From Generation to Generation, Pt. 2

From Generation to Generation, Pt. 2

Wildlife are just as important to a healthy, productive ranch as the livestock.

BY JEREMY D. KRONES

An elk taking a dip, from the Diablo Trust archives.

The Bar T Bar and Flying M ranches are home to more than just cattle and cowboys (and gals): the 426,000+ acres are populated by elk, porcupines, eagles, trout, and so many more animals of the land, air, and water. Biodiversity is a key component of a healthy ranch, and both the Prossers and Metzgers recognize this.

They have for many generations.

Healthy herds aren’t absolutely necessary for a successful ranch, but they definitely add to the productivity and sustainability of a working operation.

Diablo Trust made its name in the ‘90s, in part, through the promotion of the Anderson Mesa elk and antelope management plans, produced alongside local, state, and federal agencies. Through research and monitoring it was found that to best enhance and sustain the native antelope population on the ranches, actions had to be taken by both the ranching operations and the agencies that oversee much of the land and resources.

While such collaboration can be surprising for many people, respect for all players on the landscape – including livestock, wildlife, ranchers, and foresters – is nothing new to Kit and Judy (ranchers on the Flying M and Bar T Bar ranches, respectively).

When asked about her father’s relationship with wildlife, Judy explained that her father, Ernest, was an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He would always respect the law and collect just as many animals as he was allowed.

“He was a very ethical hunter. He never baited them in. He believed in having to walk to hunt. And he believed in utilizing all the meat,” she said.

As an avid deer hunter who looked forward to deer season, Herb, Kit's father, always believed that wildlife were and are part of the landscape, part of the food chain, said Kit.

The lessons of caring for the landscape just as much as one should care for the relationships they have with other people were passed down from father to daughter over the years.

“[Ernest] was aware that water was in scarce supply, so any of the water developments that we did were going to benefit the wildlife as well,” said Judy.

Both Ernest and Herb understood that every project done on the ranch, from fencing to hunting to building a dirt tank, was not only for the cattle, but would also impact the wildlife in some way.

Not every improvement to the ranch was an improvement for every species. According to Kit, in the 1940s local sheep herders on Anderson Mesa were paid $5 a head (about $90 today) for coyotes that were preying on the sheep and antelope.

“The sheep herders bagged all the coyotes, so nothing was getting the [antelope] fawns,” Kit said.

This was beneficial for the antelope, sheep, and cattle herds. Without the coyotes to keep the herds in check, the pronghorn antelope population quickly grew on Anderson Mesa.

However, it was not a steady increase. In the winter of 1967, when the Metzgers moved to what is now their headquarters, the Flagstaff area got over seven feet of snow in a week. Such a great amount of snow in such a short time killed wildlife and livestock alike.

And while the antelope were plentiful in the early 20th century, the elk were not.

The elk we have today are not the same elk that were here before the ranches were founded over a century ago; Rocky Mountain elk were brought down from Yellowstone National Park in 1913 to replace the extinct subspecies native to Arizona known as Merriam’s elk.

As the elk herd increased, Herb quickly got tired of the fences always being torn down. So whenever they had to rebuild a fence, he would lower the top wire to give the elk more clearance to jump.

Kit also relayed a story from Alan Kessler, her brother-in-law, coming back from a feeding run at Diversion Tank in 1977, excited that he saw two cow elk at the tank. That was the first time anyone had seen elk in the winter country on the ranch.

Tanks are an important part of both operations, as they are the primary source of water for the cattle in all parts of the ranches. They also play a big role for wildlife.

Ernest Chilson, said Judy, loved hunting birds more than anything else. As an ethical hunter, he preferred to walk and work for his game, which meant no duck blinds or shooting from his vehicle.

That means he was a more creative hunter. Judy said that both of her parents, Ernest and Evelyn, would have “this cute little strategy for duck hunting. They would drive to within a small distance from the tank, behind the tank dam. He would get out and hide behind the tank dam. She would drive around and haze the ducks around the tank so that they would fly back over the top of the dam where he could get them and they wouldn’t fall in the water.”

Both Judy and Kit have many stories about their fathers – and some about their mothers – being excellent, ethical ranchers and hunters, each with their own idiosyncrasies.

One belief that connected them, and something that still lives on through the generation, is, as Judy said, "if he was to be looked at as a good [land] steward, he needed to walk the talk."

And they both did.