Hellyers ranch on South Pass
Lander - Although the Hellyer family has ranched in the Lyons Valley east of Lander since 1972, they consider themselves “newcomers.”
Originally in the outfitting business for 13 years, Rob and Martha Hellyer purchased part of their ranch in 1972 and have continued to add property over the years. They bought their first Hereford cattle 1974. In 1980 they began converting to Black Angus bulls, and now run mostly black cattle. They market their calves through video auction and ship in the fall, and Martha also runs a little band of sheep.
Their operation consists of private land near Lander and on South Pass, and BLM leases on South Pass through both the Lander and Rock Springs BLM offices. They raise pasture and hay, with flood and pipe irrigation and two small sprinklers.
Rob and Martha are progressive thinkers in their operation and have found electronic identification of their calves is profitable. Through Ag Info Link the Hellyers do third-party age and source verification of their all-natural certified cattle. This year they also completed their no-hormone certification.
“We do all of this voluntarily to satisfy the market, not through any government regulations,” comments Martha. She also keeps up their Beef Quality Assurance program certification.
For several years the Hellyers diversified their operation through outfitting and running a small sawmill. “You can trade logs and boards for just about anything,” says Rob.
The Hellyer Ranch is a family operation, including Rob and Martha’s grown children, Jim and wife Timmery, George and wife Amanda, Jessica and husband Dave Fehringer and nine grandchildren.
“Our kids grew up here, and then went off and did things, and it wasn’t long until they all wanted to come back to this part of the world,” Martha remarks.
“Then the ranch has to change to make room for more families,” Rob adds.
Challenges facing agriculture today include much of the population being far removed from the land, predators, frivolous lawsuits, excessive and unfair government regulations, and endangered species.
“With the Endangered Species Act, we were going to save the bald eagle, now we’re going to save a certain species of mouse we don’t even know that’s there,” Rob explains. “With the Clean Water Act, we were going to clean up Lake Eerie. That’s great, but now they would like it to affect every little puddle. We were going to clean up the smog in Los Angeles and Pittsburg with the Clean Air Act, and now we’re concerned about dust coming off of a field.”
Martha adds, “It’s the interpretation of the law these bureaucracies, these agencies, will make and enforce that’s killing us.”
Their livestock have suffered wolf predation over the past four years. “Although the kills haven’t been confirmed, except in 2009,” Martha says, “we’re losing three percent more calves annually than before the wolves were there.”
Environmental groups also cause increased scrutiny. “Western Watersheds Project (WWP) is on our allotment, but there is no reason for them to be there. WWP files Freedom of Information Act requests with BLM offices, requesting copies of all documents, photos, etc. that go through the offices,” describes Martha. Federal resources are overwhelmed by these demands, consuming dollars, office supplies and commandeering staff from accomplishing their duties.
“WWP is using tactics to impede the process of getting range improvements, because if we do improvements we will continue to meet the standards and guidelines, and they don’t want (that), because they don’t want us to succeed,” Martha explains.
“We’ve hired legal help for years, just so we don’t get left out in the process,” Rob continues.
“We have some positive cooperation with the NRCS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners Program. We’ve also maintained a respectful, professional relationship with the BLM employees and have developed friendships over the years, but the bureaucratic and litigious environment we both work in makes timely progress almost impossible,” Rob says.
“We think our ranch, with its historic trails and thriving grouse population, compliments the landscape. Ironically, their existence on adjacent federal land is used as a hammer against us, so the public loses,” Martha observes.
“We can’t be consumed by this never-ending onslaught,” Rob comments. “We know things are going to change, and we try to adjust. We’ll have to get more out of the private land, because the bureaucracy with the federal land is mounting.”
After learning about rangeland monitoring through UW and Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) in 2004, Martha began cooperative monitoring on their BLM allotments. There are six permittees on one of the Hellyers’ allotments, while they are the only permittee on the other. With long-term annual rangeland monitoring, agencies and permittees have the data to manage and make decisions to maintain rangeland health.
The Hellyers are active in the community and WSGA. In WSGA Rob serves as the delegate to the Public Lands Council, is a past Region Five Vice President, and past chair of the Federal Lands Committee. He is a member of the Fremont County Cattlemen and the Lander Grazing Board.
Martha has held most offices, including President more than once, in the Fremont County CowBelles, Lander Valley CattleWomen, and the Wyoming CattleWomen.
Rob and Martha are glad to be ranching, and say if they had it to do over again, they probably wouldn’t do things too differently.
“This country is great, and we have terrific neighbors,” comments Rob.
“And we love our cows, and our few sheep,” Martha adds with a smile. “We love what we are doing.”