Each spring since the 1890s, Sublette County cattle ranchers have pushed their herds from the lowlands up to summer pasture along the upper Green River, now a federally-regulated 267-square-mile swath of high-elevation plateau known as the Upper Green River rangeland complex.
On a late June day, Albert Sommers, a Wyoming state representative and cattle rancher, arrived before the sun at a pasture along the Green where he’d left his herd the day before. The drive of 60-or-so miles from Trapper’s Point to the designated grazing allotments doesn’t happen overnight. From June 12 until July 4, he and other ranchers will be working their herds up along the river, usually a handful of miles at a time before leaving them to graze and rest overnight.
Spending the morning in the saddle doesn’t come without risk, a reminder that came as Sommers spotted a mother elk and her calf running out of a stand of trees nearby. Cattle in the upper Green have become frequent targets for grizzly bears — a federally “threatened” species whose range has steadily expanded in recent decades.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s, after a lifetime of ranching, that Sommers encountered his first griz-killed calf. Though the Upper Green River Cattle Association has hired range riders who summer up high with the cattle as a means of preventing conflict with top predators, the prospect of an easy meal keeps the bears coming back — a point of contention between ranchers and conservation groups that has led to litigation.
But early the next morning, Sommers would return in the dark alongside other ranch managers and hired hands, horses already saddled in their trailers, ready to hit the pasture and begin gathering cattle for the next stretch of trail.
The noise of the outside world is missing on the range, replaced by the scratching of hooves on dirt and sage, of stubby-legged cattle dogs weaving and nipping, of Sommers’ whistle echoing and whip cracking through the fog.