Diamond D deals with predators on ranch’s ‘backbone’
Dubois – “We are a mother cow outfit, and are big Forest Service users. The total acreage we deal with is close to 70,000 acres, and just over 5,000 of those acres are deeded,” explains Diamond D manager Reg Phillips of his operation near Dubois. “The beauty of this place is we’re contiguous with our forest permits. The gate we go in on the first of July is the same gate we come back through the first of October.”
Diamond D cows are composites. Phillips explains they all have a Black or Red Angus base with the rest being mostly Saler. “They get around well, and they need to,” he notes. Everything is wintered at the ranch base, and calves are sold after weaning and preconditioning.
The Diamond D also owns a farm northwest of Shoshoni, which allows Phillips to produce additional hay. “We have 625 irrigated acres here, and another 400 acres of good ground from which we can usually get three cuttings from by Shoshoni. If we need more hay, I either take the cows down there or bring the hay here,” explains Phillips.
Phillips has been with the Diamond D for 29 years, and the ranch has switched hands once during his time as manager. “Jeff and Susan Sussman have owned it for over 20 years and are very involved in the ranch and community. They live in New York City, but spend a lot of time on the ranch and are some of my main help, especially in the summer on the forest,” notes Phillip. The ranch also has three full-time employees and tries to hire a college student in the summer.
The biggest issue for the Diamond D today is the exploding predator population on their forest permits.
“We’re big forest users, and up until about four years ago it was pretty good. We had some wolf and bear predation prior to that, but our cowboy was with the cattle and able to handle it.
“Four years ago we started getting cattle just coming back and coming back, and cattle and elk were crashing fences. From then on it’s been more and more difficult,” says Phillips.
“The wolf thing is crazy. We picked up another new pack this year, so we have three packs on us now. One is in the middle of our forest permit, one is on the east side and another on the west.
“With this new pack we can’t even get ahead of our cattle to find out what we’ve got for death loss. They keep our cattle scattered all over and I’ve seen cattle in places I didn’t think they would ever go. It’s showing in our calf weights this year, too,” says Phillips of the wolf effects.
“With bears we experience predation, but our cattle typically just move a little bit and go on grazing. But a wolf is like a dog, and once they start chasing they don’t want to quit,” he explains.
The politics and number of people involved in the predator issues is another aspect of ranching on Forest Service lands.
“They just keep throwing them back in here. We’re like a ghetto for endangered and landlocked carnivores. If a bear is killing cattle in Cody, they drop him in Moran. If they have one killing cattle on the South Fork, they drop him on us,” explains Phillips.
“The nice thing with the bear is at least he goes to bed for a while in the winter. But, they’re no longer wildlife, unfortunately. They’re now just a part of the landscape and they just don’t care. The grizzly bear and the wolf have taken a lot of the fun out of ranching here, especially for the owners,” adds Phillips.
He notes the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Wolf Division of APHIS’s Wildlife Services have been great to work with from day one. While Phillips will skin out animals whenever he can, and says that is not a fun job, whenever he needs a kill confirmed or a problem animal dealt with, everyone has been very responsive.
Other aspects of public lands ranching include dealing with the multitude of regulations passed down through the court system and managing forage for wildlife, says Phillips. Public use and recreation are also issues in managing the Diamond D.
“Everyone wants us off, and we’ve actually read the letters. People will say they love driving up the mountain in the summer. They love our meadows and how green and beautiful they are, but then they get out and step in a pile of cow manure, and they just wish those cows weren’t there. We just ask what part of the picture they don’t understand, but that’s part of it,” notes Phillips.
The lack of ranching neighbors is another challenge Phillips says is somewhat unique to his area. He only touches one private neighbor, with the rest of his bordering neighbors being the Game and Fish, the Forest Service and the town of Dubios. Phillips notes the community is no longer based on a ranching infrastructure. “It’s difficult to get a crew together for brandings,” he says.
“The benefits include my three children growing up here, prior to the wolf and bear taking over. They were able to see wildlife in its heyday, and loved it,” comments Phillips. “It’s also nice that the owners truly love ranching. It was foreign to them when they bought it, but they love it here and are very keyed in on everything.”