UCROSS — The Ucross Ranch was recently recognized for its rangeland management practices when it received the Society for Range Management’s 2014 National Excellence in Rangeland Stewardship Award.
Ucross won the society’s Wyoming award in 2012. The ranch is operated by the Apache Foundation, a nonprofit subsidiary of Apache Corporation, a global, $50-billion oil and natural gas company founded by Ucross resident Raymond Plank. The Apache Foundation leases the 22,000-acre working cattle ranch from its owner, the Ucross Foundation.
Doug O’Neil, regional vice president of Apache’s Wyoming operations, and Nathan Lindsey, Ucross conservation and stewardship manager, recently attended the Society for Range Management’s meeting in Orlando, Fla., and accepted the award.
“In the tradition of Apache’s AIM UP program, the team at Ucross identified ways to improve the way pastures and grazing operations are managed,” O’Neil said. “These improvements showed how proper stewardship can benefit the land and agricultural producers and improve the bottom line.”
AIM UP — Apache Improvement Method through Understanding Performance — is a program that encourages field-level employees to develop and implement ideas to increase production and reduce operating costs.
At Ucross Ranch, altered grazing management has resulted in several improvements to rangeland.
• Reduction of bare ground in some pastures from 50 percent to nearly zero percent.
• Enabling some ephemeral streams to run water year-round.
• Tripled or quadrupled plant productivity in most pastures.
• Replacement of less desirable grasses with healthier, less invasive grass species.
• Improved wildlife habitat for big game, upland birds and waterfowl.
• Increased stocking rate — more than doubled — which means larger, healthier herds and additional revenue.
Before Apache took over operation of the ranch, cattle were placed in pastures for the entirety of the growing season in high numbers and left there. Cattle tended to concentrate in favorite grazing spots near riparian areas, while ignoring available forage in the pastures. This degraded rangeland health, riparian condition and the ranch’s ability to generate revenue.
Apache solved this problem by adding additional stock water and constructing new pastures using combinations of permanent and temporary electric fence. A unique design that used stock tanks accessible to multiple pastures called “water circles” was developed so that cattle could be moved readily and simply from one pasture to the next. This provided abundant stock and wildlife water while reducing labor costs.
As rangeland health improved and plant productivity increased, stocking rates could also be increased, resulting in a tripled harvest level in 2011 versus 2002. The acreage involved stayed the same, so the overall ranch stocking rate increased.
In 1999, the Ucross Foundation placed a conservation easement, held by the Wyoming Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, on more than 12,000 acres of Ucross Ranch seeking to become a model of land management for northeast Wyoming.