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Stetson Stories: Good Stewards

Story & Photography by Corey Woosley

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Phil Howes is a former game warden for the state of New Mexico and currently works as a ranch and game manager for a private ranch outside of Santa Fe. Diane, Phil’s wife, is a botanist by education and a horse trainer by trade, and their daughter, Katie, is studying Adventure Education with the intention of working as a wilderness therapist. What’s interesting about the Howes family is the level at which they interact with nature and the type of stewarding that they practice.

When Phil worked as a game warden, he was in charge of a section of about a million acres and was the sole warden for that area. Phil’s approach to his work is nothing short of scientific, but it’s executed in a rugged way that the environment demands. He is rich with stories from the backcountry, like capturing bighorn sheep and relocating them with a helicopter to new areas where the former population had been depleted, and doing the same with Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout moving the live fish on horseback from some otherwise unreachable place in the wilderness.

Phil gets to do the same thing with his current job on a smaller scale, but with far greater attention to detail. With the ranch’s new owners and their shared views on wildlife and sustainability, Phil has had the ability to use the ranch as a blank canvas and he has put his vast knowledge to good use to create something truly special. Since his partnership with the current ranch owners, the property has seen an incredible influx of elk, mule deer, turkey, trout, mountain lions, and bears to name a few.

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When the Howes’ family aren’t working, they spend much of their free time together in the backcountry with their horses or fly fishing the nearby Pecos River. It’s refreshing to spend time with people whose lives are spent not only in the outdoors enjoying its benefits but working to cultivate its wildness instead of trying to tame it.

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Sadly, most people barely have the opportunity to step off the sidewalk anymore, let alone into the backcountry. And that’s why the Howes’ life is something to stop and admire. The reality is, we all can’t live and work like the Howes’ do, but we could learn a thing or two from them about the beauty of keeping the wild places wild.

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