Ranch Crew Introduction — Jeremy Menkhaus

Summer 2017 marked the inaugural Ranch Crew course and, despite the course’s nascency, it felt like anything but Ranch Crew’s first rodeo (although in its future form, hopefully its actual first rodeo event will be incorporated). Ranch Crew is a two-week rangeland practicum in August held across the state of Wyoming. Divided into two primary sections, Ranch Crew begins with an intensive didactic and field curriculum in rangeland ecology and ranch management before sending crewmembers out to complete a rapid assessment on a working ranch.

The 2017 crew was comprised of four Yale School of Forestry students, two University of Wyoming students and one Sheridan College student. The Ranch Crew completed a rapid assessment of Currant Creek Ranch, a 2,000+ acre cattle ranch in Sweetwater County, Wyoming near the Flaming Gorge Dam.

Sunset view from the crew’s field campsite along the Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

The rapid assessment was done in coordination with the Currant Creek Ranch owners, Wyoming Trout Unlimited, and Wyoming Game and Fish. Currant Creek Ranch specifically was chosen because of the landowners’ multi-use management objectives and their desire to maintain a working cattle ranch while utilizing best management practices. The nuances of Currant Creek Ranch’s multi-stakeholder dynamic made it an ideal, real-world learning laboratory for such a practicum. Additionally, the Currant Creek Ranch is rich in historical, social and ecological value and provided a wonderful opportunity for the crewmembers to better appreciate the benefits and challenges of conservation-minded western land management. (In fact, Currant Creek Ranch is rumored to have been one of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s hideouts and the spot where they stashed their feloniously-acquired fortune…)

Wild hops growing over Mountain Big Sagebrush is a remnant from past land use history.

Ranch Crew is an ongoing collaboration between Sheridan College, University of Wyoming, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Plank Stewardship Initiative, and the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative. Ranch crew training began in April with weekly meetings to introduce the students to the project and the relevant topics. These meetings provided an opportunity for the students to meet the key individuals involved in the project, learn about the natural history of Wyoming, rangeland plant identification, standard sampling protocols and GIS mapping techniques. Guests lecturers from University of Wyoming, Yale School of Forestry, Trout Unlimited and other relevant subject matter experts conducted the weekly spring meetings.

In August the team arrived in northeastern Wyoming near Sheridan College, which would serve as their home base for the classroom and field course components of Ranch Crew, before continuing down to the The Nature Conservancy’s Red Canyon Ranch near Lander, Wyoming, and finally the Currant Creek Ranch in southwestern Wyoming. The experience gave students not only a comprehensive curriculum in rangeland management but also a taste of Wyoming’s wide variety of ecoregions – from the montane forests of the Middle Rockies to the intermontane sage brush ecosystem of the Wyoming Basin. The following was the 2017 Ranch Crew schedule:

August 12 (Sheridan) – Arrive in Sheridan
August 13 (Sheridan) – Rangeland Taxonomy with Brian Mealor and Rachel Mealor (Professors at Sheridan College and University of Wyoming)
August 14 (Sheridan) – Rangeland Taxonomy and Weed Management with Brian Mealor and Rachel Renne (Graduate Student at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies)
August 15 (Sheridan) – Weed Management with Brian Mealor
August 16 (Sheridan) – Grazing Planning and Grazing Impacts with Brian Mealor (Professor at Sheridan College and University of Wyoming)
August 17 (Sheridan) – Grazing Planning and Financial Management with John Heyneman (Executive Director of the Plank Stewardship Initiative) and Tris Munsick (Agricultural Economist with the Plank Stewardship Initiative)
August 18 (Ucross Ranch/Lander) – Financial Management Wrap-up and Public Land Management Considerations followed by team dinner at Cowfish Restaurant
August 19 (Lander) – Stream Management at Red Canyon Creek with John Coffman (Land Steward at Red Canyon)
August 20 (Currant Creek Ranch) – Tour of the Property and Surrounding Public Lands with Nick Walrath (Green River Project Manager at Wyoming Trout Unlimited) and Kevin Spence (Habitat Biologist at Wyoming Game and Fish)
August 21 (Free Day) – Open Day for Relaxing, Fishing or Eclipse Viewing
August 22 (Currant Creek Ranch) – Sampling
August 23 (Currant Creek Ranch) – Sampling
August 24 (Currant Creek Ranch) – Sampling and Stakeholder Interviews
August 25 (Currant Creek Ranch) – Sampling and Deed History Research
August 26 (Currant Creek Ranch) – Final Wrap-up
August 27 (Disperse) – Travel

While the 2017 crew learned an immense amount and had an invaluable experience, we are confident that subsequent years will only improve, given the rich subject matter and the supporting staff and institutions behind the initiative. We would like to thank everyone involved for making it such a rewarding, enriching experience!

The view from the Currant Creek Ranch headquarters.