Apache Foundation receives 2017 Landowner of the Year award



lindseyaward_520.pngNathan Lindsey, conservation and steward manager, North America Land Group, receives the 2017 Landowner of the Year award from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The 20,000 acres that make up the Ucross Ranch on the northern edge of Wyoming is every bit as breathtaking as when Apache founder Raymond Plank happened upon it 50 years ago, about the same time the company struck oil an hour's drive east near the town of Recluse, Wyoming.

But the land at the foot of the Big Horn range, which thanks to Plank is home to the Ucross Foundation and its renowned artist retreat, presented a formidable maintenance challenge when the Apache's not-for-profit Apache Foundation took over management of the working ranch in 2005.

Fast forward to 2017. Through a rigorous and dedicated effort to operate the ranch as a model for profitable and sustainable land-use management, the Foundation has reversed the overgrazing, erosion and depletion of fish and wildlife that once posed a threat.

Now the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has declared the Ucross Ranch Landowner of the Year for the Sheridan Region, one of seven areas recognized by the state. The honor goes to Wyoming landowners who have demonstrated outstanding practices in wildlife management, habitat improvement and conservation techniques on their property.

Pic2_520.jpgPictured left to right at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Landowner of the Year award ceremony are: Scott Talbot, director, Wyoming Game and Fish Department; Travis Cundy, aquatic habitat biologist; Nathan Lindsey; and Keith Culver, president, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission.

The recognition, which credits the ranch as "an excellent example of stewardship and collaboration at a large working ranch," follows the Society for Range Management's National Excellence in Rangeland Stewardship Award recognition of Ucross in 2014. That honor was itself preceded by the Society's state award to the ranch in 2012.

grass_520.jpgShort-duration grazing helps grasses regrow naturally as cattle rotate pastures.

"It's all about good stewardship of the land," said Tim Custer, senior vice president – North America Land, Real Estate and Government Affairs. "It's about how we manage the grasses,  foothills, streams and rivers. Ucross is a great example of responsibility and sustainability."

In its nomination, the Game and Fish Department cited the ranch's short-duration rotation grazing strategy that maximizes the time grasses can grow before being grazed again. Utilizing temporary electric fencing and stock water development, Ucross has reduced bare ground on rangelands to less than 2 percent from about 50 percent.

"Our approach has been holisitic," said Nathan Lindsey, conservation and stewardship manager at Ucross, Wyoming. "We wanted more grass. Instead of going out and planting it, we looked at the reasons why it was lacking and looked to Mother Nature to fix the problem."

Creeks_520.jpgNathan Lindsey and Travis Cundy from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department discuss stream bank restoration.

Apache Foundation partnered with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Access Yes program to provide public access across parts of the ranch to state trust land, especially given its diverse rangelands, irrigated meadows and stream corridors. The habitat, home to everything from white-tailed deer to wild turkey to waterfowl, provides the public with hunting and fishing opportunities.

Pic5_520.jpgThe Apache Foundation partnered with Access Yes program to open public access routes across parts of the Ucross Ranch.

A four-year effort between the state's Game and Fish Department and Apache Foundation helped to restore the ranch's stream banks along the Clear and Piney creeks and improve stream habitats supporting a self-sustaining fishery of mostly brown trout.

The problem: A coffer dam was blocking the movement of fish upstream, threatening trout and other fish that seek refuge in cooler water during the late summer. It was replaced with a ramped structure that functions like a natural stream riffle. The structure's slope is gentle enough for fish to swim upstream and the surface provides sheltered areas where fish can rest.

Pic6_520.jpgThe Apache Foundation has constructed several partner projects to help fish movements along the Piney and Clear creeks, such as this fish ladder to help fish bypass the dam.

Another project involved retrofitting a concrete dam with a so-called fish ladder to allow fish to move around and bypass the dam. Together, the two projects reconnected fish movement along 30 contiguous miles of the Piney and Clear creeks. "These migration corridors have been closed off for approximately 100 years," said Lindsey. "Now they are passable to all fish species for many generations to come."

Last year, Game and Fish officials and Trout Unlimited joined with Ucross to track the fish near the diversion structures, implanting brown trout and native white and longnose suckers with transmittable tags . What's more, two classes in the nearby Clearmont school system are assisting with the monitoring efforts through Trout Unlimited's Adopt a Trout program.

More than 30,000 trees and shrubs have been planed since 2007 when the Apache Foundation first partnered with the Yale School of Forestry.

State officials lauded such partnerships, which include the Wyoming Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and the Yale School of Forestry. The decade-old Yale partnership has resulted in the planting of about 30,000 trees, among them boxelder, chokecherry and spruce, along river and stream beds and adjacent uplands.

"It's been a long time in coming," said Lindsey. "Mother Nature works slowly." But he added, "The results are amazing."


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