Ranchers Lauded For Range Management

Local ranchers nominated for ranch manager of the year


While the Hollywood image of ranching as a leisurely lifestyle presents an idyllic impression of what it's like to run a working ranch, the stark reality is often much different, just ask Bill and Lori Brown of Tonto Basin who run one of only two ranches nominated for the 2007 Arizona Ranch--Range Manager of the Year.

The nomination recognizes their work redeveloping springs providing water for wildlife and maintaining 15,000 acres of land as well as land and wildlife conservation on the H-4 Ranch in Tonto Basin since the late 1960s.

"Without the ranchers' hard work and maintenance keeping up with these projects, the wildlife would suffer and take a big hit with no water in this time of drought," said Lori.

As anyone who has ever worked on a ranch knows, ranchers rise at dawn and spend their day cleaning pastures or pens, feeding stock, digging post-holes, repairing fences and buildings.

They usually end their day completely exhausted, only to do it all again the next morning.

Bill and Lori live on, and manage, the H-4 Ranch in Tonto Basin owned by their parents, 83-year-old Jim, and 76-year-old Connie Brown.

In the last couple of years, they have completed more than $200,000 worth of improvements, additions and new installations.

Not all of the costs come out of their pockets, they do get some help in the form of grants and donations, such as the Livestock Conservation Grant they received to help match their other funds for relining stock tanks on the H-4.

But the labor still comes from the sweat of their brow and the help of neighbors and fellow ranchers.

While the Browns ultimately didn't win the award for Ranch--Range Manager of the Year, they were named as honorees for 2008 and their nomination alone attests to their dedication to preserving the environment and protecting wildlife.

"Even though we didn't win, we're one of only two ranches in the whole state nominated, so this is quite an honor for us," said Lori.

In one week the two real-life western ranchers rack up more hours maintaining the H-4 Ranch than most people do working a couple of full-time jobs.

That's because ranching is a lot like parenting, it's a 24-hour a day, seven-day a week job, with no holidays and no benefits.

The ranch is in the Tonto Basin Ranger District off Highway 188 at milepost marker 268 near Jake's Corner.

Their work restoring and protecting public rangelands over the last few years has improved much of the land they manage and saved the lives of countless wildlife during Arizona's decade-long drought.

With some funding help from the National Resource Conservation Service, they have either restored or installed hundreds of feet of water pipeline and dug about 25 new watering sites, as well as placing new 10,000-gallon storage tanks in key locations on the ranch for wildlife and livestock.

Additionally they have repaired buildings, cleaned out storage tanks left filled with silt from the 2004 Willow Fire, fixed fences and built new corrals.

To some Jake's Corner down near Roosevelt Lake might not really seem like it's linked very closely to Payson, but the Browns have some pretty strong ties to Rim Country.

Their family, the Hunsakers, were among the first pioneers to settle here back in the late 1800s.

Walter Lee and Susan Hunsaker came to the area with the Walter John Randall family toward the end of the 19th century and since cattle and ranching were the main industries in Rim Country at that time, they started a ranch.

Bill's grandmother, Lori Hunsaker Brown, was raised in Pine by her parents, Walter and Susan, who lived on the Hardscrabble Allotment.

So ranching just comes naturally to Lori and Bill since it's truly a family tradition.

His parents raised Bill in Gisela in the mid-1960s where they lived before he left home and moved to the 76 Ranch.

After his parents bought the H-4 in Tonto Basin, Bill and Lorri moved there to ranch.

The amount of land they manage is daunting, around 15,000 acres, starting just below Jake's Corner and running between Highways 87 and 188 along Slate Creek, where they run about 70 head of black and red Angus cattle.

Bill and Lori also keep horses on their ranch, still a necessity to this day, if you want to run cattle.

They also farm about 25 acres of the property to grow grass and hay for the horses.

Both are avid conservationists and work to show others the importance of effective land management.

They keep records on rainfall totals, cattle count, branding and monitor the land in their efforts to help conserve natural resources.

"We only ask that people respect and help protect these improvements when they're out on public lands and to report any and all vandalism acts to the proper authorities," said Lori.

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