On the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, along the banks of the Devils River, is an area that was once known for the imminent danger this country posed to soldiers and civilians alike. During the frontier days of the Lone Star State, the Comanche made sport of attacking those trekking across the Big Bend from San Antonio to El Paso. Although the U.S. Army established Fort Hudson in 1857, these attacks continued well beyond the close of the Civil War.
Today, this territory is renowned for its pristine waters. The Devils River is the cleanest river in Texas. It also forms a crucial part of the Rio Grande drainage basin, and the Texas Nature Conservancy made it a goal to keep it this way.
“We’ve been working on the Devils River for 20 years,” says Jeff Francell, Director of Land Protection for the Texas Nature Conservancy. “We bought our first preserve in the early 1990s, and since that time we have protected as much of this area as possible from fragmentation and incompatible land use.”
The Baker Ranch and Prosser Ranch sat side by side, making up a total of some 40,000 acres, including six miles of Devils River frontage. The Texas Nature Conservancy acquired both in order to protect the river as well as Fern Cave, among the largest caves in Texas and home to one of the world’s largest Mexican free-tailed bat populations. Its challenge was to find buyers for both ranches who would be willing to join with the Conservancy in protecting this priceless treasure. Fortunately, a landowner who shared the organization’s conservation focus came along and swooped up both.
Jeff Boswell’s client was looking for a place where he could pursue his love for nature photography, and he had his heart set on West Texas. “At first we looked at a smaller place, but he fell in love with the Devils River, and he knew he wanted to protect it,” says Boswell, a Houston-based broker with Republic Ranches.
“One hurdle we faced was that most people thought a conservation easement was already in place,” says Kevin Meier of duPerier Texas Land Man, who represented the Texas Nature Conservancy on these properties for a year and a half.
“You had to explain to prospective buyers that the conservation easement was able to be written and negotiated to meet the criteria that The Nature Conservancy has to follow to meet their mission,” Meier adds.
Fortunately, that mission just happened to be one that Boswell’s client felt equally passionate about.
“We needed to make sure a conservation easement put buffers along the river’s edge barring development. We also needed to put no-development areas around the cave, springs, and river frontage,” Francell says.
The buyer agreed to protect the land conservatively, taking only two divisions per property, signing off on a limited number of new homesites, and creating no-development zones within 750 feet of protected areas.
“My client knows that he has a valuable asset on his hands, and protecting the Devils River will protect his asset,” Boswell says.
It was a classic win-win all the way around.
“It couldn’t have been a better buyer as far as conservation goes,” Meier says. “It was a match made in heaven.”
Based in Bozeman, Montana, Corinne Garcia freelances for Marie Claire and Country Living.
Download your digital version of the Spring 2013 edition of The Land Report.
It’s amazing – the yarns that can be shared about certain tracts of real property. Our April Newsletter takes a closer at several standout stories, including one that I am quite confident is destined to end up before the Supreme Court in a year or two. Why? The two states involved have been disputing their boundary for only the last 195 years.
Also in our April Newsletter you’ll find the story of an Oregon Senator who is considering a shift in federal management of certain timberlands. Meanwhile the Texas Legislature is currently embroiled in how best to combat the drought that has plagued much of the Lone Star State.
Last but not least, an uptick in the housing market has brought renewed activity to North American forests. Learn more as one of America’s largest landowners gears up for increased lumber sales.
Page through each issue of The Land Report in 2012, and three trends stand out:
1) Legacy properties continue to command a premium. Witness Larry Ellison’s mega-million-dollar purchase of the island of Lanai.
2) The market continues to crave income-producing properties, especially productive farmland.
3) America’s leading landowners view stewardship as a critical element of their trust. Witness Louis Moore Bacon’s remarkable conservation gift, which led to the creation of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area.
One transaction encompassed all three of these elements: the sale of Montana’s historic Broken O Ranch. The history of the Broken O predates statehood. Its legacy is peerless. And its capacity to produce cattle and prodigious amounts of grain is matchless. When these 124,000 acres changed hands in November, one passionate, innovative business- man assumed an imposing mantle that had been meticulously crafted by a peer from an earlier era. For these and so many other reasons, the Magazine of the American Landowner is proud to designate the sale of the Broken O as the 2012 Deal of the Year.
Located along a 20-mile stretch of the Sun River, the roots of the Broken O reach deep — to the days of the Montana Territory. Its current incarnation was masterminded by Bill Moore, founder of the country’s largest privately owned paint company, Kelly-Moore. What began in the 1980s with Moore’s acquisition of a single ranch property along the Sun River evolved into what Forbes described as “one of the largest agricultural operations in the Rocky Mountain West.”
The Broken O’s new owner — Stan Kroenke — is no stranger to the land either. Kroenke ranked No. 10 on the 2012 Land Report 100; among his other ranch holdings is the largest contiguous ranch in the Rocky Mountains, the 540,000-acre Q Creek Ranch.
“Stan looks for quality,” says Kroenke’s broker, Joel Leadbetter of Hall and Hall. “The Broken O is so diversified with agricultural and recreational opportunities, and it’s such a large continuous landscape. That’s rare these days. The Broken O also complements and enhances the attributes of Stan’s other ranches and their operations.”
The rich and alluring history of the Broken O Ranch dates back to the 1800s, a time when cattlemen of the Lonesome Dove era ventured west to tame vast sprawling landscapes. One of those intrepid hopefuls was Daniel Flowerree, a Missourian who made his fortune in Montana’s gold fields. After settling in the Sun River Valley, his Flowerree and Lowry Cattle Company boomed, running as many as 40,000 head. Then a series of brutal winters took a bitter toll.
Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, Flowerree’s ranch was acquired by the Teton Land Company. In the decades that followed, the operation eventually grew into one of the largest cattle operations in the West. In 1945, John Hamilton of Hamilton Beach appliances purchased it.
Bill and Desiree Moore bought the Hamilton Ranch in 1988. One of Moore’s next acquisitions was a neighboring tract, the Freeman Ranch. He would forge a deep, long-lasting bond with the family. Dan Freeman became a close friend and Bill’s right-hand man.
Over the ensuing two-decade span, Bill Moore and Dan Freeman worked in concert, assembling more than 20 blocks of land and building the enormously successful ranching and agricultural enterprise that is in place today.
“As his ranch manager for more than 20 years, Dan brought Bill’s dreams and his passions to fruition. It was a rare combination,” says Mike Swan, the seller’s broker. Swan, who was affiliated with the leading firm of Bates Sanders Swan Land Company throughout the marketing and sale of the Broken O, announced the formation of Swan Land Company in February 2013.
The Broken O is its own hedge fund,” Swan says. “Production is at such a massive scale that any one of the individual entities could make a tremendous agricultural operation independently.”
In addition, the Broken O features a matchless recreational component. Twenty miles of Sun River create an immense resource not only for fish but also for waterfowl, upland birds, mule deer, and elk. Thanks to the Sun River and other historic rights that date back more than a century, the Broken O is the largest private water rights owner in the State of Montana.
The ranch also enjoys close proximity to “the Bob.” At more than 1.5 million acres, the renowned Bob Marshall Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas in the Lower 48.
Along with building an agricultural empire, Moore also built a reputation as a steward of the land. He improved the ranch’s extensive pastures by planting native grasses. Moore placed three conservation easements on approximately 9,700 acres along the Sun River corridor. The Moores eventually became a mainstay of the community, employing a large number of locals, funding a community center in nearby Augusta, and donating to local schools and charities.
Kroenke is also no stranger to land stewardship. “Stan bought his first ranch in 1997, and balance has always been important to him,” Leadbetter says. “He looks at everything: the business, ecosystem, fishery, wildlife, and landscape. He always strives to be a very good steward while running sustainable ag operations.”
A deal of this size requires a tremendous amount of preparation. Swan spent months working with Freeman and the seller’s legal team to prepare volumes of due diligence material, including inventory lists, equipment and cattle documentation, background information on 27 houses, soil reports, land title commitments in three counties, information about water rights, state and federal land leases, grazing permits, gravel permits, DEQ permits, conservation easements, and hunting leases, to name a few.
“The preparation was instrumental to the successful transaction,” Swan says. “Our goal was to package the ranch to the point that when the buyer came through the door, everything they needed to know about the Broken O was at their fingertips.”
And interested buyers did come knocking, including private investors and investment funds as well as corporate entities.
As luck would have it, Leadbetter and Swan are both based out of Bozeman; the two know each other quite well. “We both grew up on ranches in Southwest Montana and have ag backgrounds,” Swan says. “We were working with a buyer and a team that understood the materials we provided and spoke the same language. That was paramount to the transaction.”
Of equal importance was that Leadbetter’s client instantly recognized the sterling qualities of the Broken O. “Stan looked it over, and he knew he wanted it,” Leadbetter says. “He’s that kind of guy — very bright — and wants to continue that legacy of innovative agriculture and enjoy the wildlife and fishing and all that the Broken O has to offer.”
An especially rewarding aspect only became apparent after the closing. The central character was not present, but his legacy continues. “It is a blessing we were able to sell the ranch to an individual of Stan Kroenke’s commitment to agriculture and land stewardship. My sense is that this transition will not only see a continued commitment to the current agricultural operation that William Moore established, but a continual enhancement and improvement of the ranch overall. I’m sure if Bill Moore were alive today, he would be pleased.” Swan says.
Enjoy the entire issue HERE.
January 15, 2013 by Land Report Editors
Filed under Agriculture, Auctions, Cattle, Farming, Federal Policy, Georgia, Minerals, New Mexico, Newsletter, Oklahoma, Public Land, Recreation, Residential Property, South, Southwest, Texas
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announces his plan to leave Washington and return home to Colorado. The Supreme Court agrees to hear a dispute between Texas and Oklahoma over water rights. And the State of Texas, on a completely different matter, asks the Nation’s highest court to intervene in yet another water fight, one that involves Texas and another neighbor, New Mexico.
So much for a slow start to 2013. Our January newsletter features these news items and as well as others, including Land Report 100er Louis Bacon’s timeless gift to establish the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Southern Colorado.
December 15, 2012 by Land Report Editors
Filed under Agriculture, Auctions, Back Issues, Cattle, Conservation, Dogs, Federal Policy, Great Lakes, Great Plains, Midwest, Northeast, Pacific, Public Land, Recreation, South, Southwest, West
Travel to Sonoma County and enjoy a rare and revealing portrait of John Jordan and his family’s renowned vineyard and winery. Learn the latest about the white hot market for Midwest farmland. Or follow the twists and turns of the Yellowstone River as it winds its way onto your iPad courtesy of the new documentary Where the Yellowstone Goes, sponsored by Trout Headwaters.
All these and many more stories So be our guest and enjoy our latest issue HERE.
For more up to the minute reports on listings, auctions, sales, and breaking news pertaining to land and landowners, be sure to follow The Magazine of the American Landowner on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Update October 2012
This summer, Bio-Logical Capital, a land investment, development, and conservation company, acquired Hana Ranch in East Maui for an undisclosed price.
Bio-Logical Capital plans to preserve the property as a working cattle ranch and has plans to expand organic farming on the land. According to senior vice president for Bio-Logical Capital Guy Kaulukukui, “It is at once a privilege and a great responsibility. Hana is one of the last, best places in Hawaii untouched by urbanization, rich in abundant natural and cultural resources, and with the potential to become a model for sustainable ranching and farming practices in the state.”
Hana Ranch has been on the market since September 2008. Daniel Omer of Island Sotheby’s International Realty represented the Hana Ranch Partners.
Read more here.
DECEMBER 19, 2011 POST:
Situated in the tropical setting of eastern Maui, Hana Ranch is considered one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
Featuring two miles of Pacific oceanfront that rises over 2,200 feet up the slopes of Haleakala, this 4,500± acre working cattle ranch sits in one of the last places in Hawaii that remains untouched by the stresses of urbanization and over-development.
As a founding member of the Maui Cattle Company, which is known for its all-natural grass fed beef, the ranch’s cattle operation includes a cow herd of approximately 1,200 and produces 1,000 calves per year.
Hana Ranch is listed with Island Sotherby’s International Realty. For more information, contact Dan Omer at (808) 281-2100.
Click here to see the full list of Land Report’s Top Ten priciest properties.
Productive ag land sets a new auction high.
A major bump in U.S. hunting and fishing numbers.
These are a few of the featured items in our October 2012 newsletter, which is now available HERE.
From coast to coast, interest in land and land-based assets continues to rise. See so for yourself as we present new listings, new sales data, and auction updates.
The value of patience was clearly evident in a recent transaction involving the sale of a 5,200-acre ranch near Hall, Montana. Fay Ranches represented the seller; a buyer came directly to us and we quickly had an offer on the table the first week of December for a cash closing before the end of the year.
It needs to be mentioned that our seller grew up on this ranch. It was his father’s place, and there was a strong emotional tie intact. As the reality of the looming sale set in, it turned out that our seller was not quite ready to let go.
As in most transactions these days, price was the biggest hurdle. The buyer was “all in” and pushing for a deal. The seller was not. We asked the buyer to give the seller the time needed to come to terms with the sale of his family’s ranch. We also encouraged both buyer and seller to stay engaged, and each obliged, taking small steps toward common ground. After six months of negotiations, they finally agreed to a price in May. During that time, we reached a stalemate on several occasions. At one point, there was no correspondence between the two parties for nearly a month. Even though it sometimes felt like this transaction would never come together, our team at Fay never gave up. Perseverance prevailed, and we successfully closed the deal in July.
“The strongest of all warriors are these two — time and patience.” - Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
The buyer is now looking forward to autumn on his new ranch, especially the prospect of elk hunting in Montana. The seller is actively searching for a 1031 exchange property in Texas where he will spend more time with family. Each is now ready to start new chapters of their lives.
Ron Morris of Ranch Marketing Associates reports that the Y Cross Ranch has come on the market for the first time since it was assembled by Courtenay Davis in 1941. Located northwest of Cheyenne, the 60,000+ acre swath of Wyoming cattle country will be sold via sealed bid. The ranch totals 60,782 acres and consists of 50,333 deeded acres, a 3,949-acre State of Wyoming lease, and a 6,500-acre Forest Service lease acres for a total of 60,782 acres.
The Y Cross Ranch has traditionally operated as a cow/calf ranch and averages 650 to 850 pairs along with 650 to 800 yearling cattle. The ranch’s water rights, some of which date back to the days of the Wyoming Territory, support the production of more than 1,000 tons of grass hay. In addition to its cattle operation, the ranch supports a significant big game population, including elk, mule deer, antelope, black bear, and the occasional moose or mountain lion. Yearly hunting revenues range from $40,000 to $60,000.
In 1997, the ranch was donated by the Courtenay Davis Foundation to the Colorado State University Research Foundation and the University of Wyoming Foundation as joint beneficiaries. Since then, the Y Cross has served as a working laboratory for observation and study of plant and animal systems in a natural environment along with scholarship and/or internship support for Colorado State University and University of Wyoming students majoring in agriculture and natural resources.
The Y Cross Ranch is being offered for sale in its entirety and includes all real estate, improvements and water rights, through a sealed bid process. Broker cooperation is invited. Contact Ron Morris of Ranch Marketing Associates for details at (970) 535-0881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more HERE.
This is the second in a series of posts by Field Reporter Joe Nick Patoski that looks at the wildfires currently raging out West.
With the Waldo Canyon and the House Park fires raging for weeks, the month of June goes down as the most destructive for wildfires since Colorado became a state.
It wasn’t always this way.
Early accounts of wildfires in the American West by European settlers were spotty, at best, mainly because the West is so big and there were so few settlers, at least at first.
When forests burned, there was very little anyone could to do in response to protect property but let the fire burn, which is precisely what Native American tribes did when a big burn ignited.
Fire-fighting techniques have improved considerably over time, especially in the past 25 years. But even with the development of fire-retardants, employment of aircraft, smarter strategies, and constantly better technology, wildfires persist. If anything, man appears to be losing ground to nature on flame front.
Fire is part of a forest’s life cycle, taking down dead and sickly timber, clearing out brush and understory, and scarifying seedlings that require intense heat in order to germinate. It works the same way on prairie grasslands and the plains. Without fire, the vegetation wouldn’t thrive.
Even severe fires caused by heavy fuel loads are normal cyclical occurrences; the big differences are how the cycles have become more frequent, and how more than a century of fire suppression as sound land management, a philosophy spurred largely by the establishment of cattle and other livestock operations, has created an unprecedented heavy fuel load.
It’s important to note that different types forests burn differently, depending on the dominant forest tree and elevation. A century can pass between severe wildfires in high elevation forests dominated by lodgepole pine, aspen, spruce, and Douglas fir. Lower elevation forests with piñon pine, and junipers tend to be drier which leads to more frequent fire events – every decade or two. This keeps forests open and less dense.
The West used to be emptier too. Construction of homes in and around forests has skyrocketed since the 1970s, creating a precarious wildlands-urban interface (WUI) as Colorado State researchers David M. Theobald and William Romme label it. As civilization encroaches, management of forests becomes considerably more difficult. And what provides bucolic scenery most of the time to those arboreal interlopers also provides all the necessary tinder to leave nothing but ashes if flames reach a domicile.
Nationwide, the WUI encompasses an area about 14% larger than the state of California, with an estimated 89% of that wildlands-urban interface privately-owned. That means it is private landowners who will most likely shoulder the burden of wildfire management and prevention strategies such as managed thinning of forest and prescribed burns. Federal and state government planning is limited to federally- and state-owned lands.
Still, sound management practices can only do so much. Increased human population, construction in the wildlife-urban interface, a build-up of tinder in the understory due to more than a century of fire suppression are mere enablers compared to a warming climate. Increased temperatures leading to earlier spring thaws and less snow melt appears to be the biggest driver behind the increase of severe wildfires.
The West was considerably wetter when wildfires in the American West first began to be studied. The climate has turned drier over the past century and a half. Add to that a perfect storm of more immediate weather conditions: the interior West is in extreme drought and in late June, a record-breaking heat wave settled over the southern and central Rocky Mountains accompanied by dry humidity and winds.
Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University. She is also the co-author of a study that appeared in the journal Ecosphere concluding the risk of wildfires in the American west will increase as a result of climate change.
“Climate change is shifting rainfall patterns around the world,” Hayhoe told the Living on Earth radio program. “We’re also seeing that climate change is increasing our average temperatures, which raises the risk of having those hot, dry conditions that we need for a wildfire to spread.”
Colorado is fortunate to have numerous experts at Colorado State University who are studying the past, present, and future of western wildfires.
“A great understanding has developed about historical fire stories in Colorado,” says Dan Binkley, Professor of Forest Ecology at Colorado State. “The first thing to emphasize is we have a grand variety of forests across the West, and the fire stories that go with the landscapes are very different for different types of forests.”
Depending on one’s location, property owners have tools to prepare and protect themselves and their property, says Binkley.
“For homeowners, the most effective options are to learn about ‘firewise’ treatments to reduce the flammability of the local area around a house; join with a community to develop a Community Wildlife Protection Plan; and work with the community and adjacent land managers, such as public land people, to reduce the most severe risks at landscape scales. “
Binkley recommends tapping into the Colorado State Forest Service for information on all the above options. The statewide forestry staff visits and works with Colorado landowners.
All well, and good, but reality has yet to catch up to the knowledge. Since 2002, the contracted fleet of airborne fire-fighting tankers that the US Forest Service depends on has declined from 44 to nine while there have been six deadly crashes, all of them involving aircraft more than 50 years old.
Similarly, the US Fire Protection Program Analysis system, which was launched in 2002 in response to a history of all-out fire suppression, has yet to be implemented, although the computerized program that would coordinate fire-fighting agencies and responders to assess and reduce risk and control costs, was supposed to be online in 2007.
The failure to efficiently coordinate agencies and responders mattered not a whit to Dr. Bonnie Warnock, chair of Natural Resource Management at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, who got a call at the school last year that her ranch was burning.
“My heart said no but my head said it was OK,” she said.
Dr. Warnock rushed to her place.
“It was very stressful. The whole back pasture was burned, the boundary fence was on the ground. What do I do? I had not planned at all. How do I deal with this financially and emotionally? We have to sell one-third of our cows. We don’t have enough feed. That’s a capital investment for us that we are having to sell off and we’ll have to buy more back,” Warnock said.
She knew too well the fire was part of the process.
“Historically, our landscape did evolve with fire. If you’re looking at it from a plant perspective, this is not a catastrophe. This is a natural occurrence for the semiarid ecosystem we live in. Typically, we have two or three wet years followed by a dry year during which lightning strikes cause wildfires. This process has maintained the grasslands and kept brush from encroaching.”
That is, until the pioneers arrived and established permanent communities. “When early European settlement of this region began in the late 1800s, there was a lack of understanding of this process and land was overstocked and overgrazed,” Dr. Warnock said. “Drought was something the settlers weren’t experienced with. The overstocking and overgrazing removed the grass and fires disappeared from the Trans-Pecos.”
Range science changed that practice. “Since the science of range management developed in the 1950s, our ranchers have done a good job,” Dr. Warnock pointed out, while adding the caveat that even sound practices can do only so much.
“Through this most recent wet period, they haven’t been overgrazing and overstocking, which has benefitted the ecosystem. But over the past three years, we’ve grown a huge amount of fuel in the Trans-Pecos, so the first fire in 100-150 years since the region had been settled was extremely large. It was so big we weren’t prepared to deal with it. This is unprecedented.”
As critical as the drought and wildfires have been, the next few months afterwards were even more critical. “If we get rain in the next month or so, the country will come back and look better. If it doesn’t rain we will lose perennial grasses and see an increase of desertification,” Warnock said.
This awareness has led to the formation of a non-profit association in Far West Texas that uses prescribed fire as a management tool to reduce fuel loads. “Going forward, this is something we need if we are going to have green grass,” Dr. Warnock says, acknowledging a perception issue with prescribed burning from city and town dwellers and the new breed residing in the wildland-urban interface.”
“These people are at the highest risk if a prescribed burn gets away and at the greatest risk from wildfire. Most of these people come from cities and are not supportive of prescribed fire. That makes it difficult to employ this tool,” Dr. Warnock says. “There is a lot of support for prescribed fires by ranchers. We need to educate small landowners living on the edge of towns.”
“We need to work on finding mechanisms to reduce accidents. How do you keep people from welding or throwing out a cigarette when there’s 45 mile per hour winds and 2 percent humidity? “
Like the rest of us, even though she knows what she knows, Dr. Warnock has no interest in seeing it all happen again.
Read part one of this series here.
Photo Credit: Don Savage Photography