Taking the next step in conservation:Kane family receives Environmental Stewardship AwardWritten by Saige Albert
Sheridan – In 2016, Kane Ranch of Sheridan was selected as the Wyoming Environmental Stewardship Award winner. Kane Ranch/SR Cattle Company are owned and operated by David and Terri Kane, their son Nate and David’s mother Arlene.
“We are honored to be recognized for this award,” says David. “We have a real passion for ranching around here, and we are always looking for ways to improve.”
With a focus on increasing productivity and efficiency, David comments, “When we increase productivity, we are making the environment that we run in healthier – whether that is in water management, weed and pest control, grazing management or other work.”
The Kanes have implemented a variety of innovative strategies for improving their ranch land.
Conserving and developing water on their operation has long been important to the Kane family.
Starting in 1994, they began to install pipeline systems across both units of the ranch – the HN Ranch and the E Bar U. The initial eight miles of pipelines pump water to storage tanks placed on hills. The tanks gravity feed 14 stock water tanks and supply water to 13 pastures.
In 2005 and 2009, the Kanes added additional pipelines and water tanks, and supplied more pastures with water.
“We’ve worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in different projects, including putting in pipelines,” says Terri. “We have 19 miles of pipelines between the two ranches.”
Prior to developing their water, the Kanes comment that much of the ranch was nearly impossible to utilize.
“The distribution of the cattle makes for more even grazing in the pastures,” says David. “The water tanks also provide great benefit for the wildlife.”
Terri adds, “We have also drilled new water wells, and in later years, as the solar technology evolved, we converted pump jacks powered by gas engines to solar wells.”
In addition to saving fuel by utilizing solar systems, the Kanes no longer have to worry about the maintenance associated with the pump jacks. The solar panels are tailored to each well to accommodate for varied well depth and flow rates, allowing the family to provide adequate water for all their cattle.
While the coalbed methane industry was flourishing in the area, the Kane family took advantage of the available produced water to irrigate a number of their fields through five center pivots. Today, that water is no longer available, and they have returned to dryland hay production, though David notes they are exploring options for returning water to the area.
While they improved utilization of their ranchland by developing water, the Kane family has worked to reduce noxious weed challenges on the ranch.
“Leafy spurge was a huge problem for a long time on our place,” David says. “Through the years, chemical application was the only way to control leafy spurge. Because the roots of leafy spurge can grow as deep as 18 feet, chemical has a hard time killing the entire plant.”
In 1998, they began to utilize flea beetles as biological control for leafy spurge. Flea beetles eat the spurge, killing it, and when the plant is eliminated, the beetles die.
“Since they don’t migrate, it is necessary to collect and redistribute them to other infested areas,” David explains. “This is accomplished by sweeping through the spurge patch with a butterfly net and transporting them in a cooled container to another location. It is imperative that this process continues so we can keep the population of beetles growing and spreading.”
The family has controlled thousands of acres of leafy spurge using the bugs.
Converting to grass
Decadent sagebrush stands also dominated much of the ranch prior to intensive control efforts implemented by the Kanes.
“Before 1991, we managed sagebrush with chemicals using aerial application,” says David. “Since 1991, we have utilized controlled burning with great results.”
By burning several thousand acres of old, decadent sagebrush stands, the family has been able to triple forage production.
While weeds provided a challenge, the Kanes have also reduced prairie dog numbers to increase vegetation and carrying capacity while reducing erosion.
“We used to have close to 1,000 acres of prairie dog towns, and it looked like the ground had been plowed,” David says. “The prairie dogs were so overpopulated that the dirt would drift like snow.”
They aggressively controlled the prairie dogs to reduce erosion and improve pasture.
“We’ve increased our carrying capacity a lot,” he says. “In 1991, we were running about 7,000 animal unit months on the E Bar U. Today, we are running over 10,000.”
“Not only do the cattle benefit from the increased forage and water production, wildlife are able to thrive,” David continues, noting that they see trophy mule deer, white-tail deer, antelope, elk, sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, pheasant, turkey, Hungarian partridge and many other species on their ranch.
Passion for ranching
Today, David runs the ranch with his son Nate, who recently returned home from college to pursue a career in ranching. Nate is the fifth generation on the ranch.
“I love every aspect of ranching,” David says. “I raised three boys on the ranch, and there isn’t a better place to raise kids.”
He notes that the passion the Kane family has for ranching has been evident for generations. David’s father Chas passed away in June 2015, and David credits his dad for developing his passion for ranching.
“Dad was responsible for putting the ranch that we have today together,” David says. “He was active in every aspect of the ranch right up to the day he died. When we talk about passion, that comes from my dad. His life was the ranch and family. He lived for ranch work. Our family has a passion for ranching, and we’d like to see that continue.”
“Our goal is to keep the operation thriving for generations to come,” David continues. “The management goals that we have on the ranch revolve around the production and utilization of forage.”
He adds, “Our family is in their 132nd year of ranching in Sheridan County. Although tradition is important, we remain progressive and willing to explore new ideas.”
Winning the award
“This award helps to highlight that ranchers and the people working on the ground are the real environmentalists,” David says, “and we’re so proud and honored to receive it.”
“We’re pleased to have a ranch that has been a long-time faithful member and active supporter of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) selected as winners of the Environmental Stewardship Award,” says WSGA Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “At the same time, we’re somewhat saddened that Chas Kane is no longer with us to be recognized with the other members of his family.”
WSGA Programs Director Haley Lockwood adds, “We are proud to honor such hard working families and look forward to showcasing the 2016 winner’s operation next summer. They are a few of the many land stewards who keep Wyoming’s iconic open spaces alive and well.”
A tour of Kane Ranch will be held in June or July 2016. More information about the tour will be printed in the Roundup as it is available.