Thomans Give Up Upper Green Grazing
October 21, 2016

In late September, W & M Thoman Ranches herded their domestic sheep flocks down from the mountains of the Upper Green in Wyoming, where they had grazed since July, just as they had for every summer and fall for decades. The flocks were moved into a set of portable pens located on a flat next to the Green River, where they would be sorted for fall shipping, with market lambs sent up the chute for the lamb buyer, replacement ewe lambs sorted off for shipping to lower elevation grazing and the core adult ewe flocks headed back to the home ranch located near the Fontenelle Reservoir.

But this time was different, because the Thoman family knew their sheep would never come back to the Upper Green for grazing.

The family had agreed to an allotment buyout deal that would put an end to domestic sheep grazing in the area. Long pressured by environmental groups and federal officials, the Thomans at last conceded, and on Tuesday, they waived their Elk Ridge Allotment Complex grazing permit back to the Bridger-Teton National Forest without preference to another livestock producer. The deal involved a buyout of the allotments, and was orchestrated by the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation. Home to domestic sheep for more than 100 years, the Thoman's fine-wooled Rambouillets had grazed this range for 40 years.

Citing the potential threat of interactions between domestic sheep and wild sheep, and the history of wolf and grizzly bear depredations, the Bridger-Teton National Forest has committed to not allowing the allotments to be restocked with domestic sheep. The agency has indicated it will consider allowing the currently permitted cattle grazing in the Upper Green to spread into a portion of the Thoman allotments "in order to better address ongoing predation issues," but not until further environmental review is conducted some years in the future.

The loss of the Thoman allotments - four allotments that grazed up to a total of 3,900 sheep from July through September- is the latest in a series of domestic sheep allotment closures by federal forest officials throughout the West.

The decision to give up the allotments was a difficult one, and one that members of the Thoman family voiced displeasure. Family matriarch Mickey Thoman and daughter Mary said they believe that the situation had become such that it was best to accept the buyout offer and put their days in the Upper Green behind them.

The Thomans aren't sure where they will be taking their sheep for next year's summer and fall grazing season. Federal officials have been unable to identify current vacant grazing allotments or grass banks where their flocks would be allowed, and the Thomans are hoping that some of their current cattle permits can be converted back to sheep, but federal land managers are balking, citing concerns for sage grouse and the need to conduct environmental reviews.

Written by Cat Urbigkit for Pinedale Online!