Uinta County: Mountains, valleys, deserts and a commitment to family ranchingWritten by Jennifer Womack
Uinta County’s landscape — spanning from the Uinta Mountains on its southern flanks to the deserts in its northern reaches — is varied. It doesn’t take long to drive across the county, but within the relatively small area there are productive haylands, tree lined riparian areas, sagebrush covered range and a place the Wyoming residents who live there are proud to call home.
Tucked in Wyoming’s southwest corner, Uinta County finds Utah and Idaho to be far more accessible than much of the Cowboy State. It’s a scenario that sometimes leaves local residents feeling a bit like Wyoming’s forgotten citizens. It also works the other way with many Wyoming residents unaware of the country that surrounds communities like Mountain View, Lyman, Robertson, Lonetree, Evanston, Urie, Fort Bridger and Carter.
Yet, the agricultural families who live there have a lot in common with their fellow ranchers from across the state. Input costs, federal regulations and a threatened ability to pass their family ranches on to the next generation, are among their concerns. One area ranch was appalled when an estate tax attorney advised that they might just have to sell a chunk of the ranch in order to settle up with the federal government over taxes. The area’s oldest ranches were established in the 1850s. Now operated for six and seven generations by the same families, they fully intend to maintain their presence on the landscape.
Yet Uinta County ranchers have their own unique challenges, too, the most noticeable of which is access to a livestock auction facility. It’s off to Colorado, Ogden, Utah, Torrington or Riverton for a market and they’re all a fair distance away.
Ranches visited by the Roundup in Uinta County averaged about 7000’ feet in elevation at their base properties. In many cases they summer their cattle up to 3000’ feet higher than that. As Fort Bridger rancher Ron Micheli pointed out, ag diversification is hard to come by at that altitude. It’s amazing, however, to witness the conservative and creative practices implemented on the area’s ranches.
It’s also, as Micheli noted, a difficult scenario in which to cut input costs. Selling off the haying machinery and “wintering out,” as some ranchers have been able to do in other parts of the state, isn’t much of an option for most Uinta County ranchers. It’s winter country with most ranchers ensuring there’s at least two ton of hay per cow in the ranch haystacks come wintertime.
Uinta County Conservation District Chairman and rancher Shaun Sims says a Colorado entrepreneur’s plans to pipe water from the Flaming Gorge and Green River areas to Colorado’s Front Range has earned the attention of area irrigators. It’s been met with a similar proposal backed by Colorado communities. Regardless of the sponsoring entity, it’s a scenario southwestern Wyoming ranchers will be watching closely.
Irrigation water and the winter hay it produces for livestock is the cornerstone of Uinta County agriculture. Ag Statistics says hay was harvested on 46,000 acres in the county in 2008. A small percentage of that was alfalfa. Alfalfa production averages 2.2 tons per acre compared to an average 1.7 ton per acre from native meadows.
Sheep in Uinta County numbered 46,000 head in 2009 compared to 35,000 head of cattle. Brand inspector Howard Peterson says an increasing percentage of the cattle are yearlings.
Wind development arrived more quickly in the Evanston area than it has in other parts of the states. Some ranchers welcome its appearance on the landscape, while others are less sure about the new presence.
Get off the Interstate and enjoy the scenery next time you travel through Uinta County, Wyoming. There’s an awful lot worth seeing and several people worth meeting.