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Range Writing

Travel Troubles

in Column/Range Writing
2705

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

For all the international travel I’ve been fortunate to experience, I’ve had amazingly good luck. But that luck had to run out, and my trip to Canada last week was the time.

I started out by waking up too early in the morning, getting all the ranch work done and then heading to the Jackson airport. It was snowing and cold, but the plane took off for San Francisco without a hitch. I landed with a leisurely layover before my flight to Calgary and that’s when things started to go wrong.

I received a phone call that after 19 blissful wolf-free days on the ranch, a new pack had made its presence known and had scattered the elk from a nearby feedground. I relayed the information back to my family at home and tried not to worry.

The plane was delayed, first for a half-hour, then for another half-hour. By the time all the half-hours went by, it was three hours late and I landed in Canada about 1 a.m.

After being up for some 23 hours by then, I was exhausted and barely able to keep from arguing with the pushy car rental agent who wanted me to purchase insurance I didn’t need, and warned me I was personally responsible for the navigation system I’d rented as a backup (in case I found myself out of cell range in my drive to a rural area where I was slated to speak the next day).

Oops, by then it was already the next day. I went out into the -17° cold to meet my rental “smart car.” My family thinks it is hysterically funny to picture me driving such an advancement in technology, since my normal rig is a feed truck on the ranch.

I find a sleek car in the rental space and look down to see I’m holding a key fob with no key. I pushed the first button on the fob only to find it set off the blast of the car’s emergency alarm.

Although there was no other fool out in the dark and cold to hear the blast, I frantically pushed more buttons, finally shutting off the alarm and getting the danged vehicle unlocked. I hopped in and automatically moved to push the nonexistent key into the nonexistent key-starter – only to find a button. I look again at the key fob and realize my mistake. I push the button, but nothing happens.

After pushing it a few more times, a text appeared on the car’s dash instructing me that if I want to start the car I should push on the brake before hitting the starter button. Okay, done. Yaay, some heat to take off the chill as the car defrosts.

I got myself organized in the car and booted up the navigation system, plugging in the name of the hotel where I had a room waiting, but the system didn’t recognize it.

I then typed in the address, with the same result. I pulled out my cell phone and found that it had no service, and wasn’t able to roam on a Canadian provider. Great. Middle of the night, Calgary, no idea how to get where I need to be.

I headed south, finding the first flaw of the “smart” car: its lights don’t automatically turn on. I pulled over to find the lights on the steering column before continuing on my way, attempting and failing to find my hotel. After about 20 minutes, I gave up and I found another hotel with an available room.

After dropping $150 for three hours of hotel room rental, I was back on the road again (using an actual paper highway map), headed to a town two hours south – in a snow storm in my rented smart car.

The dashboard continually provided insights into my driving, contrasting whether my driving was “economical” or “aggressive.” So great, the car was “judgy” too, which probably made me slightly more aggressive as I engaged in war with the car.

After an hour, the car suggested I take a break, tempting me with an image of a steaming cup of coffee. I ignored it and drove on. It continued to make obnoxious suggestions as I drove, yet warning me about every slight curve in the wide, well-maintained, divided highway.

I arrived in the town where I was to join a rancher forum for the day, and stopped to search the rented navigation system for the location of the meeting. The navigation system had never heard of such a place, or such an address.

A helpful convenience store clerk explained that the place may have a new name on the building, but it was known as the Elks Lodge and that I would find it just past the local Dodge dealership. That’s the kind of navigation I could follow, and soon arrived at my destination. Only to find my cell phone (with my schedule and reservations detailed in its electronic calendar) was missing.

I raced back to the convenience store, where a nice passerby had found my phone where I had dropped it in the snow. It had been recently run over by a vehicle. Oh yes, another complication in my sleep-deprived travels.

Fortunately, the meeting went smoothly, and was well attended by ranchers throughout the region despite the snowstorm. I borrowed some internet time for a quick search of the location of the hotel I had failed to find during the night and headed back toward Calgary, reaching the city in time for rush-hour, stop-and-go traffic.

My judgy rental car finally decided my driving was economical by the time I reached my long-lost hotel and I dropped into an exhausted sleep.

With an early morning flight, I returned the car to the rental lot and locked it. The placard outside the unmanned station instructed me to drop the keys and the rental agreement in the box provided. But the box was only large enough for the key fob.

I spoke with another befuddled car renter about what to do, and we decided to drop the keys in the box but take the agreements back to the rental desk inside the airport.

I had packed the worthless navigation system back into its carrying case and we ran through the cold to the rental desk. Which was unmanned. We tucked our rental agreements (detailing the mileage driven and proving we had returned the cars with full tanks) and the navigation system behind the desk and hurried through the terminal to begin the security process.

By the time I could check telephone messages on a layover back in America, I learned the car rental company was looking for me – something about a missing navigation system.

Although I tried to return the call numerous times, the rental company refused to answer the phone but had maxed out the available credit on my credit card.

The next flights went smoothly, and I landed back in Jackson to be met by Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce members welcoming travelers to the valley and handing out free mimosas near the luggage kiosk.

Mercifully I made it back to the ranch with no further mishaps, where I’ll be spending hours hounding the rental car company, talking to the credit card company, and ordering a new cell phone.

I’ll happily fire up my stupid, ugly, and unjudgy ranch truck that has manual windows and door locks, and that doesn’t try to convince me to take a break despite not getting out of four-wheel-drive for four months of the year.

We’ll be navigating around the ranch in the snow, searching for wolf tracks and escaping the advancements in technology that have made life so easy.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@iclou

The Value of Rural Subdivisions

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Sublette County
2649

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Private ranches help to preserve open space and wildlife habitat, while urban dwelling condenses the size of the human imprint on the landscape. These benefits are readily understood, but the importance of rural subdivisions to local communities is often overlooked.

Rural subdivisions suffer from love/hate status. While many residents hate to see fragmentation of rural land, many other people dream of living on a few acres outside of town. They love the freedom offered by rural living, including raising their children with more outdoor space, and having animals that would be prohibited by municipal living. The large percentage of government land ownership in Wyoming serves to make land use planning for private property all the more critical since energy development on public land can cause a large influx of people in need of housing, yet the burden for providing housing falls to the limited amount of private land available.

Nearly half of Wyoming is managed by the federal government, and Wyoming continues to maintain its status as having the lowest human population of any state in the union. With our traditional public lands-based boom-and-bust energy cycle comes tremendous ebbs and flows in our human population. Sublette County is a prime example. With less than 6,000 residents in the county in 2000, the county boomed to a high of 10,476 people by 2012, with most of this growth associated with net migration due to energy development. With the energy bust, the county population declined more than 6 percent by 2019, to just over 9,800 people.

With the bust, Sublette County lost about 663 residents from its peak population. By 2017, 46 percent of Sublette County’s housing units were classified as vacant. That’s a startlingly high vacancy rate, but Sublette County has long been known for its hosting of “second” homes to people living outside the county. About 68 percent of the county’s vacant units are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use (second homes), and 15 percent of the county’s vacant units are for rent or sale. But another 15 percent (428 homes) are classified as “other” vacant, which means they are not for sale or rent, or otherwise available to the marketplace. According to the Wyoming Community Development Authority, “These units may be problematic if concentrated in certain areas, and may create a ‘blighting’ effect.”

Although we lost more than 660 residents, what we see now is that some of the people who moved to Sublette County to work in the gas fields have decided to stay; either hanging on to what energy jobs are available, or finding other ways to make a living. They may have moved here for the boom, but have determined to stay for other reasons, despite the economic downturn. While some of these residents live in town, and some have constructed homes on large acreages, most often I see their presence reflected in rural subdivisions. They have greenhouses, art studios, vegetable gardens, and chicken coops. The kids learn to ride bicycles on dirt driveways; they construct primitive forts in their yards; and they go out into the pasture to “camp” in the summer. They wade in irrigation ditches on hot days, ride incessant laps on snow machines and dirt bikes, and feed calves, pigs, and lambs for show at the county fair.

Most of these families have animals – cats and dogs, chickens and other fowl, small and large livestock, and horses – and all of these animals require both space and food. Since the acreages are too small to be self-sustaining for their domestic animals, animal feedstuffs must be purchased and brought in, which adds to the local economy. I drive by a busy feedstore across from a rural subdivision every time I drive to town.

Although some decry rural subdivision of land for its scarring of the landscape and harm to nature, I maintain that for these rural residents, they are living as close to nature (blemished though it may be) as they possibly can. Their animals are what connect them to the land, and when the jobs that brought them here may go elsewhere, it is the land and animals that keep them here.

While some may notice the horses standing in a dirt-packed corral, I see that the horse owners have corralled the horses to give their limited pasture time to rest and grow. I see those horses loaded for roping competitions, fairs and rodeos, for family pack trips and hunting adventures, and for kids to ride bareback on the vast public lands nearby, where the kids climb off to explore horned toads and other wonders of nature that surround them.

While some see rural sprawl, I notice the installation of flowerbeds, scattered wildflowers over septic systems, and boxes lovingly crafted for bats, bluebirds, and kestrels. I see people who have taken some level of food security into their own hands, raising animals to provide meat for the freezer, and living and learning about the cycle of life and death, and knowing where their food comes from.

All forms of living have both societal and environmental impacts (negative and positive), but rural subdivisions are often maligned. This view fails to recognize that people can be drawn to our communities with properties in rural subdivisions, and these rural ranchettes can serve as anchors that connect communities while supporting local economies.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Resolve to Childish Rules

in Column/Range Writing
Determination
2615

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

With the ringing-in of a new year, it’s that time when we feel the need to make resolutions, most of which are quickly broken. I know, I know; this time it’s going to be different. Really? I’m of the mind that rather than making new resolutions, we adults need to revisit and relearn some of the vital lessons of childhood. 

You know the basics: make your bed when you get up, bathe often, brush your teeth, wear pants if there is company, and don’t bother an adult until that adult has had coffee. Don’t pick up snakes. Don’t throw fits, or rocks, or call people names.

Share and take turns, and no fake crying. Chew with your mouth closed, and introduce yourself first when making a phone call before asking who is on the other end of the line. Don’t ask if we’re there yet. Sit down to eat your dinner. Try not to break anything.

Use your manners: say please and thank you, and take your hat off when you enter a building. Look people in the eye when you’re talking to them. If you make a mess, clean it up. Hold the door open for others.

If it’s none of your business, don’t ask. If it’s not right, don’t do it. If it’s not yours, don’t take it. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t cheat. Remember that just because someone else is doing it doesn’t make it okay. Don’t talk about poop at the table.

Treat others how you wish to be treated. When you’re wrong, apologize. Forgive each other. Work hard, try new things, ask questions, make mistakes, and learn. No, you can’t beat your brother/sister/person with a stick. Insults don’t win arguments. Try not to hurt others. When you’re mad and frustrated, try not to yell too much. Work on using your inside voice. 

Plant a seed and water it. Skip rocks. Play fair. Be kind to animals. Be respectful and honest. Do it if it makes someone happy; don’t do it if it makes someone sad. Get dirty and have fun. Know that meanness is ugly, and kindness is beautiful. Watch the clouds float by. Marvel at stars at night.

Do hard things. Eat dessert first. Respect others. Take naps. Dream big. Treasure friendships. Root for the underdog. Don’t be a bully. Stand up for yourself, and for others. Do your best, and help each other.

Find time to play. Dangle your toes in a pond, creek, lake, or ditch. Sing in the car. Dance when you feel like it. Laugh often. Hug often. Stay awake reading a good book; fall asleep reading a good book. Make a snowman. Believe in yourself. Do good works, even when no one is watching. Be grateful for good things.

May the new year be your best year yet. And try not to bite anyone.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

O’ Holy Night

in Column/Range Writing
O Holy Night
2589

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth”
- Adolphe Adam, 1847

It’s the holiest of days and nights, with believers of different faiths around the world sharing in celebrations. While our family honors the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger, others will observe Hanukkah, Posadas Navidenas, Ashura, Kwanzaa, and other religious holidays. 

We live fairly far out in the rural countryside and since we tend to sheep as part of daily life, Christmas brings reflections on the birth of a baby in a manger, and the lessons set forth by the Good Shepherd.

While our small household no longer participates in shopping-and-Santa outings, we celebrate the season with other traditions – some old, some new. Our treasured gifts are books and wool socks (because there is nothing more luxurious than wool socks and a good book). And food, generous food gifts sent by thoughtful friends and loved ones: cookies and candies made by messy little hands under the cheerful supervision of young parents; steak or fish sent by friends from afar who we think of and talk about as we prepare these family meals; boxes of luscious chocolates crafted by bakery artisans and sent from fellow natural resource advocates; and buttery cookies from grandma.

We enjoy reading and displaying cards and letters that arrive in the mail, setting out festive decorations, making donations, cooking and drinking together, writing thank-you notes, collecting pinecones into small bowls, and placing juniper branches in glass vases.

We make snowy treks to chop down a tree or sagebrush, enjoying the earthy smells brought into our living room. We place a string of small white lights, add handcrafted wooden ornaments and sheep bells, and our Sherpa/Shepherd Santa graces the top of the tree. The tree is firmly tethered upright by strong cotton yarn so that the wild kittens we adopted a few months ago don’t pull it down in their nighttime escapades. Hud, our bearded collie herding dog, especially seems to enjoy the atmosphere of the festive tree in a darkened room on a cold winter night. Carrying the sign of the cross on their shoulders, the burros nudge through our coat pockets, seeking out the gingersnaps they know hide there. The animals seem to understand the changing ambiance of the season, the change from long darkness to light. Of course, the animals understand; the animals have always understood.

I play Elvis Presley’s Christmas songs on Christmas morning, and Jim and I usually end up dancing across the living room. The outside ranch chores are still first priority, and we heap extra feed to the flock. Hud finds a new stuffed toy, and all the working dogs get full bellies with warm treats. Although we don’t prepare any special feast for the day, after the chores are done, we often find friends and neighbors resting their elbows on our kitchen table, breaking bread with us – whatever form that bread happens to take any given year. We prepare and deliver food for other friends living or working alone nearby.

Our thoughts turn with fond remembrance to those who have left their earthly confines but still share our lives and hearts. And mostly importantly, we pray for comfort and refuge for those who are suffering from illness, or loss, or loneliness, or from whatever harsh darkness shrouds them.

Each beautiful winter morning serves as our reminder to show gratitude, and love, as we look out across the quiet beauty of a wild Wyoming landscape. As we set out feed for the flock, we celebrate this special season through traditions of shepherds before us, fully aware that from the humblest of places comes the greatest of joys.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Tracking Wild

in Agriculture/Column/News/Range Writing/wildlife
Good deer
Researchers use radio collars to track mule deer migration through the Wind River Mountains. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)
2544

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

There are probably thousands of tracking devices installed on wild animals in Wyoming.

From collars or eartag transmitters placed on big game animals and large carnivores like wolves and bears, to backpack harnesses or neck bands installed on a variety of bird species, and the surgical insertion of devices into fish, the amount of wildlife tracking conducted every year in Wyoming is astounding.

The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed.
The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

But the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) can’t tell you how many animals are wearing these devices. I know that because I asked: first informally, and when that didn’t yield any information, I was instructed to submit a formal request, which I did. The response noted “there is not an easy way to show how many animals actually have collars on them at this point.” I was told that “it would take quite a few hours to go through each permit report” to see how many animals were actually collared under each permit issued by the department even in a single year, but if I wanted to pursue the matter, the agency would send me a cost estimate for that effort. I declined. 

I had naïvely assumed there must be a central electronic location accessed by wildlife biologists to see the status of monitored animals, but that is not the case. Even the University of Wyoming’s Wildlife Migration Initiative’s Migration Viewer provides simple summaries of ungulate movements. WMI notes in bold type that “the raw location data can only be obtained by contacting the original data owner,” and “This allows us to share ungulate movement data with a broad range of users, while protecting the integrity of the datasets and the proprietary study or project needs of the many researchers that collected and own the data.”

This bison in Yellowstone National Park had its radio collar tangled in its horn.
This bison in Yellowstone National Park had its radio collar tangled in its horn. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Some of the tracking devices placed on wild animals in Wyoming are conventional, very-high-frequency (VHF); others provide satellite tracking; and still others make use of the global positioning system (GPS). But all wildlife research in Wyoming that requires live-handling of animals to attach tracking devices begins with obtaining a permit from WG&F. Although wildlife researchers have until January 1 of the year following their permit expiration to file a detailed report with the agency, it’s unfortunate that data-sharing with our state’s wildlife managers is limited to by-then dated information.

When the Teton County Planning and Development office contracted with Biota Research and Consulting, Inc., to identify, describe, and map important habitat features for a range of wildlife species as part of its county comprehensive plan process, Biota worked to develop GIS overlays for all wildlife species in the county. That process required identifying all available datasets in existence, held by both private and public entities conducting wildlife research. Biota ended up developing unique data sharing contracts “in the interest of meeting the various concerns about misuse of data from each of the project contributors.”

“Although some potential collaborators willingly shared their data, other potential collaborators in both the private and public sector clearly articulated their unwillingness to share data, or failed to provide data that they agreed to share,” Biota noted.

What prompted my interest in the issue was the appearance of radio-collared mule deer and pronghorn antelope on our place, and some of those collars were not properly fitted. Since some of the mule deer have an easily-read bright numbered tag attached to the outside of the collar, I assumed our local WG&F biologist would be able to provide information on when the collar was placed, and to what end (the goals of the research project). Alas, that is not the case. The public or private entity conducting the research retains the real-time specifics, while WG&F has more a general knowledge of what research projects are taking place, and can access the annual reports from those research projects.

Research on the impacts of natural gas development on the Pinedale Anticline resulted in the collaring of this pronghorn antelope which was getting rubbed raw by its loose collar during frigid winter temperatures.
Research on the impacts of natural gas development on the Pinedale Anticline resulted in the collaring of this pronghorn antelope which was getting rubbed raw by its loose collar during frigid winter temperatures. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Open sores and hair loss are frequent adverse effects from the use of radio-collars and other telemetry devices, as are animal entanglements in the collars themselves. Ill-fitting collars cause wounds and infections, and too tight a collar can restrict air flow and swallowing. As some researchers have pointed out, “ill-fitting collars and problems associated with them clearly influence research results and have implications for ethics within the wildlife profession.”

Behavioral impacts from the use of radio-collars are often discounted as insignificant, but there has been little research into this issue. Still, some research has revealed that collared moose in Norway keep in groups separate from non-collared moose. Brightly-colored collars on deer have resulted in higher harvest rates by deer hunters able to see these colors from a distance. Water and ice build-up under and around collars has been an issue for young ungulates. Other research has found impacts to a broad range of species, from voles to penguins.

There is no doubt that telemetry is an important tool in the research and management of many wildlife species. It’s my hope that researchers will strive for a better understanding of the potential negative consequences of strapping telemetry devices to wild animals (altering behavioral patterns should be a significant concern). And as science and technology advances, agencies like the WG&F may have to put in place better data-sharing mechanisms for the information harvested from wild animals in Wyoming.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Chronic Wolf Depredation

in Agriculture/Column/News/Range Writing
wolf
Photo credit: Cat Urbigkit
2498

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

I recently attended a meeting of fellow sheep and cattle producers who raise livestock in the part of Sublette County that is outside Wyoming’s trophy zone for wolves.

Wolves in the trophy zone are subject to regulated harvest as determined by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WG&F) with hunting seasons and quotas, but in the predator zone, wolves can be killed at any time, for any reason.

If a livestock producer has wolves preying on their livestock in the trophy zone, it is the WG&F’s responsibility to both take care of the problem and to provide compensation for livestock losses to wolves. Not so in the predator zone. Although there is no regulation on the “take” of wolves in the predator zone, there is no state compensation program for livestock losses due to wolf depredation.

The state does have a program to help local predator boards pay for wolf control in the predator zone when there are confirmed livestock depredations, but again, no compensation program.

At the meeting, I listened to two of my neighbors who belong to a grazing association discuss their historic annual herd death-loss rate of 2%, and how that rate has now increased to 10%. The increase comes despite the application of intensive animal health protocols, and active herding by range riders living with the cattle. This is the same scenario as that faced by cattle producers experiencing grizzly bear depredation on their herds in the Upper Green River region of the same county.

With losses now 10% or more, several Upper Green producers said they wouldn’t be able to stay in the cattle business without the WG&F compensation program.

Two of my neighbors in the predator zone ended the grazing season short a total of 48 calves. A few calves were verified as wolf kills, but the majority of the missing calves simply disappeared, as is typical when a large carnivore species preys on livestock in rugged terrain. If each of those calves were sold at $700 per head this fall, that’s a loss of $33,600 in revenue between the two neighbors.

Five other neighboring producers (including me) didn’t disclose their losses, but all had enough losses to wolves to bring us all into the same room for a discussion. I can think of two other neighboring producers who weren’t able to attend the meeting but are in the same boat as the rest of us.

Our portion of the southern Wind River Mountains has become known as a chronic wolf depredation area. This area was not included in the trophy wolf zone specifically “because of the high potential for persistent conflicts with domestic sheep and cattle that are grazed on both public and private lands in these areas.”

There are other areas of the state’s predator zone in a similar situation, including in areas in Lincoln, Park, and Fremont counties. Wolves have even hit herds in Natrona and Carbon counties.

The livestock losses in our region are occurring with relatively high hunting pressure on the wolf population, since wolves can be taken anytime and without a permit in the predator zone. As one young cattleman questioned, “Who thinks this is working, when you’ve got wolf hunting and calf losses are at 10%?”

Hunting pressure has made wolves in the predator zone smarter and more elusive, but it has not stopped wolves from killing livestock – as we all knew it wouldn’t. But it has made controlling problem wolves more difficult.

Without radio collars on wolf packs in the predator zone, we have no way to monitor wolf pack movements, so we lack a method of tracking problem wolves. When we did place a radio collar on a wolf on our place, she would be at our ranch one night, and 15-20 miles away the next night. We always know the wolves will return, but what we never know is when. Sometimes it’s three or four nights a week, but sometimes it’s only about once every three weeks.

What has now been proven is that the Wyoming legislative declaration of wolves outside the trophy game zone as a predatory species with no limits on take does little to resolve depredation problems. While hunters can legally kill wolves at any time in the predator zone, most have learned that it’s easier to talk about hunting wolves than actually succeed at killing one. Even when they succeed in harvesting a wolf, most often they are not targeting wolves involved in livestock depredations. 

Targeting depredating wolves requires a sustained effort by skilled professionals: USDA Wildlife Services, the professional animal damage control experts that wolf advocates love to hate. After our recent livestock producer meeting, Wildlife Services agreed to devote more ground time to our chronic damage area, and within a few days was able to trap and radio collar another female wolf – a member of another wolf pack living in the area. With this federal agency’s help, we hope to get more collars placed on wolves in the predator zone. Then we can respond to livestock depredations by taking not just any wolf, but the wolves responsible for livestock depredations.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

On Bone Broth, and Coexistence

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Guardian dogs
2455

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

The morning after Thanksgiving our house was once again filled with the smell of cooking turkey. But this time it was because we were boiling the carcass remains from the previous day’s feast. The bones are placed in the garbage once the broth is complete, but we pour the bone broth with chunks of meat in canning jars for reheating and pouring over the kibble of our working livestock guardian dogs on cold winter mornings.

Bones from a beef roast, leg of lamb, or leftover bird carcass all provide for delicious bone broth that can be used to make soup, but we like providing a nutrition boost for hard-working dogs and females raising pups.

livestock guardian dogs

On Thanksgiving we got the turkey in the oven before daylight and proceeded to outside chores at the first welcoming rays of light. The sheep were still on their bedground with their dogs, so we went across the ranch to check our game cameras, a vital part of our wolf monitoring program.

Fresh wolf tracks in new snow confirmed that wolves had paid an early-morning visit to our sheep range – their third nocturnal visit in a week. A resident female wolf that we helped radio collar a year ago has mostly kept to herself, but after we eliminated her mate a few months ago, she’s brought in another large male to the ranch, and their excursions are becoming more frequent. This male wolf’s track is large and distinct, and I suspect it’s the elusive male we had trouble with last fall and winter.

After we lost our two top guardian dogs, the male had become emboldened, and as I checked the cameras every morning, I would find his tracks atop my boot prints from the day before. As I tracked the wolf, he tracked me, marking and tearing up the ground where I walked, and he began coming to the rocks behind the house. He avoided the cameras, approaching them from behind, until one night in a fit of rage last November he attacked a camera, taking 85 selfies in the process.

That’s when we spooled up the guardian dogs, penned and fed the sheep, and set out wolf traps. After splitting up his pack, the male disappeared from our range. It had been quiet since I’d last come across his sign, but looking at those fresh tracks in the snow, it’s with a tense familiarity.

We follow the wolf tracks through the area our sheep flock grazed the day prior and see where the wolves and the guardian dogs each marked the same territorial boundary. The sheep and their dogs use the area during the day before being pushed toward the house every afternoon. The wolves wait until darkness falls across the range before moving in to explore where the sheep had spent the day.

Two nights ago, the wind-driven snow pushed the flock into the protected cover in the bottom of Sheep Creek. We tracked the wolves up the drainage to within a half-mile of the flock as they moved in response to the sheep movement below. The tracks in the snow left by the wolves, the guardians, and the sheep, lays out the reality of coexistence on the ground. The wolves are nearby, but are currently maintaining a certain distance.

It’s been a hard-fought coexistence. We deferred grazing this range one year and a pack of six wolves took over the range as their own. When we moved in the next year, the wolf pack come within a quarter-mile of the house and our penned sheep, causing massive brawls between the warring canine cousins. The wolves killed pronghorn antelope and mule deer within half-mile of the house, and the pack lounged atop the rocky ridge overlooking our headquarters, as our guardian dogs struggled to widen the territory of protected space. We had guardian dogs injured and killed, dozens of sheep injured and killed, and we’ve injured and killed wolves.

The sheep flock has its own guardian dogs that move with the flock as it grazes, as do the cattle, and we also have a guardian dog pack that controls the area around the ranch headquarters and pens. The wolves are no longer able to roam the ridge overlooking the house because that territory has been taken by the guardian dogs.

The biggest risk is to the sheep, with their smaller size and ever-changing grazing pattern. The livestock guardian dogs have managed to impose a restricted buffer of protection around the flock, but we know that any weakness of the dog pack – or any strengthening of the wolf pack –will cause this uneasy coexistence to end. 

So we prepare the bone broth, to boost our working dogs on cold winter mornings, to nourish them for whatever may lie ahead.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Linguistic Weapons

in Column/Range Writing
Snowflake
2420

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

As National Public Radio’s Sam Sanders noted, “Words that begin with a very specific meaning, used by a very specific group of people, over time become shorthand for our politics, and eventually move from shorthand to linguistic weapon.”

These linguistic weapons are fired daily, and I’ve had a few shot at me. Fortunately for me, I’m able to deflect the shots since my lexicon is more archaic than that used by the word-weapon warriors with new verbal arsenals. What I mean is that the warspeak falls on deaf ears, since I tend to wield words with their original meanings (I’m old school). Let me provide a few examples.

Snowflake: A snowflake is that delicate work of symmetry found in nature of which no two are identical.

Hit me with the “Ok boomer” and I’ll show scorn. Not only do you not know in what generation I was birthed, but “ok Boomer” were the words called out to the huge Saint Bernard dog named Boomer who liked to put me up a tree as a child, much to the pleasure of my childhood friends who lived with said Boomer.

Triggered: Oh, I’ve got triggers; the one I use most is attached to a Henry rifle. #TrueThat.

Woke, as in past tense of wake. I was starting to get used to the new informal use of the word as an alert to societal injustice, but when that finally happened, I listened to Sam Sanders and found out that version was dead.

PC: personal computer. Yup, my language is that old. And BLM is an acronym for a land management agency. And all those AI headlines initially confused me, but then I realized they weren’t referring to artificial insemination, which is what AI means for ag folks.

Safe spaces: Places like my kitchen table, where someone in need is welcome to come in and find safety and nourishment. I hope your kitchen table serves the same purpose.

Witch hunt: you know, like that thing that happened in New England when people were accused of practicing witchcraft and were then executed.

Rabid: A current favored adjective of lazy linguists who would reject such casual diction if they had ever dealt with a living being afflicted with the fatal viral disease of rabies.

Whistleblower: I know a lot of whistleblowers. Do yourself a favor and attend a sheepdog trial and you’ll get to know them as well. Whistleblowers are good people.

Perfect means as good as it could possibly be in this world. For an example of perfect, see actual snowflake.

Troll: One who lurks in darkness and is eventually knocked down while harassing a large billy goat. Hey troll, I’m your goat.

Anonymous: Like trolls, generally an unidentified person, and often one making statements or claims for which they are unwilling to have their name associated. Bottom line: Never me.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

This Is Rural America

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
2391

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

A recent Twitter rant by a University of California Berkeley PhD student philosopher that claimed rural Americans “are bad people who have made bad life decisions” and should live “uncomfortable” lives and should have to pay more for rejecting efficient city life brought predictable condemnation.

The man later deleted the tweet with a comment that “my tone is way crasser and meaner than I like to think I am” but he never actually backed down from his rural condemnation. But this bruhaha got me thinking about rural life in America, and what that actually means. 

In western Wyoming’s version of rural America, what comes to mind is broad and dramatic landscapes with vast populations of wildlife and domestic livestock (the typical Wyoming pastoral scene) with a relatively small human population density.

The community’s components include a wide variety of people. We have sheep herders from Nepal, ranchers whose familiesmoved here from the Old Country more than a century ago,immigrant families from Mexico, and people who fled natural disasters or economic instability in other areas of America.

It’s people who develop routines based upon their own priorities and rules of life. Like the gentleman who insisted on getting up early every morning and making sure the steps to the rural medial clinic were kept free of snow. He didn’t work there, or get paid, but it was important to him that anyone needing medical attention shouldn’t be deterred by Wyoming snow.

And another gentleman who served as the community grave digger. He had a paying job, but this is just something he did for his community, his way of honoring the dead.

Or the thoughtful woman who started volunteering her time to help others in need, even if just cleaning up a yard, slapping on some paint, or chopping wood. Her kind acts drew others to her side, and a loose group now mobilizes to serve wherever there is need in the community.

And it’s the artist who donates her valuable work at a fundraiser to help cover the medical expenses for an accident victim. That she’s never met the victim isn’t even considered.

It’s the relatively new couple to the community who attend nearly every public event held in the county, simply to show support. They just show up, and they’ve become valued friends to all.

It’s the woman business owner on main street who knew that the teenaged girl preparing to put a winter coat on layaway was waiting tables and living on her own, so she set up the girl’s first charge account. And she knew that girl would honor her debt.

That kind and beautiful woman who cuts hair over at the salon is a former commercial airline stewardess who survived a horrific airplane crash but has found solace in the quiet of a rural countryside. That older man you meet on the ski slope has saved more lives and birthed more babies in his decades of practicing frontier medicine than most doctors working in municipal hospitals. That friendly retired couple spent their working lives as public servants, and still dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus every Christmas.

That cattle rancher over there is a former nuclear engineer, that sheep rancher down the river has a master’s degree in education.That tiny older woman who lives alone spends hours playing her grand piano, and the suntanned woman down the road is a talented saddlemaker. That lean, bearded man cuts timber with a team of horses during the week, and volunteers for the youth hockey team on weekends. That grandmother is a retired nurse who volunteers at the bedside of the terminally ill – an earthly angel to the families she’s served. That weird-looking teenaged boy is an artist, and the goth-girl is a writer. That single mom is a small business entrepreneur and graphic designer. That single dad makes a living through hard physical labor during the day,and then takes his kids ice skating after school.

Those people in the grocery store are emergency medical technicians, fire fighters, law enforcement officers, teachers, search and rescue volunteers, military veterans, librarians, and coaches for our school sports teams.

That guy you see at a construction site is the same guy who flies a helicopter to pluck injured climbers off the face of the mountain. That guy moving cows along the road is part of the highly skilled team that is dropped in by the helicopter on a rope to stabilize the patient before evacuation. That guy you see always fishing out at the lake is also part of a swift-water rescue team that is deployed all over the region to recover those lost to the waters. That woman cheering on the local football team doesn’t have kids of her own, but is there at every game. She’s also the head of the search and rescue team.

These are the people who hitch up their stock trailers and drive towards wildfires to help their neighbors in rural subdivisions evacuate with their animals to safety. They keep their snowmachine trailers supplied with emergency equipment and go out into blizzards to find anyone lost in the wild after dark.

We’ve all heard about those lazy kids of the younger generation. Yet it was those kids that used the school shop to build a mobile library to serve the underserved areas of the county. The librarians living in town, and those folks over at the senior center, take books and meals to people who can’t leave their homes dotted around the countryside.

These are the people of rural America. They are the extra hands that suddenly appear when help is needed. These are the people who bring food as an expression of love, and who drop off books they think you’ll enjoy. These are people who weep with you, and for you, and who cheer you.

This is rural America.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

My Dog Is Not A Fur Baby

in Agriculture/Column/Range Writing
Livestock guardian dogs
2349

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Americans are animal lovers, so much that 95 percent of pet owners view their pets as family members. According to a survey from the American Pet Products Association, less than 15 percent of dogs in America sleep outside at night, and more than 70 percent of dogs are allowed to sleep in a person’s bed, according to another survey. In American society, dogs have become “fur babies” and humans now identify as “pet parents” – which is either a wonderful thing, or a bad thing, depending on your perspective. Animals are no longer simply our companions; they’ve become children in “interspecies families.” 

Although some people dress their dogs up in clothes, or bake cakes on dog birthdays, I don’t. These human-dependent dogs provide a great service to their humans, helping them to stay active while providing health benefits, social opportunities, and companionship. I also believe that dogs can help humans in creating a moral character, and in having relationships outside of self. Even though some dog breeds are not meant to survive on their own, there are dogs throughout the world that can survive in the wild, with or without human assistance. I live with a close relative of these dogs: our livestock guardians.

Personally, to consider myself a pet parent would be a disservice to my dogs. I refuse to anthromorphize the dog out of its noble fundamental existence as a dog. We love dogs for what they are; for their character, their enduring loyalty, their unconditional love, their ability to live in the moment, and for their keen instincts – for their basic doggedness. There is a special connection when gazing into the eyes of a dog that is looking directly at you, when you understand that you are looking into the depths to a remarkable soul. That connection rises to higher plane when you and dog then join together to complete a task, with the human doing human things, and the dog doing dog things, all toward the same end, and both KNOWING that we are engaged in an active partnership. This is the reason humankind has had a dog at its side for at least 20,000 years.

I have great love and affection for our dogs, but more importantly, I also have great respect for them – for their work ethic, bravery, intelligence, independence, (all characteristics for which I also curse at times) – and their willingness to demonstrate their affection to a lowly, unworthy beast like me. 

Every day I greet sunrise with a check on the guardian dogs, and having a 100-pound canine rush at me with wagging-tail enthusiasm is always a pleasure, no matter how many times its repeated. But usually within about three minutes, the excitement at the sight of me fades and the dogs return to their true calling: watching over their sheep, a lesser species that the dogs devote their lives to protecting. I, the mere mortal, am cast aside – unless and until I join the dogs with the sheep. Then the dogs walk alongside me, slowing to rub their bodies against my legs as they pass, allowing my fingers to caress their toplines from the top of the head to the end of the tail. They move back and forth, from me to the sheep, as we all move forward as one living mass.

These dogs are my working partners. I don’t believe I live in an interspecies family, but I do live and work in an interspecies world – a world that involves daily interactions among a mixture of wild and domestic animals and humans. We aren’t apart from nature; we are all components of one nature. We are all animals.

So don’t call my dog a fur baby. It’s a dog, and I don’t want to reform the dog into a human construct. If we’re evolving closer together, I’d much prefer that humans become more dog-like rather than the reverse.

When our dogs die, they don’t go to a rainbow bridge purgatory to wait for us, their beloved humans. These faithful creatures need not wait for anyone before taking their rightful place in a divine kingdom.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

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