The LU Sheep Company was established in 1899 near Grass Creek, Wyoming, and is located on both sides of Highway 120 between Thermopolis and Meeteetse. In recent years the ranch sold the last of the sheep and is now primarily a cattle ranch-in spite of the ranch name.
Most of the ranch's grazing resource useable from June through December is located in a series of long east-west valleys between sleep, dry ridges in the 10-12 inch precipitation zone. Good grass is found along the tops of the ridges but it is far from water. There is little accessible forage along the slopes of the ridges. The north exposures are heavily covered with juniper and pine while the south exposures are steep and rocky with little soil or vegetation. Thus only the valley floors, the meander belt of small streams support good forage accessible to our cattle. These valley floors vary in width from only a few yards to about a half mile. But they are long, 15 miles along Grass Creek, 8 miles along Enos Creek, 7 miles along Left Hand Creek and 5 miles along Little Grass Creek. Elevation ranges from 5800 feet at the lower end of Left Hand Creek to 8400 feet above the headwaters of Grass Creek. None of these creeks cany much water though our ranch; they do not reach to the forested snow catch areas to the west which are drained by the Wood River and Gooseberry Creek. Springs in the headwaters areas are too low for development of gravity flow pipeline to water the grassy ridge tops. Thus our ranch is heavily dependent on grazing the valley floors within the streamside zones.
Complicating management of these pastures is the ownership pattern. Almost all the valley floors are state or private land. The steep slopes and grassy ridge tops are mostly federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Only Grass Creek maintains a perennial stream flow. In some stream reaches the channel is downcut and no longer subirrigates the valley floor. In other reaches the stream is near the valley floor soil surface and these areas support heavy stands of willows. Our cattle prefer these valley floors and concentrate their grazing here, especially in late summer and fall. Of course our cowboys do not like to work cattle in these same willow bottoms.Most of our other streams are ephemeral-or perennial only in short sections. The Left Hand Creek pasture, particularly, is sandier and a drier allotment with very little stream flow.
We have developed several reservoirs for livestock use and wildlife habitat Left Hand Reservoir is a critical water supply for that dry pasture. Of course livestock concentrate around the edges of the reservoir--another riparian area--and there is very little riparian vegetation. We need to fence this reservoir and pipe the water to troughs below. The next reservoir below maintains more riparian and aquatic vegetation and has more use by waterfowl.
Our ranch also has some erosion problems in our winter and spring grazing allotments. Gillies Draw in a pasture east of Highway 120 begins with a huge head cut into a large gulch. Here there is no cut down gully above. Apparently underground water dissolves the salts and creates soil slumping where it emerges at the head of the gulch. The valley above is well covered with good vegetation. Is this a case of natural erosion? In either case, how can we stop this process and preserve our limited soil resource?
We also have a downcutting gully or gulch in Little Buffalo Basin, a pasture north of Gooseberry Creek. This gully begins in the adjacent hills and reaches across much of the basin pasture. This gulch contains at least two generations or periods of erosion. The older gulch contains a smaller gully in its bottom. This cut gulch is so huge and its sides near vertical that our cattle cannot reach a large portion of the pasture. How can we, or is there any feasible method, solve this serious erosion problem and impediment to proper use of the pasture.
Through the slides shown in the oral presentation and these written comments I meant to show you some of the problems and limiting situations of our ranch. The productivity of our ranching operation clearly depends on wise use of our valley floors and streamside zones. The physical constraints of topography and the availability of water severely limit our management approach and economic solution. Some problems have neither an obvious cause nor a clear solution. We are aware of many of the problems. We invite your help in finding feasible methods of solving some of them.
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