.

“If there is no armor, the soil is not protected,” he stated.

Armor reduces wind erosion, soil erosion and evaporation.

“Bare ground is also a place for weeds to germinate,” he added.

Residue left in the field also helps to regulate surface temperature, keeping the soil warmer on cold days and cooler on hot days.

“Seventy degrees is about optimal for plant growth. At 70 degrees, a plant is using all of its moisture for growth,” he explained.

Leaving residue also feeds soil life, such as earthworms.

“Native rangeland always has armor on it. We need to mimic that on our cropland if we want to improve our soil health,” noted Brown.

Diversity

Diversity was the third principle Brown discussed, saying that the majority of production agriculture uses monoculture practices.

“Where in nature do we find monoculture?” he asked.

Cover crops especially, he continued, should be seeded in multiseed combinations.

“A cover crop is a diverse mix that enhances the life and function of the soil,” he explained.

In a natural system, there is a large amount of diversity where multiple species work together within the system.

“There is always nutrient cycling via biology,” Brown noted.

Roots

Maintaining roots in the soil was the fourth principle that Brown addressed, again comparing modern agriculture to natural ecosystems.

“How did our soils survive for hundreds of thousands of years without man applying synthetics?” he questioned.

Approximately two-thirds of soil organic matter comes from plant roots.

“We have to have as many roots as we can in the ground to build up our soils,” Brown said.

Cover crops can be designed to fill production gaps, so desired plants grow instead of weeds.

“I look at when I have a window of time that there is not a root in the ground, and I put one in,” commented Brown.

Animal impact

Next, he discussed the principle of animal impact, referencing the wild herds of bison and elk that impacted the Great Plains but also left long periods of rest and recovery for the plants.

“On our operation, we have a diverse number and species of livestock. Each one of those species harvests a different energy level,” Brown explained.

Using the livestock to graze cover crops is one way to turn those crops into dollars.

“We graze about a third of the above-ground biomass, and we leave about two-thirds as armor on the soil surface to feed the biology,” he adds.

When he began farming, Brown’s approach focused on which weeds and pests had to be removed.

Ecosystem

“I used to farm by trying to kill something every day. Now I wake up and ask what else I can have living on my operation,” Brown stated.

He is working toward building a complete ecosystem by incorporating more living things.

When he began farming, NRCS tests showed 1.7 to 1.9 percent organic matter in the soils of the farm’s cropland.

“We had heavy tillage, high use of synthetics and primarily monocultures – spring wheat, oats and barley – all cool season small grains,” he noted.

Native rangeland in the area was near seven to eight percent organic matter.

“I came to the conclusion that I was suffering the affects of a degraded resource, and I had come to accept that degraded resource,” he commented.

In 1993, Brown’s operation became 100 percent no-till and began incorporating practices that mimic native rangeland and diverse ecosystems. The farm now has production in crops, lamb, pastured pork, broilers, eggs, guard dogs and more.

“Carbon drives farm profit,” noted Brown. “Farm profit is directly related to the amount of carbon in the soil.”

Gabe Brown is a widely recognized speaker who presented on March 27 in Casper. The event was free to the public, courtesy of the Plank Stewardship Initiative and Wyoming NRCS. Look for more information at plankstewardship.org.

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

A new strategy for Candidate Conservation Agreements, or CCAs, and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, or CCAAs, is just about ready to head for the Federal Register.
That’s according to Scott Covington of the U.W. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Cheyenne Ecological Services Field Office.
The goal of Wyoming’s proposed sage grouse CCAA strategy is to combine public and private lands in the state into a joint CCA/CCAA that would cover 35 million acres, should everyone eligible enroll.
“The strategy focuses on range management through a streamlined process,” says Covington.
“It doesn’t make sense to have a different set of conservation measures on private property than on public, and we’ve worked intensively for the last month on the BLM’s proposed approach,” states Covington. “We’d work to make sure those conservation measures cross over. That’s why the BLM and Forest Service have been at the table since the get-go.”
A CCA applies to federal or private lands, without assurances, while the CCAA applies only to private lands.
“CCAs are proactive, voluntary conservation agreements, with no assurances because of Section 7 requirement under Endangered Species Act,” says Covington. “But, the CCA agreement can dovetail into a CCAA.”
Covington says the goal was to have two sets of documents, one applying to grazing allotments on federal land and the other applying to private lands, with identical conservation measures.
“The whole idea is to preclude the need to list,” says Covington of the goal of CCAAs. “It can be for any species – for those proposed or those at risk of being added to the endangered species list.”
He emphasizes the CCAAs are not a mitigation tool, but rather they identify specific threats and remove them.
“It’s essentially a listing in reverse,” he explains. “We run a threats analysis on the five listing factors – including habitat, regulatory mechanisms, disease issues – and develop these agreements accordingly in conjunction with federal, state and local agencies.”
The assurances that come into play with CCAAs are that, along with things the landowner promises to do to preserve the species, the federal government promises that the land under the contract will not have increased land use restrictions should the targeted species be listed.
“The foundation of a CCAA is conservation measures, whether you avoid certain activities at certain times or reduce threats to a species on the property,” says Covington. “One of the biggest threats is fragmentation, and that’s one of the biggest things a landowner can address. Other conservation measures are specific actions to remove or reduce specific threats, and they must significantly contribute to eliminating the need to list. They may forego a practice that might influence the species, or allowing a species to be introduced.”
He says a grazing permittee would be able to nominate their federal grazing allotments for inclusion in the CCAA on their private land.
Covington says his agency is still working with the Forest Service, which has a slightly different approach. “In most cases we expect theirs to mimic the BLM, but that chapter remains to be written.
There would be one National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document and one Environmental Assessment (EA) covering all actions in issuing the permit. In addition, Covington says the agreements would be “batched” for approval as they’re completed.
“If we set up quarterly time periods, say from June 1 to Oct. 31, we could collect the agreements from that time span, process them and send them all at one time to streamline the process,” he explains. “That way we can get them processed more quickly.”
On the question of who would hold the permit, Covington says, “Typically on an agreement of this scale we have one permit holder, but we will issue individual permits in this case. FWS will issue individual permits to each applicant.”
If there are a lot of applications in one time period, they’ll be prioritized according to whether or not they’re in or adjacent to a core area, within an energy development region or things of that nature.
“Those are just a few things that would help prioritize, and we want to focus efforts on the low-hanging fruit at first,” he says.
Of the biological monitoring to follow up on the effect of the agreements, Covington says that would be a three-tiered approach.
“Landowners would evaluate local range conditions, a team of cooperators will evaluate the habitat at a larger scale and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will coordinate the data collection,” he says. “We’ll work with the Game and Fish, landowners, the BLM and whoever else we need to, to make sure the lek data is collected.”
Covington says, as the BLM and Forest Service draft their CCAs for internal review, he and his office will write the final draft of the CCAA, including the NEPA document. They hope to begin outreach activities in January 2011, and he says interested parties, including landowners and local sage grouse working groups, can contact him to take a look at the preliminary version in late January.
Scott Covington presented his information at the 2010 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup Dec. 12-14 in Casper. Christy Martinez 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..