SHERIDAN — It will be cowboy-boots-on-the-ground knowledge meets technology-driven science at a land stewardship program being launched in Ucross.
The program is proposed to span three years and serve as a testing and demonstration site for effective land management on the high plains.
Raymond Plank, owner of the Ranch at Ucross and Apache Corporation — a global, $50-billion oil and natural gas company — has teamed up with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies to analyze and document myriad land stewardship issues common to Wyoming and surrounding areas.
These include cattle grazing, water use and availability, live and dead tree management, health of flood plains and riparian areas, native and invasive insects and weeds, native bird and mammal populations, using hunting as an effective stewardship tool and fire management, among others.
Chadwick Oliver, professor of forestry and environmental studies at Yale, and Devin Routh, a graduate student in the Yale forestry department, flew from Connecticut to Wyoming last week to begin initial analyses and establish contact with state legislators, University of Wyoming staff and students and others interested in land stewardship.
“This is a remember-why-you-live-here project,” Plank said.
The mountains, the pristine rivers and the wide open spaces of Wyoming are what draw tourists and what make Wyomingites proud of their land, Plank said.
Ranchers, farmers, hikers, young and old alike all interact with that land and have a stake in preserving it while maintaining their western way of life.
“It’s all a question of balance,” Oliver said. “Land stewardship is not an absolute. What’s right today may not be right tomorrow.”
Oliver visited Ucross five years ago to help determine the best trees and shrubs for the area. Plank, who has a longstanding interest in stewardship, has planted 35,000 trees on his 22,000 acres. Plank and Oliver saw eye-to-eye and the idea for the land stewardship program began.
According to Oliver, the Ucross Foundation is well situated to foster land stewardship by becoming a model laboratory that will support, promote and demonstrate effective stewardship practices for high plains country.
The artist’s residency program at Ucross and Plank’s perspective on the high plains compared to the rest of the world will support a program that will be as much about stewardship as it is about educating the greater public.
“Ucross places such an emphasis on empowering others to do things,” Oliver said. “It’s atmosphere is one that is open and collaborative.”
Combine that with the intuitive, on-the-ground knowledge residents of Wyoming possess about natural resources and land use, and Oliver thinks it is a perfect match.
“Effective management means efficiency on the one hand, but not losing the unique lifestyle that makes the high plains special. That is, we need to manage for as many values as possible — and make no more ‘tradeoffs’ or ‘sacrifices’ among values than necessary,” Oliver said.
Routh and another Yale graduate student will spend the summer at Ucross, gathering data through GIS mapping, vegetation sampling and analyses of area forests, grasslands, wildlife and water flow. A third graduate student will split his or her time between Ucross and Yale, where access to specialized technology will enable development of maps, models and other scientific tools.
The Yale team hopes their time at Ucross will enable them to develop new computer tools for analysis that can be applied to forestry science around the world.
According to Routh, the team also plans to make their models and tools “agnostic,” meaning they will not require a specific software platform to access and run. Patterns of land use and relationships between values such as grazing and stream erosion and purity will all be modeled mathematically and kept as a paper record in addition to electronic. This will enable the information to be applicable around the world so land can be managed according to probability and not the specifics of Ucross.