WYOMING — Wyoming rancher and Sublette County House Rep. Albert Sommers is the recipient of the 2022 National Private Lands Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Award. The award, given annually by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), recognizes one individual or family-run farm, ranch or forest land operation that has incorporated proactive conservation and environmental practices and exhibits outstanding stewardship of fish and wildlife resources. Sommers was acknowledged at AFWA’s annual meeting held in Fort Worth, Texas.
Upon notification of the award, Sommers told the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, “I have a deep respect for this landscape that I occupy and the wildlife that coexist with it. This landscape has defined who I am and what motivates me as a rancher and legislator. We are on the cusp of change in Wyoming, and I fear that this deep respect for landscape that imbibes in those of us who have lived here for generations will disappear.”
Game and Fish director Brian Nesvik said he could think of no one more deserving than Sommers for the national award, lauding the third-generation rancher for his visionary leadership and practices that benefit Wyoming’s wildlife.
“Albert Sommers is a remarkable leader for on-the-ground conservation along with his outstanding representation on boards, committees and the Wyoming Legislature,” Nesvik said. “He and his family have a fundamental understanding that an economically viable ranch and intact wildlife habitats are not mutually exclusive. His practices and voice for wildlife are truly significant to the West. For these reasons, Game and Fish is proud that Rep. Sommers was recognized for his contributions to Wyoming. He is a model for our state and nation for conservation practices.”
Sommers owns and operates a third-generation ranch in western Wyoming in the Upper Green River Valley near Pinedale. The 1,876-acre working ranch is part of the largest conservation and public access easement in the state. The Sommers Ranch includes hay and livestock production in the late fall, winter and early spring. The cattle operation is a commercial herd of 300-plus Angus/Herford cross mother cows. Sommers also grazes cattle in the 56,000-acre Bureau of Land Management Mesa allotment and the 132,000-acre U.S. Forest Service Upper Green River allotment
Game and Fish nominated Sommers for the award, accompanied by endorsement letters from Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts and the Muley Fanatic Foundation. In the nomination to AFWA, Game and Fish detailed Sommer’s legacy-level conservation efforts as to why he was deserving of the national honor. The Sommers family has long implemented practices that benefit wildlife in western Wyoming.
One notable example is the Sommers-Grindstone Conservation Project — a landmark conservation effort in Upper Green River Valley. In 2010, the Sommers Ranch, in conjunction with a neighboring landowner, entered their property in its entirety into a conservation easement to protect and preserve the open space, wildlife and wildlife habitat present in perpetuity.
“Working with additional landowners, the footprint of the conservation easements now exceeds 19,000 acres and stretches nearly 30 square miles, making it the largest in Wyoming,” said John Lund, Pinedale Region wildlife supervisor.
The protected lands are located in two areas considered critical for wildlife in western Wyoming. This includes portions of the designated Sublette Mule Deer Migration Corridor, the longest mule deer migration route in the world. To ensure those migrations are accessible for wildlife, the ranch has participated in the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program for fence removals and wildlife-friendly modifications.
Another example is Sommers’ approach to livestock grazing, which includes voluntary monitoring of the Upper Green River grazing allotment. Beginning in 1996, Sommers initiated a cooperative range-monitoring program with the University of Wyoming. The voluntary group monitors range conditions, identifies areas of concern and if needed, alters grazing to meet objectives with species like sage grouse in mind.
The ranch welcomes anglers and hunters through Game and Fish access management initiatives. Sommers, in partnership with the Grindstone Cattle Company, granted 5 miles of a walk-in fishing easement. The public access area and boat launch is one way to enter the Green River for floating and bank fishing, which is extremely limited in the area. The ranch also provides opportunities for small and big game hunting.
In addition to resource use, the Sommers Ranch and the 26 buildings on the property are listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009 for its contributions to the understanding of historic ranching in Wyoming. Community and school groups visit the ranch to learn about the ranch’s history, rural living and an overall appreciation for the outdoors and wildlife.
Outside of his official role in the Wyoming House of Representatives, Sommers has held positions on the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team, Colorado River Basin Working Group, Tri-Governor Committee on the review of Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, Green River Basin Sage Grouse Working Group and the Rock Springs BLM District Multiple Use Advisory Group. Sommers also was a founding member of the Sublette County Invasive Species Task Force.
In the past he’s been a member of the Wyoming Livestock Board and president of Green River Valley Cattleman’s Association and the Upper Green River Valley Cattleman’s Association.
Sommers has received numerous awards, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Landowner of the Year, Wyoming Leopold Conservation Award and the Outstanding Contribution to Sage Grouse Initiative award.
“Rep. Sommers has spent a lifetime living and working around wildlife in western Wyoming. He understands and appreciates the role and importance of all wildlife on the landscape, and strongly supports common-sense conservation measures to ensure thriving wildlife populations into the future,” Lund said. “I extend the department’s deepest congratulations — and thanks — to Rep. Sommers and his family on behalf of Wyoming’s fish and wildlife.”