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