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Wyoming ranchers call the cattle home, counting their blessings, and their losses

Wyoming rancher, Kent Price

Albert Sommers looks grim—and not just because he’s standing in the pre-dawn dark and cold, restless horse in hand, with a very long day of gathering and sorting cattle ahead of him. It’s something else that’s making him somber this morning.

“Do the math,” he says.

Wyoming rancher, Albert Sommers

“As of what I know now, we had 54 confirmed grizzly kills and 11 or 12 confirmed wolf kills this summer,” he says, describing that as par for the course in an era in which federally-protected predators treat livestock like a silver-platter buffet. And that’s only confirmed kills, as verified by the state of Wyoming. It doesn’t count the additional animals that just vanish from the herd each summer, never to be found.

Sommers says his ranching association averages about 200 such losses each year on the Wind River Range. Some are confirmed kills, others are just suspected. If a missing animal is worth roughly $1,000 to the rancher, it’s not hard to see the bite that bears are taking from the bottom line.

Yes, the state of Wyoming compensates ranchers for those losses, as best it can. But add in the extra stress, strain, and workload protected predators impose on ranchers, who already are facing severe market adversity, and one can see why this is a serious, perhaps existential threat.

The damages and dangers facing ranchers probably can’t be erased, but they could be minimized if grizzlies were removed from the endangered species list, in recognition of their recovery and rebounding numbers, and if management responsibilities were assumed by the states, as the law requires. This is how the Endangered Species Act should work. But wolves and grizzlies are too important to the green lobby as fundraising tools and political pawns. They won’t concede that species recovery has been achieved. That’s where the attorneys at Mountain States Legal Foundation come in.

MSLF won an early round in this fight this summer, defeating an attempt by green activists to halt state removal of documented problem bears. But MSLF is still fighting the larger battle over how these predators should be managed in the future.

In the meantime, Sommers and other family ranchers of the Upper Green River Cattle Association are determined to continue the work their frontier-era forebearers did. Despite the obstacles erected by government bureaucrats and anti-grazing extremists, they are doing the critical work of feeding and clothing America.

Ranchers are doing the critical work of feeding America.

When we visited with the Upper Green River ranchers in early October, it was day four of the fall “gathering”—a time when the cows had already begun to “drift” down from their summer pastures, driven by their instinct to head for shelter before the savage Wyoming winter blows in.

The Drift’s mounted cowboys and cowgirls were there waiting to gather, count, sort, and lead the animals home, or transport them to market. Next summer, the cycle will begin all over again, as it has for more than a century. MSLF is determined to stand alongside the ranchers in court, making sure they are able to make a living and continue putting food on America’s tables.

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