Our ranch borders the Shoshone National Forest on the north and many of our day rides enter it. It reaches from us to Yellowstone Park and encompasses an area of 2,500,000 acres over half of which is wilderness. It makes up about 1/8 of the vast Greater Yellowstone Wild Ecosystem. The rules for administering national forest land are not as rigid as those for a national park like Yellowstone and a certain amount of multiple use is allowed. During the summer months we are able to graze our cows over about 60 square miles there. The numbers are limited to 300 mother cows with their calves so that the pressure is very light and does no damage to the ecosystem. In fact the cows improve the pasture for the deer and the elk by eating the courser fodder and filling much the same niche as the vanished buffalo used to fill.
We feel extremely fortunate to border this forest which covers some of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states. It gives us an area at our doorstep which allows us to ride all day and seldom encounter other people. The week long pack trips we take in the mountains behind us often have no human contact. We have the wild beauty of Yellowstone Park without the crowds of people which destroy its tranquility.
The Shoshone was the first national forest in the country and Theodore Roosevelt did much to strengthen it and to see that national forest land would be used in such a way as not to damage the land, but to allow its renewable natural resources to be used in a way that can be sustained over the years. Thus grazing, limited lumbering and hunting have been permitted. The abuses of the early years, when overgrazing and heedless lumbering sometimes badly damaged the ecology, have come to an end. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department controls the hunting laws and tries to maintain levels of wild game near as high a level as the available land can sustain. They also administer the fish and have done much to improve the habitat of the cutthroat trout in our area. The cutthroat is the only indigenous trout in Wyoming and it has sometimes been threatened by introduced species like the rainbow and lake trout.
Of late years the pine bark beetle has devastated the Douglas fir, lodge pole pine and limber pine in the forest. Global warming has allowed these beetles to proliferate as they used to be reduced in numbers by the cold winters which are no longer so severe. The suppression of forest fires for over a century has also made the trees more vulnerable to beetle attack. The Forest Service used to try to suppress all fires, but are now starting to see that this is not a good long term strategy and are allowing some burns to continue. They have even tried to initiate some controlled burns though this is a tricky tactic which can easily get out of hand.
The Wind River Mountains at the southern end of the Shoshone have the most glaciers of any forest in the US Rockies. These glaciers have receded considerably in the last century as old photos prove, but they are still very considerable. Though Wyoming is generally a dry state, the higher elevations in the Wind River and Absaroka Mountains get much more moisture and can have 40 feet or more of snowfall a year. This is what keeps our rivers running, gives us water for irrigation and provides wonderful habitat for trout.