Revenue, recreation increase in land exchangeWritten by Christy Hemken
Dave Berry, a rancher from Horse Creek who owned the X Bar, proposed the trade and facilitated the exchange. Principal Lands Management Representative Jason Crowder says the State looked at the exchange, determined it met the State’s Trust Land Management Objectives, advertised the proposed exchange in local and state newspapers and conducted public meetings in Cheyenne and Laramie. The State closed on the ranch Dec. 27, 2007.
In the end, 41 scattered parcels of land totaling 21,276 acres in Albany and Laramie counties were exchanged for the 11,973 acres of the X Bar in Albany County. The parcels were under 28 leases to 16 lessees before the deal. Each lessee bought into the X Bar Land Company, LLC in proportion to the appraised value of the leased land they held. Then the state traded for the X Bar and each lessee received a patent for the land they previously leased.
“The single ranch now makes the Trust beneficiaries approximately three times more money than the isolated parcels,” says Crowder, adding Berry wished to see State ownership of his ranch in part to prevent future development already planned for land to the north.
Berry says he also desired the trade because he thinks state leases aren’t nearly as secure as they used to be. “Things are changing, and I’m concerned at some point that even those sections that don’t have public access, it could be demanded by the public,” he says.
Also, he says he’d much prefer to own the property he’s using. “The main thing about the trade was control and protection,” he says, adding that at first he was going to trade the State just a part of the X Bar for his own State leases. “They liked the idea of a single blocked-up lease for competitive bid, so the project quickly expanded.”
The X Bar is sub-irrigated, giving it maximum hay production as well as year-round grazing for 3,000 yearlings. Native grassland occupies 8,273 acres of the ranch, with approximately 3,700 acres in irrigated/sub-irrigated meadow used as hay land and as irrigated pasture. In 2007 the ranch owners ran approximately 1,400 yearlings and 30 bulls for four months in addition to harvesting about 2,800 tons of hay.
Prior to the exchange the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources reported none of the 41 parcels had outstanding recreational opportunity, concluding the exchange would enhance recreation for the public. The X Bar adjoins Forest Service land on Sheep Mountain to the west and contains Sodergreen Lake to the south.
The ranch has also become a Hunter Management Area with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. “We’re working with the Game and Fish to decide what roads to open and we get the lessee’s input on where cattle will be at certain times of the year when we make those decisions,” says Crowder. “Our main goal is the cattle operation and recreation is the second priority.”
“The State’s responsibility is to generate sustainable funds for the State’s Trust Beneficiaries, and that’s what this ranch does,” says Crowder. “Our responsibility is to get as much money as we can, and this was a no-brainer compared to the 41 parcels the State exchanged. In addition to the added production, it’s a lot easier for us to manage contiguous parcels.”
The scattered parcels were previously generating $32,000 per year, while the X Bar has more than doubled that figure with $85,000 per year based on minimum rental figures. The X Bar adjoins another 1,650 acres of State Trust land, resulting in a contiguous 13,623 acres of State land.
Stanley Baer of Cheyenne holds a 20-year lease on the ranch under the X Bar Cattle Company, which is managed by his partner Dennis Miller, who also oversees several other Baer ranches. Miller, who managed the ranch before State ownership, is now in his second year with the yearling operation.
After the calves arrive and are kept in the corral a few days they’re turned onto hay meadows and settled in to graze. Although most of the purchased cattle are steers, the ranch does take in heifers to A.I. and resell. The majority of cattle on the ranch are Black Angus, with some Red Angus and Char-cross cattle mixed in.
“The ranch is really set up well for starting calves because it has good facilities and lots of corral space. In addition, the ranch has a multitude of hay meadows to separate the calves out by size, which improves our ability to manage the herd,” says Miller. Because the ranch also has great facilities for calving, Miller says they do take in around 150 heifers from other ranches to calve out in the spring.
“Leasing from the State has been really good, and I’m glad the hunting and access will be managed and it won’t be a free-for-all,” says Miller of working with the State and around public access.
“In every ranchers’ case the trade was about control. They wanted to own their leased parcels because if something ever changed or the State sold the land there would be a huge blemish on their operation,” says Berry. “This consolidates ownership and gives control to the ranchers.”
“The State’s really pleased to have this land, and it was a good deal all around for the State to get it,” says Crowder. “If something like this came up again, we’d look at it pretty seriously.”
“The trade is such a win-win situation for the State, for the ranchers aquiring the leases and for the public, which now has a larger recreational opportunity,” says Berry. “Everyone with an interest in the trade benefitted and it accomplishes so much. It’s such a good situation and a beneficial trade that I expect the State will be receptive in the future.”
Crowder says any other landowner interested in facilitating a land exchange should contact the Office of State Lands and Investments to begin the process.