CHEYENNE - Close to 50 percent of Wyoming is private land, and much of that land provides quality habitat for wildlife as well as hunting opportunity. Often that habitat is enhanced by private landowners who also provide places to hunt for Wyoming sportsmen.
Each year, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department presents its Landowner of the Year awards, recognizing Wyoming landowners in each region who have demonstrated a commitment to wildlife management, habitat improvement, and conservation practices. The landowners were honored at a banquet in Lander as part of the recently completed meeting of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.
Seven landowners were honored by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for their work with wildlife, hunter access, and interest in Wyoming’s Wildlife resource.
Gene and Lola Russell, Owners
In the Laramie Region, the Russell Ranch near Glendo is home to pronghorn, mule deer, elk, mountain lion, turkey, and many other game and nongame species. Owners Gene and Lola Russell currently have more than 9,550 acres of their 13,000 plus acre ranch enrolled in the WGFD’s Private Lands Public Wildlife (PLPW) program which provides 6,600 acres of additional access to landlocked state and federal lands. At recent landowner meetings, neighbors noted a reduction in hunter trespass on their lands. The Russells are already seeing benefits in declining vehicle abuses to their property and more than 200 hunters enjoyed receiving permission to hunt. Not only does their active participation provide ample opportunities to hunters, it also provides an important tool to assist the Game and Fish with management goals for the Laramie Peak elk herd. This herd has increased well beyond the Department’s objective goals, and ranchers like the Russells have played an important role in reducing elk numbers. The Russells are also active participants in local meetings and wildlife management discussions.
Jeff and Susan Sussman, Owners
The Diamond D Ranch is a working cattle ranch on Horse Creek Road near the town of Dubois and borders United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, State, and private lands. The ranch was purchased by Jeff and Susan Sussman in 1989 and comprises nearly 75,000 acres of deeded and leased land. The Diamond D Ranch is home to a diversity of wildlife species, including mule deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, and many non-game species of wildlife such as peregrine falcons and osprey. The ranch also contains a fantastic sport fishery. The Diamond D Ranch lies in the path of a major elk migration route and occupies lands in and adjacent to an extremely important elk winter range complex. The Diamond D recognizes the importance of this elk migration corridor in sustaining the Wiggins Fork elk population, and they have worked to minimize any obstructions to elk movement through the ranch. The Diamond D Ranch is currently working with the Department to monitor fish use and establish an inventory of fish entrainment within their irrigation ditches. In cooperation with Trout Unlimited, the Department, State Lands, and neighboring water users, the ranch is working to modify its primary water source for irrigation by constructing a new head-gate and adding two weirs in the stream to allow fish to safely move up and down the river. This should result in many positive outcomes for the Horse Creek fishery.
Don and Pete (Peto) Meike, Owners
Kaycee area ranchers Don and Peto Meike are the Landowners of the Year for the Sheridan region. The Meike Ranch was founded in 1901 by Emil and Emma Meike. Emil Meike envisioned and created a twenty-mile-long canal to be used to irrigate meadows along the Powder River. Today, numerous species of wildlife call these irrigated meadows home. As fourth generation ranchers, Don and Peto Meike continue to manage much of the land their ancestors settled and developed. The Meikes operate a diverse farming and ranching operation on their 33,800-acre ranch, producing alfalfa hay, oats, barley, and corn, used as feed for their cattle and sheep – which is all irrigated with Powder River water. The irrigated fields also provide excellent habitat for a variety of wildlife including antelope, deer, wild turkeys, Canada geese, sandhill cranes, pheasants, and songbirds. Their rangelands provide habitat for antelope, deer,elk, and sage-grouse. The Meike’s progressive livestock grazing practices keep their sheep and cattle dispersed throughout the summer, fall, and winter seasons, with water developments and forage utilization levels benefiting wildlife.
The Meike Ranch worked with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to reduce competition between livestock and elk on their summer pastures, which provide elk winter range. Perhaps one of the greatest contributions made by the Meikes is providing access to hunters. Don and Peto are keenly aware that hunting is one of the best management tools for managing wildlife populations. Hunters on the Meike Ranch often harvest more than 100 big-game animals each year. In past years, the Meike Ranch participated in the Landowner Cooperative Hunting Access Program in antelope Hunt Area 113. The joint efforts of the cooperative united landowners, the Bureau of Land Management, and the department contributed to the management of hunter access to most of this hunt area, thus providing hunting opportunities and managing the antelope population.
Bedford, Roger and Bonnie Preston, Owners
Star Valley ranchers Roger and Bonnie Preston always think about wildlife and fisheries when it comes to managing their property and are the Landowners of the Year for the Jackson Region. The Prestons have had 1,040 acres of property enrolled in the Department’s PLPW walk-in hunting program for many years. These walk-in areas provide deer, elk, grouse, and mountain lion hunting opportunity for the public. They also allow the public to hunt some of their additional property as long as they ask for permission. In addition to the hunting opportunity provided, they have .75 miles of stream enrolled in the walk-in fishing program. This stretch of Willow Creek provides some great fishing in a quiet setting that is still close to the main highway. Willow Creek is critical as a spawning stream for the Salt River fishery. Roger worked with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to identify a fish passage barrier on the creek. The area has been identified for future enhancement for the native Snake River cutthroat trout population.
The Little Sandy Grazing Association is the Landowner of the Year for the Green River Region. The association is a significant landowner of a large percentage of the private lands in the Little Sandy Creek drainage. Over the years, the association has been a leading partner in restoration of three important native fish species (roundtail chub, bluehead sucker, and flannelmouth sucker) in Little Sandy Creek. Over the last decade, the association has been supportive of the native fish restoration efforts in the Green River drainage, allowing access to their properties by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Members of the association are engaged with department management plans for future restoration efforts and are leading advocates in the Farson/Eden Community. The association also allows department employees to conduct sage grouse mortality research on their two grazing allotments: Little Sandy and Little Prospect. This area supports one of the highest densities of sage grouse in the west. The research conducted in these areas monitors sage grouse mortality along fence lines and helps determine effective methods to reduce mortality. A significant number of hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts benefit from the open space these lands provide.
Dr. Lennox Baker and Greg Luce, Owners
Cody Region Landowner of the Year recipient for 2011 is the Pitchfork Ranch. The historic ranch situated on the Greybull River west of Meeteetse is owned by Dr. Lennox Baker and Greg Luce and managed by Dan and Darcy Morris. The owners and managers carry on a long tradition of wildlife stewardship. The Pitchfork Ranch’s wildlife legacy is known internationally as the place where black-footed ferrets, then thought to be extinct, were discovered in 1981. Lesser known but equally as important is the ranch’s large contribution to habitat for a multitude of species. The Pitchfork Ranch provides year-round habitat for all big game species and crucial winter range for elk and mule deer. The ranch hosts a large number of elk during winter, some migrating from as far away as Yellowstone National Park. The Greybull River, which flows through the heart of the Pitchfork Ranch, is one of the last remaining strongholds for Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Since 2002, the entire ranch has been enrolled in the PLPW Program, giving access from mid-August to the end of January for hunting antelope, deer, and elk during the respective seasons. More than 600 permission slips were issued in 2011, demonstrating the popularity of this access opportunity. The Pitchfork Ranch is also an active partner in the management of Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The ranch is working with Trout Unlimited, the Shoshone National Forest, the Greybull Valley Irrigation District, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to provide upstream fish passage at manmade barriers on the property. The ranch is improving riparian and fisheries habitat by fencing sensitive riparian areas and reestablishing native riparian vegetation.
Tim and Dawn Pexton, Owners
Landowners of the Year for the Casper Region are Tim and Dawn Pexton of the Indian Creek Ranch near Douglas. The Pextons actively work with various agencies, conservation groups, and others to enhance lands they own and lease.The Pextons work to perpetuate quality management practices on their ranch, which is primarily a cattle and hay operation. Their stewardship is reflected in the richness of wildlife present on their property including antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, sharp-tailed grouse, Hungarian partridge, turkeys, black bears, and mountain lions. The Pextons believe hunters need access in order to continue the heritage of hunting and allow access for a substantial amount of hunters throughout the year from spring turkey season through late January elk hunting. As a testament to this, they recently enrolled in the department’s PLPW program, allowing hunters access for elk hunting. Perhaps the Pexton’s most valuable contribution to wildlife is found in their commitment to stewardship. There is a reason why there is so much wildlife and hunting opportunity on their ranch. Their ranch provides an abundance of wildlife forage and cover. According to the Game and Fish, they are an excellent example of how agriculture and wildlife are inextricably linked, which goes a long way to preserving Wyoming’s wildlife heritage.
(Contact: Al Langston (307) 777-4540)