About 40 miles east of the Big Horn Mountains, in Johnson County, lies the small town of Kaycee. Maybe best known for the late country artist Chris Ledoux, Kaycee is an agricultural community steeped in Wyoming ag-history.
Since 2010, the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust (WSGLT) has been hard at work conserving the landscape of the place that is referenced in Ledoux’s songs. Recently, on a beautiful spring day we had the opportunity to sit down with Kevin and Judy Lund, owners of Four Mile Creek and Powder River ranches.
The ranches, which are a rich mixture of irrigated and range lands, and prime wildlife habitat, were the first properties to be put under easement by the WSGLT in Johnson County. On any given day you can look into one of the pastures and see any number of wildlife from a herd of elk to a rafter of turkeys, and if you are particularly lucky, a bobcat breaking from its camouflaged shelter. During our interview, the couple pointed out photos and paintings scattered around the house of the wildlife that roam the ranch. Kevin noted how the ranch has become more wildlife friendly over the years.
“The fences are wildlife friendly, we got rid of most of the woven wire.” Kevin said “We have 5-6 head of elk that spend the winter here and nobody bothers them. None of the neighbors. It’s just a different mindset that is going on here the last 10-15 years.”
The ranch has rich family history and has been in the Lund family since Kevin’s parents purchased the riverside property in 1949. Since then the ranch has served as a productive Ag operation, artist’s inspiration, family gathering spot, and support system for troubled teens.
The couple has had several offers in the past, to take the ranch out of production agriculture, but believe the price keeping the lands open was far greater than those that were offered to build a subdivision, RV park, or trailer court. The couple recognizes that the cost of ranching is increasing, but so is the importance of keeping ranches in agricultural production.
“When I was growing up you never figured your own time in anything whether it was farming, cowboying, or gardening.” Kevin recalled, “You can’t do that anymore, your time is worth something whether you do something here or go work in the oil patch.”
This realization was one among many that lead the Lunds to want to conserve the ranches and the lifestyle that went along with it. However, the couple was not quite sure how to go about conserving the land. Kevin and Judy learned about conservation easements from Judy’s daughter in-law. After starting an easement with another organization, the couple was referred to the WSGLT. “It was better fit [with the WSGLT].” Judy noted “You have a bit more leeway for what you want to do with the ranch.”
When it comes to the future of agriculture, what will be left for those future generations is something that is on the minds of many. According to Wyoming’s State of Space, 26 million acres, or 93% of the state’s private land base, produce our food and fiber, sustain our local economies, and support generations of hard-working families in Wyoming. Yet, the majority of land going into low density rural development, is coming from the sale of quality farm and ranch lands.
Helping to prevent the loss of these prime agricultural lands, which are the foundation to Wyoming’s culture and heritage, is why the WSGLT was founded. Each and every year we conserve this foundation, one ranch at a time.