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A historic cattle drive in the Upper Green River Basin is underway 

 A group of cowboys on horseback move cattle over a bridge.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
A group of cowboys move cattle for The Drift on a recent morning.

On a recent early, crisp morning, 2,000 cows moved through the sagebrush in the Upper Green River Basin. Their ‘moo’s’ echoed through the valley as cowboys on horseback pushed them along.

It was part of a historic cattle drive that originally started in the late 1800s in Sublette County. Cattle from 11 local ranches are moved 60 miles from the desert to the mountains each spring. It is considered the oldest continuously used stock drive in the state.

Coke Landers sat on his horse in his leather chaps and straw cowboy hat after moving cattle all morning. Each day, they move the cattle a portion of the way. All in all, Landers said it takes a couple weeks.

“You get up at 3:30 in the morning, get breakfast, get to the barn, get everybody's horses saddled and get in the trailer, and then go start riding, or try to be riding, between 5:30 or 6 every day,” Landers said.

The drive is actually called ‘The Drift’ because the cattle summer on Forest Service land and then naturally ‘drift’ back to the desert in the fall.

“Depending on the feed and the bears and stuff, we typically open the gates around October 1st,” Landers said. “And then the cows come home on their own. They just start marching home.”

The Drift was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

It originally started because local ranchers needed a place to summer and feed their cows. So they started moving their cattle to the lush grasses of the Upper Green.

Landers said moving the cattle this year was especially a challenge because of the wet spring.

“There's so much feed and water everywhere for the cows, they have no real desire to move. And so they feel comfortable where they're at, and they're full, they're fat, they're happy, and they got water,” he said.

In recent years, environmental groups have sued over the U.S. Forest Service’s summer grazing plan. They say too many grizzly bears are killed because of bear-cow conflicts. A court recently ruled that the forest service has to reconsider how many bears can be killed due to conflicts – in 2019, the forest service determined that up to 72 bears a decade could die due to conflicts.

In total, about 6,500 cattle will be moved this year for The Drift and it will wrap up in early July.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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