CHEYENNE - Each year, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department recognizes landowners who have made exemplary efforts to wildlife management and habitat improvement on private land. These landowners, through their conservation efforts and by allowing access, have contributed to the effective management of wildlife on public and private land. Recipients demonstrate ethical use and stewardship of Wyoming’s natural resources.
The 2013 landowners of the year were honored at a July 8 banquet at the department’s Dubois Fish Hatchery held in conjunction with a Game and Fish Commission meeting.
Lander Region -- Larry and Sharon Swift
Over the past decade, Larry and Sharon Swift have graciously offered access to their property along the Little Wind River for sauger recovery projects. The Swift’s property is located six miles northwest of Hudson along the Little Wind River just below its confluence with the Popo Agie River. Twisting through their land, the river is the focus of many sauger research projects, monitoring events and recovery operations.
The Game and Fish, Shoshone and Arapaho tribes and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to recover the Wind River drainage sauger population. Assistance from the Swift’s is vital to a successful recovery of this walleye-like native game fish. The Little Wind River hosts the highest density of saugers in the Wind River drainage.
The family made a significant contribution to wildlife conservation in 2012 and 2013 by allowing access for a sauger spawning operation. From early May through mid-June fish biologists captured saugers from the Little Wind River, removed eggs and milt, and fertilized them streamside. The spawning operations supplemented low natural recruitment which was causing a drastic decline in sauger numbers. For more than a month each spring, a large number of fish biologists inundated the Swift’s property from early morning until after dark. Many trucks drove in and out of the property, launched boats and rafts and set-up equipment. Saugers were held in cages in the Swift’s irrigation pond, and a spawning tent was erected in their pasture.
Larry and Sharon were happy to accommodate, even moving their horses and suspending irrigation until spawning activities were finished. Without their help, these sauger spawning operations would have been extremely difficult. The Swift family’s contributions to sauger management in Wyoming are invaluable.
Sheridan Region – Spellman Ranch, Don and Kathy Spellman
Don and Kathy Spellman, of the Spellman Ranch, along with their partner and ranch manager Lindsay Wood and her husband Dan, run a cow/calf/yearling operation on private, state and federal lands in northwest Campbell County. The Spellman Ranch provides excellent habitat for mule deer, pronghorn, sage grouse and a multitude of nongame species.
In 1990, when the Spellman’s took on the ranch, Don’s passion and curiosity led to the use of a blend of traditional and new ranching techniques. An intensive rest and rotation strategy has allowed the ranch to grow from three to 38 permanent grazing pastures. During the growing season, a pasture is limited to no longer than two weeks of grazing allowing for faster plant recovery. This approach has proven to effectively manage moisture and leave more residual grass. These pastures offer reserve forage if needed later and remain in excellent shape for wildlife. Don says the encouragement and guidance of manager Lindsay Wood was critical to these pasture improvements. Their other conservation efforts that benefit wildlife include leaving hay in windrows, fitting stock tanks with wildlife escape ramps and excluding livestock from prime riparian habitat.
Don has an interest and concern for sage grouse. He is an original member of the Northeast Wyoming Sage Grouse Local Working Group formed in 2004. He represents the agriculture industry and is always willing to look for better ways to accomplish sage grouse conservation objectives while maintaining or improving rangeland management and the rancher’s bottom line.
The Spellman Ranch is managed with wildlife in mind. Don enjoys continually learning and sharing new and different ideas that work for their operation. The Spellman’s main desire is to leave the rangeland resource better than they found it.
Green River Region– Walker Ranch, Steve and Phyllis Walker
Steve and Phyllis Walker operate a cow-calf operation in southern Lincoln County, on both private and federal lands. A family-oriented operation, Steve and Phyllis, along with three sons and their wives and eight grandchildren, raise 300-plus cow-calf pairs on about 5,000 acres.
The Walkers are exceptional livestock managers who work hard to ensure the land is healthy, sustainable and supports wildlife. The ranch actively monitors their livestock and analyzes forage conditions. They move livestock when the ranch’s grazing levels have been met, often before land management agencies would even suggest it. The family sticks to tradition by surveying its range on horseback minimizing impact on the resources that fuel the family’s livelihood.
Ranch operations cover habitats from Wyoming big sagebrush to aspen and mixed conifer. The Walkers are enthusiastically involved in projects that improve their lands, grazing management and wildlife populations. The family firmly believes forage should be left for wildlife – abundant, healthy wildlife populations are proof of their outstanding stewardship.
The whole family enjoys hunting elk in the backcountry from their long-time camp in the Wyoming Range or from the Ham’s Fork ranch where Phyllis grew up. Both resident and nonresident hunters enjoy the Walker’s hospitality for pronghorn and moose hunting access.
Always ready and willing to help neighbors with any chore or emergency that may arise, the Walkers represent the best of the traditional Wyoming ranchers who work hard to ensure their heritage is maintained, and that wildlife remains anintegral and sustainable part of their family’s life.
Laramie Region -- Alden and Karen Condict Family
Alden and Karen Condict, along with their son Mike and several cousins, operate a cattle ranch along the west slope of the Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow Mountains. The Condict family’s roots run deep in the upper North Platte River valley, as Alden represents the third generation to ranch in this beautiful, high-mountain country. For decades, the Condict’s ranching tradition has been intertwined with a strong land ethic.
It is important to the Condict Family that both livestock and wildlife find quality forage and shelter on their ranch. Diverse pastures on the property support their cow-calf operation as well as a myriad of wildlife. Livestock grazing is closely monitored through a rotational grazing system. Additionally, several strategic pastures provide forage for wintering elk. This has reduced conflict between elk and livestock not only on the Condict Ranch, but for many of their neighbors, too.
Last year the family enrolled a key portion of their ranch in the department’s Walk-In Area Program. This allowed hunters using the Pennock Wildlife Habitat Management Area to access thousands of acres of federal and state lands that are otherwise difficult to enter.
Mike Condict has also been actively involved in the Platte Valley Habitat Partnership. The partnership is working to identify and undertake habitat projects to benefit mule deer. A portion of the Condict’s rangeland will be the focus of a project to restore year-round wildlife habitat and reduce the spread of noxious weeds.
The Condict Family’s commitment to a strong land ethic is apparent. They have found a balance that not only sustains their cattle ranching operation, but maintains essential habitat for wildlife.
Cody Region -- The Nature Conservancy, Ten Sleep Preserve
The Nature Conservancy’s Ten Sleep Preserve is located in the Big Horn Mountains southeast of Ten Sleep. The Preserve covers 9,000 acres, including 12 miles of Canyon Creek, and provides a wide diversity of undisturbed habitat for wildlife and those who enjoy it.
While under private ownership, the Preserve is open to the public during daylight hours from May through October. The property hosts many conservation workshops and projects, from livestock grazing to habitat treatments and weed management that help safeguard the unique resources of the area. Research is a main focus of activity on the Preserve because of its diverse and high-quality habitats.
Trey Davis is the Preserve’s land management supervisor. Its staff, including facilities manager, Steve Winans, is eager and well-qualified to provide assistance with any conservation project. The Preserve’s involvement in a local coordinated resource management team helps improve natural resources in the Ten Sleep area. The Preserve’s partnership within and beyond the Ten Sleep community is critical to conservation.
Davis and the Preserve are proud to offer hunting and angling opportunities, share conservation and agriculture management practices with the community and serve as a steward to a rich resource that all can see and enjoy.
Jackson Region -- Paul von Gontard
Paul von Gontard has partnered with the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to provide a public access lease to the Snake River for many years. Through Paul’s generosity, the lease is provided at a fraction of market value. This access area, known as von Gontard’s Landing, is located just five miles south of Jackson and is currently the only public boat launch site between Wilson Bridge and Astoria. The area is used extensively by anglers, private and commercial float trip boaters and river enthusiasts. Due to very limited Snake River access, loss of this lease would nearly eliminate all river use on this popular stretch between Wilson Bridge and Astoria. Benefits to the public are immeasurable and for the most part go unnoticed.
In recent years, public use of von Gontard’s Landing has increased dramatically. For example, in 2000 9,300 vehicles used von Gontard’s Landing and just 10 years later vehicle use increased to more than 42,000. During peak summer months, use can exceed 15,000 per month. Paul has worked with the Commission to expand opening and closing dates of the lease to align with winter conditions and angler use.
In addition, the von Gontard property is adjacent to the South Park Wildlife Habitat Management Area and provides access for waterfowl hunting along the Snake River and crucial winter habitat for moose, elk and deer. During winter months, the property provides an important migration corridor for elk using the South Park Feedground.
Casper Region -- RBJ Ranch, Ron and Barb Brunner
Owned by Ron and Barb Brunner, the RBJ Ranch West LLC is a cattle and hay ranch located in both Crook and Weston counties in northeast Wyoming. The RBJ hosts a variety of habitats from ponderosa pine savannah in the Black Hills to sagebrush grasslands and short-grass prairie. The wildlife- and hunter-conscious ranch is home to a diversity of wildlife.
Renovated alfalfa fields and installation of new irrigation systems on several of their properties has created excellent forage for both mule and white-tailed deer, elk and pronghorn. The ranch has cattle grazing restrictions in some pastures, welcoming wildlife to use the quality cover and forage. In grazed pastures, the Brunners have developed water sources, fences and grazing rotations to ensure pasture health is maintained or improved. These pastures continue to provide residual forage and cover for wildlife.
The Brunner’s view wildlife on their ranch as neighbors and a resource opportunity for physically-challenged hunters. In 2010, Ron and Barb created Outdoor Adventures for the Physically Challenged, a nonprofit organization that hosts and guides physically-challenged hunters. The RBJ provides this unique, therapeutic opportunity to handicapped and terminally-ill hunters from across the country. Ron and Barb have renovated buildings, built blinds and modified vehicles for these special sportsmen who come to the ranch to fulfill their hunting dreams. The Brunner’s nonprofit organization and its volunteers cover all of the expenses associated with providing the hunts, including transportation, lodging, meals and licenses. The ranch also allows limited free access for other hunters or may request a donation to their charity.
The Landowner of the Year awards are presented to landowners who have demonstrated outstanding practices in wildlife management, habitat improvement and conservation. Some of these landowners also cooperate with the department to provide public hunting and fishing access. Recipients are nominated by department employees and selected by the regional department leadership teams.
(Contact: Mark Nelson (307) 777-4579)