Park County ag showcased for international group 

Posted 3/15/24

Back in 1981, Meeteetse cattle ranchers John and Lucille Hogg brought an odd-looking creature to their local taxidermist. The animal, which kind of resembled a mink, had been killed by the …

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Park County ag showcased for international group 


Back in 1981, Meeteetse cattle ranchers John and Lucille Hogg brought an odd-looking creature to their local taxidermist. The animal, which kind of resembled a mink, had been killed by the couple’s dog, Shep, in a late night fight; Lucille wanted to have it mounted.

But when the Hoggs brought in the carcass, “the ole taxidermist’s eyes got about this big,” recalled Allen Hogg, their son. “He said, ‘I don’t think you’re supposed to have one of those.’ And he proceeded to tell them it was a black-footed ferret.”

At the time, the rare ferrets were thought to have been extinct, as no one had seen a live member of the species in years. But when state and federal biologists searched the area around the Hogg Ranch, they discovered an entire colony of ferrets. Those animals ultimately formed the basis of a recovery effort that continues to this day.

The success story is a familiar one for most Park County residents, but when Allen Hogg shared it at a Holiday Inn conference room in Cody late last summer, it was for a whole new audience.

Hogg was among a host of local ranchers, farmers, irrigators and processors who shared their stories, experiences and knowledge during the International Leadership Alumni Conference. The annual event brings together graduates of rural and ag leadership programs and other like-minded leaders from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and the United States. It serves as an opportunity for professional development, networking and learning more about local agricultural and rural issues.


Highlighting Park County

Over the past three decades, conferences have been held everywhere from Omaha, Nebraska, to Edinburgh, Scotland. For the 2023 event, Cody was picked as the host. From Sept. 18-20, a total of 57 people from three  countries and 15 states traveled across Park County, learning about everything from malt barley processing to meat stick making.

Putting the event together took a lot of time and the work of many people, including Abby Shuler of Powell, who sits on the Wyoming Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) board. Shuler said it was an exciting opportunity for both the state and local area.

“We get to showcase what Wyoming has to offer, but we also get to show them what Park County and the surrounding areas are like,” Shuler said ahead of the event, adding that some attendees had never seen local crops like sugar beets or grass seed.

The conference had a packed itinerary that took the group from Cody to Powell and Meeteetse. Among the stops were the Buffalo Bill Dam, Johnson & Schuebel Farms, Smith Sheep & Stuff, Briess Malt & Ingredients, Wyoming Seed Company, Arrowhead Alpacas and the Pitchfork Ranch.

Events also included cowboy poetry at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a trolley tour of Cody and a chuckwagon dinner at the Pitchfork; some attendees tacked on an extra day to tour Yellowstone National Park.

While at the Holiday Inn, the group also heard from State Treasurer Curt Meier, Trista Ostrom of the Wyoming Hunger Initiative and Wyoming Authentic Products founder David Fales, who spoke about launching a meat processing industry in the state. Meanwhile, panels of local experts spoke about the vital importance of water in the region and the challenges of farming and ranching near Yellowstone National Park.


Endangered species education

It was during the farming and ranching panel that Hogg spoke, alongside rancher Jared Boardman of Frannie, Monty Nicholson of USDA Wildlife Services and former Guardians of the Range Executive Director Kathleen Jachowski.

Boardman shared how wolves disrupted the family’s cattle operation near Yellowstone’s eastern border and led them to sell their grazing permit to some conservation groups. The family then moved to the Heart Mountain area, although it now has some grizzly bears, and to a larger swath of land between Meeteetse and Thermopolis, where there are both wolves and grizzlies.

Wolves, Boardman explained, currently don’t cause too many problems for their operation, since they’re treated as predators in that area and can be dispatched when they mess with livestock. But grizzlies “are really our kind of main problem now” when it comes to predators, Boardman said. He shared pictures of a cow that had been wounded by a bruin just days before the conference.

To give the crowd an idea about predator numbers, Nicholson mentioned that he’d recently hazed five grizzly bears and a wolf from a Cody ranch, all from an area that was only “the size of about a quarter of a city block.” He said the bears had been feasting on chokecherries and two dead calves, which the wolves had also eaten.

After listening to the panelists, one conference attendee asked why the reintroduction of the gray wolf or grizzly bear (which wasn’t actually reintroduced) “makes sense.”

Jachowski took on that query, drawing a line back to the restrictions placed on the timber industry in the early 1990s, to protect the northern spotted owl. She said the industry failed to articulately push back on the narrative that led to the rules.

“It became much more easy for the extremists and the alarmists to make a case for why that we should now make room for wolves and grizzlies because, obviously, the [foot]print of the Anglo-Saxon has screwed up the United States,” Jachowski said, sarcastically. “And I’ve been in meetings where we were meant to feel like we hadn’t done anything right in this country.”

She said ag producers needed people with the skill sets to push back “without screaming at one another.”

Earlier, Jachowski had advised the International Leadership Alumni Conference attendees that, “Quality leadership means saying what needs to be said, at the time it needs to be said, and the way it needs to be said at that time. I cannot emphasize that enough.”

In contrast to the Endangered Species Act fights over grizzlies and wolves, the rescue of the black-footed ferret has been far more congenial. As he retold his family’s story, Allen Hogg said he likes that the recovery effort involved good cooperation between states and federal agencies and local ranchers. For example, while oil and gas operations were temporarily slowed due to the ferret’s discovery, they weren’t shut down and later restarted, Hogg said, with the industry coexisting alongside the species.

“It can be done, you know, if there’s a situation or if something needs to be done,” Hogg said. “Leadership, once again, is the key.”

Multiple attendees shared their appreciation for the conference on social media following the September event with adjectives like “amazing” and commenting on what they’d learned in Park County.

“Overall,” Shuler said, “everybody was really impressed.”