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Notes From the Field: Wyoming’s Grasslands

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I was at the National Museum of Wildlife Art recently for an event that featured photographers Michael Berman and William Sutton, and their exhibition, “Wyoming Grasslands”. The exhibition’s captivating mix of black & white and color imagery offered a thought-provoking perspective of landscapes and land management practices in a state whose expansive grasslands support foraging wildlife and grazing livestock.

In their speaking presentation, Michael and William framed the exhibition as telling the story of the economy of grass. Grass is the bounty that our soils and waters yield, and grasses support the ungulates that we love to experience and the cattle that are integral to Wyoming’s rural economy and heritage. Ranchers are grass farmers, after all.

In Jackson Hole and northwest Wyoming where we work, ranching and other agricultural operations have declined from their heyday in the face of increasing development pressure and changing economies and culture. It was insightful to take in the stark images of grasslands from the far and wide reaches of the state. I also reflected on the role of conservation easements in protecting the bounty of privately-owned grasslands closer to home – in particular, the Land Trust’s easements on many of the remaining large working ranches of the valley. The public greatly benefits from these protected lands – nutritious wildlife habitat, scenic grandeur, and local beef production that are all part of the “natural capital” and economy of the region.

As someone who has a great affinity for native prairie and grasslands, having worked on prairie restoration and management in the past, I enjoyed the work on display at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. I hope to visit the remaining great grassland ecosystems in the world, and know that if I am fortunate to travel to the Mongolian steppe, roadtrip to experience the tallgrass of Saskatchewan, or go gaucho in the pampas of Argentina, I will see them through the lens of my own appreciation for the open grasslands that sustain our wildlife and rural ranching heritage in this valley I call home.

-Steffan Freeman

Photo: The summertime bounty of the “Elk Camp” conservation property. Created by View22 artist Eric Seymour.

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