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Wyoming

Red Canyon Ranch




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Fellowship Opportunity: Writer in Residence

From high in the southern Wind River Mountains, the Little Popo Agie River slices deeply through ancient limestone before spilling through slopes ablaze with wildflowers, some abundant, others extremely rare. Starting at nearly 11,000 feet above sea level, the river's plunge to the plains traverses an incredibly healthy and vigorous landscape.

This is Red Canyon Ranch. Six species of large game animals—moose, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and antelope—find forage and cover here. Miles of streams and river foster robust trout populations. Large predators such as mountain lion, black bear and a variety of birds of prey attest to the vitality of this working ranch.

Location
Red Canyon Ranch is located 13 miles south of Lander, in south central Wyoming.

Size
Nearly 5,000 acres of deeded property with 30,000 acres of state and federal leases

Why the Conservancy Selected this Site

In Wyoming, as throughout much of the West today, unbridled development has resulted in habitat destruction and fragmentation. As land is subdivided, associated roads and human development often interrupt wildlife migration corridors, decrease habitat for rare plants and animals, and make ecosystem management ever more difficult. Ranch lands are the final barriers to this type of development in many areas. The economic viability of ranching is, therefore, essential in maintaining Wyoming's open space, native species and healthy ecosystems. Red Canyon Ranch is a vital testing ground for best conservation grazing practices.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Red Canyon Ranch is dedicated to enhancing biological diversity and protecting native plants and animals, while at the same time raising quality cattle. The Conservancy believes that responsible, economically viable livestock grazing can not only coexist but can enhance high quality wildlife habitat. Two young ranching families are managing livestock and grazing at Red Canyon Ranch and passing that tradition on to their children and to the larger community through education activities.

To further our understanding of grazing and fire regimes, the Conservancy is launching a 10-year study. Prior to Europeans' settlement, grasslands and shrublands were structured primarily by fire and to a lesser degree by grazing. These roles have been reversed. Domestic livestock now graze the large majority of western North America, and wildfire occurs at times, frequencies, and intensities that are outside of historical norms. The impact of this reversal is poorly understood.

Critical research into animal behavior also is taking place here. Scientists—from Utah State University’s BEHAVE project—hope by studying the ranch’s cattle they can better understand why animals forage in certain places and at certain times. If science can understand what triggers certain behaviors, then land managers of the future will have a valuable tool in helping ensure that cattle and landscapes thrive.

Plants
For more than 10,000 years, people have been drawn to Red Canyon for the same reason this place remains important today—the wealth and diversity of plants and animals that can be found there.  The earliest people to find shelter, sustenance and solace in Red Canyon were Folsom hunters ten millennia ago. They are best remembered for courageously hunting mammoth and giant bison with spears, but what probably brought them to Red Canyon was its plant resources—the same variety and unique ecosystem that attracted the Conservancy just a decade ago.

From one camp, native people could harvest a multitude of edible and medicinal plants.  By walking a short distance to higher elevations, they could gather flora in different stages of development and thus postpone the labor of actually moving camp. This availability of game and plant foods brought their nomadic descendants back to Red Canyon for untold generations.

Animals
Most people are surprised to learn a herd of 800 cattle grazes Red Canyon Ranch. The Conservancy often is the kind of neighbor ranchers fear. Highly publicized land deals put landowners on edge. And, an army of interns and hydrologists, range scientists and ecologists can look like trouble.

But, cattle play a vital role in preserving sensitive lands. Grazing cattle replace vast herds of elk, wild sheep and bison that once roamed the area. They thin out vegetation that used to be swept clean by fire and help native plants thrive.

Directions

Red Canyon Ranch is located 13 miles south of Lander, in south central Wyoming.

Directions from Lander:

  • Drive south on Highway 28 approximately 10 miles (1 mile past Rawlins junction) to Red Canyon Road (at the Little Popo Agie).
  • Turn right on Red Canyon Road and continue for 3 1/2 miles to the ranch headquarters.

Directions from Farson (South Pass):

  • Travel on Highway 28 (toward Lander) approximately 67 miles to Red Canyon Road (at the Little Popo Agie River).
  • Turn left on Red Canyon Road and continue for 3 1/2 miles to the ranch headquarters.

Directions from Rawlins:

  • Travel on Highway 287 from Muddy Gap junction through Jeffrey City to a T in the road (approximately 114 miles from Rawlins).
  • Turn left on Highway 28 towards Rock Springs and travel for approximately 1 mile.
  • Take a right on Red Canyon Road (at the Little Popo Agie River) and continue for 3 1/2 miles to the ranch headquarters.
Discussion

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