Young Ranchers Take the Reins at Red Canyon Ranch

“Working with these families supports our economic, agricultural and conservation goals.” 

- John Coffman, The Nature Conservancy’s Southern Wyoming Land Steward

For cousins Rhett Abernathy and Garric Martin, ranching means hard work, freedom…and home. 

Both grew up on ranches near Lander, Wyoming that date back more than three generations. 

This tradition continues as Rhett and Garric take over livestock and grazing management at The Nature Conservancy’s Red Canyon Ranch south of Lander. 

They'll work closely with John Coffman, the Conservancy's new southern Wyoming land steward.

Where Have All the Ranchers Gone?

Ranching runs in Rhett and Garric’s veins. But the young producers also know the other side of the coin.

Young ranching families are growing scarce in the western U.S., where the average rancher is more than 60 years old. 

Beginner producers are challenged with rising land costs and not enough capital to get started. 

Keeping rural communities intact in the face of drought and development is a tall order. These days, land seems more valuable in pieces than in whole parts. 

“We know firsthand the challenges public lands ranchers face with volatile markets and unpredictable weather,” says Coffman. 

“This partnership enables young producers to build a successful business while conserving land and waters. Working with these families supports our economic, agricultural and conservation goals.” 

A Family Endeavor 

Garric and his wife, Amber, are raising four children. Rhett and his wife, KD, have a two-year-old daughter. 

“Ranching is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” says Rhett. “This opens the door to our future.”  

“Without this partnership, it would be virtually impossible for us to start our own ranching business,” says Garric. 

“My grandpa – a self-starter – taught me the business side of ranching, farming, mechanics and machinery,” he says. “My uncle, Rhett's dad, taught me a lot about caring for the land and cattle. My parents have always supported my ranching dream.” 

Red Canyon Ranch 

Red Canyon’s steep, rugged foothills and red-rock cliffs are a stunning backdrop. 

At nearly 5,000 acres, the ranch has more than 30,000 acres of state and federal leases. 

Large predators such as mountain lion, black bear and a variety of birds of prey attest to the vitality of this working ranch. 

Purchased by the Conservancy in 1993, the ranch has been a vital testing ground for best conservation grazing practices and research. 

Red Canyon Ranch is an iconic ranch, and living and operating there is an opportunity of a lifetime,” says Rhett. 

The rangeland, says Garric, is “home to some of the best mountain grass in the state and has been well managed for so many years.” 

A Place for Inspiration 

With its long tradition as a site for public education, Red Canyon Ranch will continue to host education and research activities

“I’m working with local teachers to develop interactive events that will engage young people,” says Coffman. 

Plans are already underway for a Bioblitz, which will bring children and adults out on the ranch to count plants, bugs, lizards and fish

Scientific research is ongoing, including a project focused on how grazing methods relate to native bees. 

“My hope is to teach people how to recognize and sustain a healthy and productive ranch while inspiring connections to the natural world. We all know that if people care about this special place, they’ll work to conserve it,” says Coffman.


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