2010 Environmental Stewardship AwardWritten by Christy Martinez
Shirley Basin – After reviewing the ranch’s dedicated, ongoing range improvements, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association has named Ron and Linda Heward’s 7E Ranch as the 2010 Environmental Stewardship Award recipients.
In partnership with WSGA, the Sand County Foundation of Wisconsin also awards the Leopold Conservation Award simultaneously.
With rangeland improvements including fencing pastures, water development and the protection of riparian areas, the Heward family is constantly working on projects to improve some area of their cattle and sheep operation.
“We wouldn’t be able to have the ranch and operate it all these years without each of our six kids helping us,” says Linda of the ranch improvements. “They’ve helped us since day one, have always worked beside us and been there.”
“Ever since our kids were big enough to go out and go with me, they’ve gone and helped and they grew up working,” says Ron. “They know how to work, and they enjoy doing it.”
In 2009 the ranch celebrated its 100-year anniversary, with recognition as a Wyoming Centennial Ranch – a recognition given to places owned and operated by the same family for over 100 years – and a celebration that included 250 people at the headquarters.
“We have about 140 miles of fence to maintain, and we’re building more,” says Ron of the ranch’s rotational grazing system begun three years ago, joking that there must be something wrong with them.
“We have five pastures, and we’re looking to get three more in the system,” says Ron, adding that this summer one pasture will remain untouched all season.
The ranch has installed electric and three-wire suspension fence to divide its pastures. The suspension fence has posts every 80 feet, with twisters to keep the wires separated. “We’ve had one of those fences for 25 or 30 years, and it’s worked really well,” says Ron, adding it requires less maintenance than his other fences. “The key is getting it tight to start with – if it’s not, you’re in big trouble.”
To accommodate the additional pastures the ranch has put in five solar water systems and intends to install two more. Ron says he’s got two trailers outfitted with solar panels, which are moved with the cattle. He plans to build another this winter.
Today the ranch has nearly 20 miles of river that’s completely fenced out and used sparingly. “Up until that point about four miles were where we wintered, and the rest was grazed all summer long,” says Ron. “I’m looking forward to seeing some good things happen on the river, where we can control grazing now.”
In addition to the river several riparian areas on the north end of the ranch were also fenced out. “We can control them now, where before they were just hammered,” says Ron. “We were having some erosion problems, and now we try to leave them at least one full year, and try to leave two, to get some grass built back up.”
With the goal of improving sage grouse habitat the ranch has brush-hogged around 120 acres of sagebrush. “That project’s in its infancy stages, but so far I’m really excited about what I’m seeing out there with grass re-growth,” notes Ron. “It’s making a dramatic difference.”
He says one area where the brush was over five feet tall he was concerned about the four to five inches of mulch that were left behind by the mower. “But that grass is coming back through that, and you know that stuff will lie there for years, rotting and creating fertilizer.”
In the past the WGFD planted 45,000 fish in the Heward’s section of river in a three-year program. In a survey the fourth year they only found one fish from each year. Ron acknowledges that was discouraging, and adds the WGFD wants to try some river enhancement. He says pelicans are a big problem for the fish population.
“They want to go in and fence some of the river to see if we can create some better bank habitat,” says Ron. “I’m excited to do it, but not excited to maintain that fence on the river.”
He says some willow areas will also be fenced to reestablish willow colonies. “They’re there, but they get eaten off every winter when I put my cows in there,” he says. Both the fish and willow projects are expected to go in Summer 2010.
Ron says hunting on the ranch is limited to hunters he knows and welcomes. “We had a guy this year that it was his 52nd year hunting here, and for another it was his 47th,” he notes. “Some hunters came clear from Kansas to our 100-year celebration. The hunters are something we enjoy and we look forward to.”
Of his grazing plan, Ron says, “When we get to where we can leave some of those pastures and not hit them for a full year, I think we’re going to see incredible things happen.”
Another new thing the ranch will do is run its sheep and cattle together in 2010. “For the last 15 to 18 years we’ve run our sheep in one pasture and the cattle in another, but now we’re going to rotate the sheep right with the cows,” says Ron. “The sheep and cows complement each other, but I don’t know how this one-wire electric fence will work with sheep. We may have to go in and do something to make it work.”
In the future Ron plans to split some BLM ground the ranch leases, but that won’t happen for a few years. “I’ve built so much fence lately, I’m tired of building fence,” he laughs.
Of the ranch’s future, Ron says his two oldest grandsons, at 10 and 12 years old, have started to work in the hay field and enjoy working with the operation. Add to them 18 other younger grandchildren, and the ranch’s future looks to be secure.
But first, the Hewards look forward to welcoming 2010 Environmental Stewardship Tour participants to their ranch this summer.