Montana’s ranchers depend on the land and its resources to be successful business enterprises. As such, it is imperative to be good stewards of their environment and its resources, implementing practices that promote sustainability and conservation. Since its inception in 1991, the Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) has honored ranchers across the United States who implement these practices and are great examples of being stewards of their resources.
For the past 25 years, Montana Stockgrowers Association has proudly sponsored the Montana ESAP program, and with support of the Montana Beef Council, recognize this year’s Montana recipient, the American Fork Ranch of Two Dot, as a ranch going above and beyond to implement good stewardship practices for their land, resources, wildlife and community.
The American Fork Ranch (Facebook), a commercial cow-calf operation in Wheatland and Sweet Grass counties, is owned by the Stevens Family and is managed by Jed and Annie Evjene. Jed is a long-time active member of the Montana Stockgrowers Association and currently serves as Director of the South Central district for the Association.
“The Stevens family, Annie and I, along with all of our crew could not be more proud to receive this recognition,” says Jed Evjene. “Over the past 17 years, we’ve worked hard to preserve the legacy of this ranch, improve its pastures, croplands and cattle. Making a ranch like this work while being conscious of the environment around us takes a good team and we’re honored to be Environmental Stewardship Award recipients.”
The ranch, established in 1882 as a sheep operation, was purchase by Colonel Wallis Huidekoper and designated “The American Ranch”. An idealistic soldier, Huidekoper built a series of whitewashed and red-roof structures along a plumb line, to form an orderly village that still stands today. In 1945, Col. Robert T. Stevens purchased the operation and renamed it as “The American Fork Ranch”. Steven’s vision was that the ranch would remain as a consistent and economically viable unit in the community, rather than a vacation or leisure home for future generations of the family.
As current ranch managers, Jed and Annie Evjene, joined the ranch in 1998, a consensus among the owners had already began to refocus the ranch’s efforts to be better stewards of the land, conserve their natural resources and ensure the ranch’s economic and environmental sustainability. The changes focused on the principles of utilizing the best available scientific knowledge and business practices, enhancing stewardship values with long-term perspectives to invest in the land and environment, and to preserve the ranch’s historic value and beauty.
Over the past 17 years, the Stevens and Evjenes families have focused on establishing relationships among all key aspects of the ranch: rangeland, water, crop production, cattle herd, wildlife, cottonwood forests, employees, family, community and the beef industry to integrate a model of sustainability. These cooperative efforts have led to relationships and projects in coordination with professionals from numerous universities, state and federal agencies, area and state Stockgrower organizations, and several youth programs.
The Evjenes have a knack for intensive record management, allowing them to use that information to tract what works and what does not when managing the ranches resources. The results have been implementing grazing practices, with the use of more than 25 miles of interior fencing, 15,500 feet of stock water pipeline, spring water development, and weed control to develop grazing systems that better utilize resources in a manner that complements the landscape and environment.
The cowherd at the American Fork has been managed to adapt to its environment over the past two decades. Reducing cow size, along with management of grazing and water systems, has allowed for better and more uniform utilization of forage supplies, increased calf weaning weights, minimized cow inputs and overall improvements in cow efficiency and operation sustainability. The calves are raised and marketed without the use of artificial hormones or supplements, and have shown consistent adaptations to market demands using improved herd genetics. A severe drought in 2012 threatened feed supplies for the herd, but thanks for foresight in grazing management and temporary herd reduction, the ranch survived the drought period with minimal negative impacts.
Today, the American Fork Ranch is home to a diverse population of plant species and managed wildlife populations. Intensive record keeping, over a decade of range monitoring, water development projects and weed management have led to pasture conditions that promote diverse plant species and thick stands of stockpiled forage for year-round grazing. A heavy focus on riparian area management has allowed for recovery of plant species, Cottonwood forest regrowth, improved water quality and enhanced wildlife habitat, even in the presence of livestock grazing.
“Even though the Stevens family may not live here year round, they are all involved in the ranching operation,” says Annie Evjene. “Especially the third and fourth generations of the Stevens family know a lot about the ranching business and are trying to carry on to the next generation.”
“The Stevens kids are like our own. When they come to the ranch, they jump right in with the crew, can run any piece of equipment, move cattle and are excited about sharing the experience of this ranch with others. It’s an all-around team effort,” says Jed.
As recipient of this year’s Montana ESAP recognition, the American Fork will submit an application this month for the regional ESAP awards, to be announced in July 2015. Throughout 2015, Montana Stockgrowers will continue to share more about the American Fork Ranch, the Stevens and Evjene families, and their work as examples of Environmental Stewardship within the Montana ranching community.
To learn more about the Montana Environmental Stewardship Award program, click here. The Montana ESAP program is partially sponsored by the Montana Beef Checkoff programs.