by Mike Thompson,
Game Range Ramblings
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
March 5, 1998
The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least, that's the way it seems upon contemplating FWP's recent decision to award the Dreyer Ranch lease to Ted Murphy and his family.
There will be an abrupt and painful change when Frank Vannoy's lease runs out at the end of March. The Vannoys have been faithful stewards of the Dreyer Ranch since FWP purchased the property in November 1989, and together we worked through the bugs in our fledgling management program. Frank's decision to retire from this lease is a situation I had hoped I would never have to face.
However, familiar faces will continue to care for the Dreyer Ranch this spring and I hope for many years to come. Ted Murphy has worked with FWP on a cooperative grazing system for cattle as long as Frank Vannoy has been putting up hay on the Dreyer Ranch. So, it's a natural fit for the Murphy family to take on the added duties of Dreyer Ranch management, now that Frank has decided to slow his work pace to that of a mortal man.
The Murphys, on the other hand, are in a phase of expansion and rededication to the family ranch. They are in it for the long haul, as firmly evidenced by their granting of conservation easements that will prevent residential subdivision of their Warren Creek Ranch forever. Their grown children are ready to take on added responsibility in the ranch operation and the Dreyer Ranch lease will supply the needed land base to support more than just one household.
This obvious resolution was not so obvious at all, only a few short weeks ago. The Dreyer Ranch lease is demanding of time, labor, tools, machinery, experience and skill on a year-round basis. Although FWP's cooperative management program emphasizes working with neighboring landowners and managers of important habitat for Game Range elk, FWP was not confident that any of the neighbors would be interested in taking on the added commitments of the Dreyer Ranch lease.
Accordingly, FWP advertised near and far for lease applicants at the end of 1997. We received about twenty inquiries, which resulted in the submittals of six serious applications. After meeting and interviewing all the finalists last month, I was impressed with the amount of thought and careful consideration that everyone had invested, and FWP was left with a difficult decision to make. But, after applying our selection criteria to the problem, the Murphys were the clear choice to address FWP's overriding interest and objectives.
The term "selection criteria" sounds like a bureaucratic smokescreen, but in the case of the Warren Creek Ranch, it means something that is very tangible indeed. It means the rolling hills, potholes and grasslands that form about 1,500 acres of elk winter range on this private ranch, situated just east of the Game Range headquarters. The challenge of managing a large elk population on the Game Range is eased considerably by the Murphys' tolerance for 100-200 elk on their property, and by their willingness in cooperating with FWP to enhance foraging habitat on this privately owned winter range.
If all goes well, the Dreyer Ranch will continue to be managed as it has been for the past eight years. FWP has placed a high priority on keeping its management program on track, without interruption or temporary neglect. That's why we appreciated the lengthy advance notice that Frank Vannoy provided, and it's why we hustled to select a new lessee before any grass starts growing. By working with professional ranchers in the local community, FWP is hoping to take advantage of their expertise, and their pride, to maintain or improve stewardship standards on the Dreyer Ranch.
Now, we're working through the tedious process of preparing and reviewing lease terms, and obtaining the approval of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission. But, this is much more than a business deal to the Murphys, or to those of us who will be working with them. I knew we had made a good decision when I first heard Lynne Murphy's reaction to our offer of a lease. There were no mixed emotions, no lingering doubts, no demands nor ultimatums. There was only pure joy.
It always seems to turn out well when you're working with people who want to work with you.