Zach Turnbull: Large carnivore biologist a true Friend of Agriculture
Last month hardworking gals of the Green River Valley Cowbelles/Cattlewomen chose and honored their 2019 Friend of Agriculture. Zach Turnbull, a Wyoming Game & Fish biologist who’s been stationed at Pinedale nearly 15 years, was the surprised and honored recipient.
Zach is reclusive and shy by nature. One friend commented that he’s so modest his face is often not seen in photographs.
But that Friend of Agriculture plaque being placed in his hand elicited a big, heartfelt grin.
“I was pretty amazed,” he said.
Joy Ufford and Kevin Campbell picked Zach as “most likely” to deserve such an award, received generous affirmation from community and ag leaders, and jointly wrote the nomination on behalf of the Campbell Cattle Company.
“We have had griz and wolf attacks where we live – Campbell Cattle Co., in Bondurant,” Ufford says, “and Zach has always been very responsive and responsible to be fair to the ranchers.”
Turnbull has a desk and chair in the Pinedale office of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, his center of operations as Pinedale Large Carnivore Biologist.
His territory is the Upper Green River Grazing Allotment. It has the largest chunk of public grazing land in the lower 48, states, he said. “Something like 120 square miles. That’s a lot of country!”
“Because of so much livestock and so many people sharing their habitat, predator/human conflicts may be more common in Wyoming than anywhere else in the lower 48,” Turnbull said. “We are fortunate to have a very involved, big group of producers who are well-informed and willing to be involved. Trust doesn’t just happen, it has to be built”.
When Joy Ufford suggested Turnbull to Kevin Campbell as candidate for the nomination he replied, “That’s a great idea! You write it up.”
Trust is key to that kind of rancher response, and when Turnbull received the award Kevin said, “We had one particular issue that really impressed me – had a pack of wolves coming into our cows and baby calves and killing. Zach basically lived up here for a week or ten days. Snowmachined, skied and set traps. Trapped one – problem gone. Very efficient and competent, extremely fair in settlement, blessed with more common sense than most people, Zach is a true asset and friend to the ranchers of Sublette County. He cares.”
“My duty and job at the state level is to try to address conflicts for our constituents, and to assist in the whole recovery process through state and local management,” Turnbull said. “Dealing with a federally listed species that has exceeded all recovery goals for years is very difficult and costly” he explains. “Bears were de-listed, then through a series of court battles and other issues they were re-listed. Presently, under this listed status for grizzly bears we conduct our work under a sub-permit from the USFWS to “do bear work” which allows us to trap, relocate, and remove grizzly bears under the USFWS’s direction,” he says. “The legislature mandates us to respond to livestock damage; and, when damage is verified, also to pay damages to producers.”
“People sometimes hang on the periphery too much, where illogical opinions and actions are sometimes involved in their thought processes,” he says. “There are real fears, and perceived fears. A lot of people who haven’t lived a rural lifestyle don’t want to sit in meetings talking about bear management. Being informed and cooperating is always important.”
“Working this job I’ve seen a lot of days in country with a lot of bears, and no conflicts. I kind of like having them in the landscape . . . seeing bears or wolves,” Zach muses. “My former boss Mark Burscino, who worked in the Wyoming Game & Fish Department nearly 30 years, was here in the days when they were visible only in that core area near Yellowstone.”
Area rancher and Wyoming State Representative Albert Sommers confirms Turnbull’s statement about spending a lot of days in the country. He supported the Friend of Agriculture nomination with these comments, “He works 7 days a week and 20 hours a day at times. He is extremely dedicated.”
“A lot of people have a stake and interest in the land now, for all different purposes,” Turnbull says. “Others are just users on the landscape, traveling it, sightseeing. Privacy, personal rights and the privileges of others sometimes are hard to reconcile. We can’t just shut it down and focus on only one user’s needs and rights.”.
“From my end I am in constant communication. The level of trust we’ve built in this area doesn’t just happen,” he says. “Even so, not every person involved with the land learns a lot. We can’t just listen to hype, or read some blurb on Facebook, and believe we know the issues.”
News writer Joy Ufford asked ranchwoman Jonita Sommers to describe Zach in a word. “She said: ‘Knowledgeable.’
“Zach is wonderful to work with because he is so knowledgeable and hardworking. He is very dedicated to his job,” Jonita continued. “It doesn’t matter when or how many times a day you call him, he comes in a timely manner. He wants what is best; for the bear, and the cattle.”
That kind of responsibility weighs hard on Turnbull. Bears have fallen back under Federal management and he explains, “The Endangered Species Act is intended to recover imperiled species. Once those species reach recovery goals, management authority should go to the states.
“We need to be partners and we need to work together to get what we need accomplished,” Zach points out. “Yes, we have some issues. But overall the numbers of human injuries or fatalities, haven’t taken a big jump. One year, some time ago, there were three fatalities in a single year and, of course, anything like that becomes very high profile.
When Turnbull’s Friend of Agriculture nomination was being prepared, his boss, Dan Thompson from Lander, told Joy, “He possesses the rare trait of common sensibility, amazing field skills and the knowledge and expertise to be considered an expert in the field of large carnivore ecology, conservation and management.”
Living, and growing beef, across some of Wyoming’s most remote and rugged reaches, the Green River Valley Cowbelles/Cattlewomen are survivors. Celebrating their 50th Anniversary April 17 in Big Piney proves that!
The first-ever meeting of the group that named themselves the Cowbelles was in Arizona in 1939. The Wyoming Cow-Belles organized in Lander a few short months later, with some of those original members coming from Green River.