The ewes and lambs graze on the National Forests in the summer months. They move through a rotation so that they are not in any area for long. Part of the journey for Pepe’s sheep includes several weeks in high mountain pastures near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. He stays in a tent and we pack in his groceries and dog food. When he drops into the north fork of the Elk River, we bring his camp to him. This involves a drive down a death-defying curvy road to a wonderful mountain meadow. Bubba came along, both to learn the way and to provide the muscle.
We’ve been trailing and back-riding for a week, as the cattle come off the summer grazing grounds. The cows and calves have been on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forests since June and July. They graze in large rotations and we ride through them almost daily. They don’t want to leave since the weather is still warm. They see no reason to leave perfectly good feed and water. We’ve been watching the Middle Fork Fire, to the south of our allotments. It’s been burning in ungrazed areas, although there are plenty of beetle-killed pines everywhere. We’re glad to be out of the Forest with this season of fire.
On the road
home to the meadows
Pat D. and Tiarnan
cows trailing near the Midnight Ranch
riding crew at lunch (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
through the horse’s legs (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
Tiarnan and Battle Mountain
Tate, Sharon and Liberty the filly (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
Sharon and Seamus the horse (photo credit, Pat Danscen)
October 1st is drawing near. In our world, that is the off-date for most of our National Forest permits. We are now staging both the cows and the sheep to trail down to the Home Ranch in a few days. Here’s Pepe and Modesto, our excellent long-time herders, with their ewes and lambs, ready to come off the Forest. We have had a record year for predator losses, in spite of their efforts and the efforts of our valiant Livestock Guardian Dogs. Since we know how many ewes and their lambs went up in July, and Pepe and Modesto (and the other herders) keep track of other deaths, we will soon have an idea of how terrible these losses have been.
July 1st brings the on-date for the Forest grazing permits. We worked Modesto’s bunch at the Johnson corrals, in the Routt National Forest. We not only counted the ewes and lambs, but put numbered paint brands on the “marker” ewes, and gave Rhen an opportunity to practice his mutton busting.
Cora keeping an eye on the sheep.
Belling number 2, Juan supervising
numbering the marker ewes
Rhen practicing mutton busting
Siobhan and her team of Border collies
Counted, belled and numbered–heading for summer pasture
The cows and their calves have happily spent the last three months grazing on the Routt and Medicine Bow National Forest. October 1st is the off date for our Forest grazing permit. Friends and family help us as we bring the cattle down from their summering grounds.
In 2002, the Hinman Fire burned 31,016 acres in the Routt National Forest. It was part of what became the Mount Zirkel Complex of fires. Much of the burned area included trees blown down by a rare high-altitude wind storm with hurricane force gales. On October 24, 1997, it laid flat 20,000 acres and an estimated 6 million trees. leaving a pick-up-sticks matrix on the ground. The dead trees left perfect habitat for pine beetles, which have scourged the area and left millions and millions of acres of dead trees. Many of those beetle-killed dead trunks still stand, with thousands falling every day throughout the forests of the mountain West.
The Hinman Fire burned hot and hard, and left scorched tree trunks standing tall and dead. The trees were diseased and killed by the beetles, providing the “perfect storm” for the fire. It was particularly impactful to us, since we had 800 ewes and their lambs on the Farwell grazing allotment. In a effort that is still legend, our sheepherder Pepe Cruz brought the sheep down the Elk River drainage, trailing the sheep throughout the night, with a sack of new puppies tied to his saddlehorn. He brought all of the animals under his care out safely, with fire burning on three sides.
We still graze on that allotment. The regeneration of the landscape there gives me hope for the rest of the Forest, which has been devastated by beetles. In the burned over area, still marked by the standing spears of trees burned 16 years ago, the vegetation is rebounding and new growth trees are filling in the landscape. The burned area looks verdant and healthy compared to the rest of the Forest. It gives me hope to see the new forest rising from the ashes.
Eamon and Meghan went up to the Routt Forest to check on the cattle and the Big Red Fire. Through absolute luck, they found this heifer, who had gotten stuck in a soaphole in Little Red Park. They weren’t able to pull her out with their horses, but were able to get close enough with the pickup to finally rescue her.
(STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo.) August 29, 2017 – A helicopter flight over the Big Red Fire today gave fire personnel a more accurate view of the incident size and as a result the fire is now being reported at 529 acres.
The fire has grown over the last few days due to timely winds, group and single-tree torching, and then subsequent short to mid-range spotting of the fire into unburned areas on the Routt National Forest.
Despite the large increase in reported acreage, management of the wildfire remained the same as it has been, with emphasis on firefighter and public safety, utilizing trigger points to engage the fire where there is a high probability of success, and monitoring fire behavior. This management approach is consistent with other recent area fires in similar fuel types.
The main focus of 70 personnel working the fire has been to utilize Forest Roads 500, 500.1B, and 500.1A to establish fire line along the southern boundary of the fire.
Private land near Big Red Park and an active Forest Service timber sale (Blue Duck Salvage) could be at risk if the fire moves south.
An area closure remains in place, temporarily closing part of the 500 Road and its’ subsequent spur roads, as well as Forest Trail 1204.1A.
The Big Red Fire was discovered on Saturday, Aug. 19 in north Routt County, Colo. It is burning in mixed conifer, which includes spruce, fir, pine, and both live and bug-killed timber.
The wildfire is located just north of Big Red Park, along Forest Road 500, and approximately five miles south of the Colorado/Wyoming state line.
It has been determined that the fire was caused by lightning, with initial response by Forest Service and County staff.
Although unplanned, wildfires such as the Big Red Fire have the potential to reduce hazardous fuels and improve forest health.
InciWeb will be used as the primary means of information distribution for the Big Red Fire. An incident page will be updated at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5551/. The Forest Twitter account, @FS_MBRTB, will also be used for fire updates.
Our crew headed into the trees to look for cows and calves
The National Forests near us are filled with dead Lodgepole pines, killed by pine beetles over the past decade or so. The trees are long past the “red and dead” stage and are now at the gray and falling over stage. Much of the Medicine Bow and Routt Forests are a tinderbox. We want to see a number of smaller burns instead of a great conflagration.
A few days ago, our range conservationist on the Routt contacted us to let us know of a small fire on an adjacent grazing allotment. We went up and moved our cows away from the fire area. We are praying for moderate weather and no rain. My Dad was a great believer in fire as a range management tool. He may have sent that lightening bolt!
This fire could do our Forest a lot of good and literally “clear out the deadwood”.
Patrick and Sharon O'Toole are ranchers in the Little Snake River Valley on the Wyoming-Colorado border. They represent the fourth generation on the six-generation family ranch. The O'Tooles raise cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children on their high country ranching operation. The transhumance operation stretches from north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Wyoming's Red Desert.
Pat has served in the Wyoming House of Representatives, the Western Water Policy Commission, and is currently President of the Family Farm Alliance, representing irrigators and water users in the western United States. He is active with several conservation and agricultural organizations.
Sharon is a writer and poet. She writes extensively on western issues, and the relationship between landscape, animals and people. She is widely published as an author, essayist and editorial commentator.
Pat and Sharon have three children. Their daughter, Meghan and her husband Brian Lally, live on the ranch with their children, Siobhán, Seamus, Maeve and Tiarnán. Meghan has also served on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture and the Environmental Quality Council, She and Brian are active in community service.
Daughter Bridget lives in Phoenix with her husband, Chris Abel, where she works in health care communications. Chris works in the food distribution business.
Son Eamon and his wife Megan live on the ranch with their sons, McCoy and Rhen. Eamon is a horseman and natural resource manager, and Megan is a flight nurse. Eamon is a member of the Wyoming Beef Council and is active in the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The blog traces the activities and life on the ranch, from the mundane to the fabulous.