(Lander, WY) – A new documentary series highlights Wyoming ranching families that have gone to exceptional lengths to preserve western ranching and steward big game populations that depend on working lands.
The three-part My Wild Land series features ranches from across the state of Wyoming: the
Terry Creek Ranch near Laramie, the Bischoff Ranch near Lovell, the Hellyer family ranch near Lander.
Each film shares the unique perspective of the landowners, their relationship to the land, and the challenges they’ve faced while maintaining cattle operations and promoting wildlife habitat.
“The ranchers, and the leasees of these properties are the ones that are taking care of the land, they’re the ones out there doing the waterline projects, and the fencing projects,” says Tyrell Bischoff, manager of the Bischoff Ranch and one of the film series’ featured ranchers.
“Many of Wyoming’s wildlife move across a mix of public and private ranchlands,” said Emily Reed, co-producer of the film series and associate research scientist at Wyoming Migration Initiative at the University of Wyoming. “The work of ranchers to steward their lands and maintain connected habitats is critical for wildlife populations, and we wanted to help tell that story.”
The My Wild Land series, presented by Muley Fanatic Foundation with support from Maven (an outdoor equipment company based in Lander) and produced by the Wyoming Migration
Initiative (WMI) at the University of Wyoming, was launched in response to the rapid residential growth of western states in recent years and subsequent loss of wildlife habitat.
From 2000 to 2020, Wyoming’s total resident population grew by 17 percent. While most of
Wyoming’s population growth happens in urban areas, the footprint of rural housing development can have a major effect on migratory big game.
Some ranchers, like Al and Barb Johnson of the Terry Creek Ranch, worry that housing growth will edge out family ranches like theirs and the wildlife that depend on them. “We’re seeing a lot of subdivisions coming westward and taking over the habitat,” says Barb Johnson in one of the films.
Researchers and managers recognize that much of Wyoming’s ranchland is winter range or
migration habitat for big game species like pronghorn, mule deer, and elk. “These working
ranches are one of the major reasons big game can move between mountains and lowlands
each spring and fall, allowing them to persist in the abundance they do today,” said Patrick
Rodgers, the films’ co-producer and associate research scientist at WMI.
Jim Hellyer, a Lander-area rancher featured in the series, has witnessed urban expansion
“You can look across the valley and see these houses coming,” says Hellyer. “They come out of the ground just like the spring grass.” He adds, “If you lose agriculture, then you lose the open space.”
One of Hellyer’s properties is a side route for medium-distance migrants of the
renowned Red Desert to Hoback mule deer migration corridor.
But for Hellyer and many Wyoming ranchers, their main concern isn’t just habitat loss for big game, it’s preserving their livelihood and the ranching way of life for future generations.
“It’s about conservation, but it’s also about the cow,” he says.
In the film, Hellyer notes the benefits that water projects, fence modifications, and other
improvements projects have had for his cattle.
“Whether it’s sage grouse or elk or mule deer or historic trails, or riparian areas, it’s all there,” Hellyer said. “If they look good, your cows look good, and the range looks good. It’s not that complicated.”
In addition to a diverse group of ranchers, the films showcase Wyoming’s vast open spaces
through vivid cinematography in all seasons. “We hope these films are an experience that
allows the viewer to enter into Wyoming’s wild places and get a sense of the conditions
ranchers face just to make a living,” said Rodgers.
“It is with great enthusiasm that we present the My Wild Land series,” said Joshua Coursey,
President and CEO of Muley Fanatic Foundation. “The cherished regard that these families hold for their landscapes and the benefit they provide in habitat for wildlife is immeasurable. The glimpse of insight these films provide to the stewardship responsibilities and efforts to further active conservation pursuits are worth celebrating. In a day and age where habitat fragmentation is occurring rapidly, these films offer a breath of fresh air for what we know works in sustaining healthy wildlife populations: large open spaces.”
My Wild Land will be screened on the following dates and at the following locations:
- Jackson – September 1st, 6:00 pm, Teton County Library. Doors open at 5:30, films start at 6. Hosted by Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and WMI.
- Laramie – September 22nd, 6:00 pm, Gryphon Theatre. Doors open at 5:30, films start at 6. Hosted by Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust and WMI.
- Lander – September 29th, Lander Community and Convention Center, Doors open at
6:00 pm, films start at 6:30 pm. Hosted by Wyoming Wildlife Federation and WMI.
Each event is free and open to the public and will include a free raffle, Q&A session with
ranchers or organizations working to maintain Wyoming’s working lands, and a social hour with free food and beverages. The screenings are made possible by Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Muley Fanatic Foundation.
Trailers for the films can be found here.