Environmental Stewardship TourWritten by Christy Martinez
Buffalo – This year, Ryan and Teresa Fieldgrove, who ranch in northeast Johnson County, were honored with the 2011 Leopold Conservation Award, and on June 21 they hosted a crowd from across the state to demonstrate the exemplary conservation practices on their ranch.
“It truly is an honor to accept this award on behalf of my family, and to host you all here for the Stewardship Tour. It is very humbling to win this award – with conservation or stewardship we can always look across the table and see somebody that does a better job, or has a different way of doing things,” said Ryan Fieldgrove, who was joined for the awards ceremony by his wife and kids, Anna, Tommy and Eylsa.
Program partners in the Leopold Conservation Award are Encana Oil & Gas, Peabody Energy, Farm Credit Services of America, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Sand County Foundation.
In addition to the tour and awards ceremony, Governor Matt Mead also declared June 21 as Wyoming Environmental Stewardship Day.
“This program is in its sixteenth year here in Wyoming, and it allows us to recognize ranchers who exemplify environmental stewardship across the state. Of those 16 years, we have had three national winners and numerous regional winners,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Director Jim Magagna of the program’s success in Wyoming.
“The Sand County Foundation seeks to be a leading voice for private land conservation in America, and this is one symbol of the way we do that,” said Kevin McAleese of the Sand County Foundation. “Aldo Leopold said, ‘One of the greatest challenges that man kind faces is to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.’ We believe the recipients of this award are genuine representatives of that motto and lifestyle.”
McAleese said there are three goals in the Leopold Conservation Award – to say thank you, to build relationships and to educate the public.
“We were all taught to say ‘thank you’ at a young age, and we feel that it is necessary to express our gratitude towards the families that have been dedicated to their land, growing food and raising families,” he said, adding, “We hope that we can build durable relationships with people. It helps to promote learning, communication and resolving difficult issues that we as agriculturalists may face.”
Finally, he said, “We hope this program can reach out to the public to help deepen appreciation for what agriculture does for conservation. We think the environmental and economical benefits that private land owners provide are under-represented in public awareness, and we hope this award can shine some light on them and raise public awareness and appreciation for the matter.”
Ryan and Teresa have spent the last 10 years working on a conservation program that is both unique to and successful for their operation.
“We understand that some of our practices are good for our ranch, but should be tailored for other operations, and conservation should be tailored to different lifestyles and specific operations,” added Fieldgrove.
The Fieldgroves began their conservation efforts by cross-fencing their pastures to more effectively utilize their grass, and the latest fencing techniques include using smooth wire as the bottom strand so migrating antelope can travel more easily along their traditional migratory path.
“To be sustainable, any practices we have implemented have been designed to save us time or money, or both, especially with our lifestyle of working off of the ranch,” said Fieldgrove.
The coalbed methane (CBM) industry is what spurred the Fieldgroves’ move out to the ranch, so that they could see first hand how the methane movement was affecting their land, and it allowed them to be directly involved, and to oversee the changes on their ranch. While the CBM movement didn’t turn out to be as successful as planned, payments from surface damages helped the Fieldgroves keep their operation through tough times.
After the Fieldgroves moved out to their operation the hard times hit and, with a combination of five years of drought and two years of grasshopper infestation, three times the family thought about selling the ranch.
“If it hadn’t been for surface damage payments from coal bed methane activity and the feed assistance from the Farm Services of America (FSA) and our basic conservation plan, we wouldn’t be here today,” stated Fieldgrove.
That was when the Fieldgroves started looking at more ecologically sound options to help their ranch along.
“In 2000 we decided to try something new. We went to the Weed and Pest with the idea of trying goats to graze on the weeds. The Weed and Pest was supportive, and offered to pay for the electric fence to enclose 10 acres. We did some research, and then we headed to Texas. With a trailer-full of Boer and Spanish cross goats and a guard dog we returned home and turned them out on our 10-acre fenced off plot. We figured that they would be there for two weeks to a month eating on the leafy spurge, but they cleaned it up in seven days,” noted Fieldgrove.
Ryan discovered that goats are a viable resource to use in weed management because they will eat the noxious weeds but leave the grass alone, and he said the goats came after the realization that some things simply wouldn’t work the same way as they had in the past.
“During the time my father ran the ranch, he figured that he spent over $1 million on leafy spurge control and, in fact, that’s exactly what I remember spending my childhood doing from the time I was old enough to know how to mix chemicals. I knew, when my parents retired and I took over the ranch, that I couldn’t afford to maintain the status quo and, frankly, it wasn’t working,” said Ryan.
The goats have proven themselves a worthwhile investment not only on the Fieldgrove operation, but to neighboring ranches as well.
“In 10 years we went from a 20 to 25 percent leafy spurge infestation to less than one percent now,” noted Fieldgrove.
The Fieldgroves have also taken steps towards being more “user friendly” in terms of their sage grouse inhabitants, and have implemented ideas such as escape ramps in their water tanks, and not running their cattle on active sage grouse leks.
“To me, conservation is a mindset not an exact science. I believe that any conservation practice should be sustainable,” stated Fieldgrove.