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Guardians of the Range Continue Strong

One day the telephone rang, and the rest is history still in the making.

Getting grass to grow for livestock that graze on public lands can seem darn near impossible some days, as any rancher can tell you. The only thing harder is getting a grassroots organization to grow by establishing solid roots strong enough to weather 10 years of public policy changes, drought, changes in board members, fluctuations in membership, fluctuations in financial dynamics and in the ever growing complexities of doing business on public lands.  

The Guardians of the Range have managed to do that and more.

Let’s get back to that telephone call.  I was at my computer writing an article when Clay Gibbons of Worland telephoned.  We hadn’t spoken in several years, but it was an easy, warm Wyoming reconnection.

He got down to business by asking me if I had heard of a new grassroots non-profit group “Guardians of the Range.” I had, but that was about the extent of it.  He began filling things in from around the edges until he got to the point where he wondered if I would be interested considering the position of Executive Director. I explained that I was pretty well tied up with forestry issues and was heading to Washington, D.C. that week.  The best I could offer was that I could speak with the Board of Directors about it upon my return. 

We did, and before I knew it, my focus took a right angle turn down the trail of range science, allotments, distribution of livestock, range improvements, etc. etc. That was 10 years ago.

Ten years filled with some things well done, some not done so well and much needing to be done. What the Guardians have managed to do is remain a viable, relevant and credible grassroots organization long after most others have faded away at the three to five year mark. Sustainability – that’s us!

The Guardians is a 501(c)3 non-profit focused on sound science and community partnerships in public land management with an emphasis on grazing.

We divide our body of work between large policy issues and range projects on members’ allotments. We service the Shoshone National Forest, Bighorn National Forest and the Cody and Worland BLM Resource Management Areas for those permittees who chose to be members.  The organization is open to the general public. We’re proud of the fact that we have members across 15 states and from all walks of life. These are people who support the living history and contributions that public land ranching continues to offer this nation.

The framework of our strategic plan is trifold. That means we try to be relevant and involved on the national, state and local levels. All of these are important components of working on the public lands.  

Currently, we are serving on the statewide task force to take a look at getting a handle on cheatgrass.  This particular silent invader is annihilating forgeable acres and wildlife habitat at lightning speed. It is an organizational priority to help find “solutions and/or major mitigations” to this national rangeland problem.

We’re now working to find funding to repair a road used not just by ranchers but by all the motoring public. The agency involved needs partnerships to solve this long-standing problem once and for all.  We’re glad to try and help.   

For 10 years the Guardians have represented agriculture on the Big Horn Basin Sage Grouse Local Working Group. We chaired the group for six years and are now again in that leadership position. The Guardians have dedicated a huge amount of time and resources on this statewide conservation effort and will continue to do so.

Local efforts include helping to keep animal unit month (AUM) reductions at an absolute minimum, getting water pipelines and stock tanks installed, reservoirs cleaned and fences where they need to be. One of our strong suits is in being able to substantively facilitate the communication between permittees and the agencies. We do this by focusing on where solutions might lie, and how to effectuate them.

We’ve developed a reputation for honesty and calling it like we see it relative to either the permittee or the agency. This seems to be appreciated by most – not all – but most!

The improvements in communication with both the Bureau of Land Management and U. S. Forest Service are ongoing success stories. We have butted heads – don’t think we haven’t, but the bond of mutual respect drives our working relationship.    

The unsung and sometimes frustrating part of our work is in tackling issues that benefit all public land ranchers and not just our members.  Many non-member permittees and communities do not realize that having the infrastructure of an experienced grassroots organization such as the Guardians helps all and not just the members.  

The uniqueness of the Guardians is that we give very personalized service to the permittees and their communities.  However, our national and state efforts have a very far reaching positive effect, which means many benefit from the efforts of Guardians without being part of its support structure.  We would like to turn this organizational dynamic to turn around in a significant way – a goal we have set for ourselves. 

I’ve now been directly involved in multiple use issues for 25 years.  I often think I could write a training manual about what to do and not do in helping to develop and manage a non-profit grassroots organization.  

I don’t know if I will ever write that training manual, but I can assure you that I couldn’t think of a finer organization or group of Americans with which to fill the chapters if I do.

Check us out at guardiansoftherange.org, on Facebook or feel free to contact myself or any of our board members.  Contact information is on the website.

Thank you and Happy Trails!