Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch: How Healing a Southwest Oasis Holds Promise for Our Endangered Land (2024)

Occasionally someone writes a book that pulls together the many threads of a complex situation, shedding much-needed light on it, and this is such a book. While Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch is about restoration efforts on a small New Mexico ranch (small by standards in that arid region), it is about much more – environmental crises of our time and what we might, if we will, do about them. A. Thomas Cole’s book is a clarion call for action in the American Southwest and around the globe. Cole and his wife Lucinda bought the exhausted 11,393-acre ranch which lies at 5,100 feet just west of the Continental Divide in southwest New Mexico in 2002 and have been working for more than two decades to bring it back from exhaustion by previous owners. They have been making progress, which he describes.

The ranch land, which includes 8.4 miles of the 48-mile-long Burro Ciénaga had been much abused over its history, and the book begins with a summary of that history, briefly back to the Archaic Period and then in some detail up to modern times, describing how ownership by settlers and ranchers degraded the land. The ranch’s story is well-told and explains how the ciénaga and the rest of the land were abused out of ignorance and greed. Cole writes, “This history is steeped in Western lore, archaeology, plant and animal life, and a unique hydrology – a rare source of arid-land water called a ciénaga.”

Ciénaga,” writes Cole, “is a Spanish term used in the American Southwest for this rare desert wetland: marsh, a silty, spongy area; a bog; a shallow, slow-moving flow of water through dense surface vegetation; and permanently saturated soils in otherwise arid landscapes, historically occupying nearly the entire width of valleys.” Estimates are that up to 95% of this critically important wetland, essential to land health in the International Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua, have been destroyed. Cole explains why bringing back as many of them as possible is important, quoting climate and water scientist Brad Udall who argues that “climate change is water change.” Cole writes, “The 95 percent loss of ciénaga habitats, their importance as keystone ecosystems, and their corollary benefits render arid-land ciénagas shoo-in candidates for top-priority efforts such as the work being pursued at the Pitchfork Rank.” The Coles and their collaborators have done much to raise the grade of their heavily eroded portion of the Burro Ciénaga, and the book explains in some detail how they have carried out this and other restoration projects.

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Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch explains what Udall means when he says that “climate change is water change.” Throughout the book Cole connects water to climate change and what he calls ‘“The Trifecta Crisis;” (1) the climate crisis, (2) species extinction and biodiversity loss, and (3) the soil loss and depletion crisis. Cole has done his homework on the causes of these crises and ways to address them, ranging far beyond the boundary of the Pitchfork Ranch. His knowledge of the literature is extensive, an outstanding synthesis of this vast wealth of information. Closing the book, the reader has a hopeful sense that not only do we know the extent of the problems and their causes but also how to address them, if we will.

On the matter of the will needed to take necessary actions, Cole has much to say, pointing out repeatedly that the situation needs to be cast not as a crisis of this or that, but as the very survival of human society. What is needed are “conservation, restoration and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse emission.” He describes many ways these can be accomplished but does not shy away from the difficulties of behavior changes necessary to achieve them at meaningful scale. He writes,

When survival becomes the priority, it compels the fusion of a more risk-averse self with the whole community of life. In these crises, the conservation ethic will no longer be held back by thinking of landscape as colony, as sacred space, or as community, grounded in altruism. Leopold’s ethos becomes compelling only when landscape is thought of in terms of survival. Because it is my principal aim, allow me to reiterate my hope that the idea of survival will thwart the inertia and indifference to these crises, instigate a willingness to forgo gratification, take a multigenerational view of what is meant by progress, and define progress as more than growth. . . .Looking at our future through the lens of survival can give us a new mindset, a crisis-centered outlook needed to reverse the tragedy of the commons, the crime of our unrestrained consumption of Earth’s nearly depleted natural resources.

This is a large order and rich food for thought, but the reader comes away thinking over Cole’s analysis that such changes could happen because when couched as survival, there is no alternative except extinction, and not just of these “other” creatures on the land.

The Coles are mining expertise in the Pitchfork Ranch project and applying every resource they can bring to the effort. A core theme of the book is that restoration can and must be undertaken at all scales, and examples of how this is being done from backyards to big projects like theirs are described. One chapter is devoted to “Strategies That Will Save Us,” and Cole admits that when they started, they knew little about what they were doing and found lots of help. Everyone can do something, no matter how small, to contribute to the global effort needed, and there are expertise and resources to help them do it. He suggests some possibilities.

A. T. Cole gets a mite preachy in places, but he convinces us that these are perilous times, and a strong fact-filled sermon may help convince us we must act now. Some readers in the West may take issue with his argument that “ranchers are in a position to play central role in contending with the onslaught of the climate and companion crises.” But Cole’s arguments must be considered. There are ways to ranch that are responsible and can repair the damage that ranching has caused in the past, and the Coles offer a fine example.

Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch is a timely, impressive, and important book, well written, extensively researched, and a compelling story. I hope it finds a wide readership everywhere, especially here in the arid Southwest.

Get your own copy of the book here: Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch: How Healing a Southwest Oasis Holds Promise for Our Endangered Land.

John Miles

David Brower, then Executive Director of the Sierra Club, gave a talk at Dartmouth College in 1965 on the threat of dams to Grand Canyon National Park. John, a New Hampshire native who had not yet been to the American West, was flabbergasted. “What Can I do?” he asked. Brower handed him a Sierra Club membership application, and he was hooked, his first big conservation issue being establishment of North Cascades National Park.

After grad school at the University of Oregon, John landed in Bellingham, Washington, a month before the park was created. At Western Washington University he was in on the founding of Huxley College of Environmental Studies, teaching environmental education, history, ethics and literature, ultimately serving as dean of the College.

He taught at Huxley for 44 years, climbing and hiking all over the West, especially in the North Cascades, for research and recreation. Author and editor of several books, including Wilderness in National Parks, John served on the board of the National Parks Conservation Association, the Washington Forest Practices Board, and helped found and build the North Cascades Institute.

Retired and now living near Taos, New Mexico, he continues to work for national parks, wilderness, and rewilding the earth.

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Restoring the Pitchfork Ranch: How Healing a Southwest Oasis Holds Promise for Our Endangered Land (2024)


What is the history of the pitchfork ranch in Wyoming? ›

The Pitchfork Ranch in Meetee*tse, Wyoming is older than the state itself. It was originally formed in 1878 by Otto Franc Von Lichtenstein. It was later purchased by LG Phelps and would stay in that family for six generations or 95 years.

How many acres does pitchfork ranch have in farmland production responses? ›

Today, the home ranch covers 165,000 acres in Dickens and King counties near the town of Guthrie, Texas, with a satellite operation in Oklahoma. The Pitchfork Ranch is larger today than at any time in its history.

How many windmills are located on Pitchfork Ranch? ›

The ranch stretching across 165,000 acres of central West Texas includes 113 windmills, 80 pastures enclosed by more than 300 miles of fence, and 5,000 cows and bulls. Known to the older generation as simply "The Forks", it is one of the oldest established ranches in West Texas.

How many managers has the Pitchfork Ranch had since its incorporation? ›

Only six managers have managed the Pitchfork Ranch since Mr. Gardner, the present being Ron Lane. The home ranch stretching across 165,000 acres of central west Texas is located80 miles east of Lubbock along a 14-mile stretch of Highway 82.

How big is 6666 ranch? ›

Being one of the largest ranches in Texas, the 6666's Ranch comprises 142,372 acres, more or less. To put this massive ranch in perspective, the ranch encompasses almost 225 square miles of land. The ranch generally measures approximately 20 miles long from north to south and around 12 miles wide from east to west.

Does Bill Gates own a ranch in Wyoming? ›

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, who remains one of the richest people in the world, bought this historic ranch in 2009 (for $9 million). Known as the Irma Lake Lodge, the property was settled by Buffalo Bill himself, in 1902.

How much is the pitchfork ranch worth? ›

The Pitchfork Ranch, established in the 1880's by Otto Frank Von Lichtenstein, has recently gone up for sale with a price tag of $67 million as current owners, Dr. Lenox and Dr. Fran Baker, plan to retire and enjoy more time with family.

How big is the pitchfork ranch in Texas? ›

The Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co. home ranch covers 165,000 acres in Dickens and King counties near the town of Guthrie, Texas with a satellite operation of over 8,000 acres in Jefferson county, Oklahoma.

Who owns King Ranch? ›

Henrietta King's sole surviving child, Alice Gertrudis Kleberg, and her husband Robert J. Kleberg Jr. inherited over 800,000 acres that were incorporated as the King Ranch in 1934.

Who owns the Pitchfork Ranch in Wyoming? ›

The ranch is currently owned by the Baker family who has lived full time at headquarters for the last twelve years.

Is the Pitchfork Ranch in Wyoming for sale? ›

The owners, Lenox and Fran Baker, have decided to retire and sell their portion of the ranch. According to the court docket, the trademark lawsuit is set for trial in February 2025. Wyoming's historic Pitchfork Ranch outside Meetee*tse is for sale, listing at $67 million.

Where is the largest wind turbine farm in the US? ›

Despite the fact that Texas is the nation's leader in wind energy, the largest wind farm in the US is actually located in Tehachapi, in Kern County, California. Also known as Mojave Wind Farm, the Alta Wind Energy Center is the biggest wind farm in the US, boasting a combined installed capacity of about 1,550MW.

Who owns the largest US ranch? ›

Who Is the Largest Landowner in the U.S.? The largest landowners in the United States are the Emmerson family, with 2,330,000 acres of land. Red Emmerson, the patriarch of the family, founded Sierra Pacific Industries in Anderson, CA.

What is the largest family owned ranch in the United States? ›

King Ranch, largest ranch in the United States, composed of a group of four tracts of land in southeastern Texas, totaling approximately 825,000 acres (333,800 hectares). The King Ranch was established by Richard King, a steamboat captain born in 1825 in Orange county, New York.

Who owns the pitchfork ranch in Guthrie, TX? ›

The Pitchfork Ranch, in King and Dickens counties, is owned by the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company of St. Louis. The headquarters of the 168,000-acre ranch is thirteen miles west of Guthrie on U.S. Highway 82.

What is the oldest ranch in Wyoming? ›

Eatons' Ranch is the oldest dude ranch in Wyoming. During the summer, the ranch is home to guest ranch visitors and throughout the winter it is open to bed and breakfast guests.

What was the main breed of cattle raised on the pitchfork ranch? ›

Our core business: Cattle

Black and Black Baldies make up the majority of the cow population. These moderately-framed cows are bred to Black Angus Bulls. Bulls are selected for both maternal and carcass characteristics.

What ranch did Kanye West buy in Wyoming? ›

The rapper bought the Monster Lake Ranch in September 2019. Kim Kardashian West, West's wife, confirmed that West bought a Wyoming ranch on NBC's "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" later that month. The ranch spans hundreds of acres of grassy plains and has a backdrop of dramatic mountain scenery.

When did Pitchfork Ranch begin oil production? ›

With its favorable location on the northeast flanks of the Midland Basin of West Texas in King and Dickens County, the Pitchfork has produced millions of barrels of oil since the first discovery in 1980.

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