MEETEETSE – A young ranching family will continue to grow a livelihood in agriculture thanks in part to a newly completed conservation effort with the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust and The Conservation Fund.
Kasey and Ondi Shepperson welcomed the closing of a purchased conservation easement on 13,857 acres of their Hat Two Ranch northwest of Meeteetse. Both Kasey and Ondi grew up in ranching families and have worked diligently to continue making a living on the land. The couple purchased the property for the Hat Two Limited Partnership in 2003 and moved from the Beaver Rim area between Shoshoni and Casper with their children Shawn, now 13 years old and Lauran, now 8 years old. The family later welcomed another child, Shanan, now 2 years old.
“Ranching is all we ever wanted to do,” Kasey Shepperson said.
The Shepperson Family runs a cow/calf operation and raises 400 acres of hay. Committed to the cattle-ranching business and way of life, the family plans to stay on the ranch long term and the conservation easement will keep the land available to pass on to their children. Kasey and Ondi chose to enter into the conservation easement after the value of their land continued to increase and they were turning away offers to sell the land. They wanted to find a way to reduce the monetary value of the property and retain the ranching value. As part of the purchased easement agreement, the Shepperson Family contributed a significant portion of the value of the easement.
“Our primary values were to make the ranch more cost effective and provide something for our kids,” Kasey said. “The easement will allow us to pass on the property to our children faster and easier. It will also reduce mortgage demands, lessening the need to graze the property at full capacity.”
The Hat Two Ranch property has a rich ranching history which will carry on under the new conservation agreements. The land was originally homesteaded by Charles Webster, who bought 160 acres in 1900 on the lower Greybull River. He trailed 1,500 head of cattle on horseback from Idaho to Wyoming and continued to expand the ranch. The property is still home to several log homesteads and various archeological sites.
The ranchland is also host to many agricultural and wildlife values. Cattle and wildlife are supported by the many water features on the ranch, including the Greybull River which borders the property. The ranch consists of floodplain and river riparian areas, high plains with rolling hills and sagebrush steppe vegetation. The diverse landscapes provide productive agricultural lands and important habitats for pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk, sage grouse and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. A portion of the ranch is considered a core sage grouse area and at least three leks (breeding grounds) are located on deeded lands.
The Hat Two Ranch conservation easement will also protect the work done by Trout Unlimited on the conservation of fish habitat.
“Trout Unlimited considers the Greybull River one of the highest native cutthroat trout protection and restoration priorities in the northern Rockies,” Trout Unlimited Western Water Project Director Scott Yates said. “It’s one of the few remaining native trout strongholds that extends well into historic and current agricultural lands. Trout Unlimited is currently working with the Shepperson Family to protect and restore riparian habitat along the Greybull River, and feel strongly that such efforts dovetail perfectly with the permanent land protection efforts of the Stock Growers Ag Land Trust and partners.”
The Hat Two conservation easement offer unbroken, open spaces by connecting Bureau of Land Management land, state-owned land and the Hat Two Ranch. The Shepperson Family helps steward these public lands through their grazing leases and the connected land provides open views of the Bighorn Basin and the Greybull River floodplain.
“This project protects the rich ranching culture in the Meeteetse area by supporting a next-generation, ranching family,” Stock Growers Ag Land Trust Field Representative Jarren Kuipers said. “At the same time it also preserves critical wildlife habitats, natural viewscapes and the regions agricultural and tourism economy.”
The purchased easement will allow the Shepperson Family to put dollars back into the community while making improvements on their land. Kasey and Ondi hope to move ahead with plans for drilling a new well, installing pipeline and building new fence. They also plan to eventually lease additional lands to increase the size of the operation while reducing the herd on the deeded property.
“Ultimately, the easement will provide for more financial and management flexibility on the ranch, likely improving the natural resources on the property,” Kasey said.
Financial contributions toward the Hat Two Ranch conservation easement were made by Natural Resources Conservation Service Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, The Conservation Fund and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.