Ranching with a Conservation Mind

Tim Delaney leads an interesting life — both a principal at a heavy highway construction firm in New York and a Wyoming rancher. Tim manages Rolling Thunder Ranch for wildlife and recreation while also maintaining a viable of livestock operation. 

With the help of The Conservation Fund and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, he is using conservation easements to improve and protecting his native rangelands. He has regenerated aspen stands and replacing 20 miles of regular fencing with wildlife-friendly fencing. This land is important to migratory wildlife as well as greater sage-grouse.

In this post from the Fund, the Fund’s creative director Whitney Flanagan sits down with Tim to learn about his ranch. 

Whitney Flanagan: When and why did you begin ranching? Is it a family tradition? 

Tim Delaney: No, ranching was certainly not a family tradition. My wife and I live in upstate New York in a little town called Mayfield, where we raised our three children. I'm a principal in a heavy highway construction firm that builds large-scale commercial wind farms and infrastructure like roads and bridges. We’ve raised draft horses and some cattle here on a very small basis, but really our first ranching experience began in 2010, when we purchased the property in Wyoming called Rolling Thunder Ranch.

Photo by Mark Gocke.

Whitney: What led you to purchase a ranch out west?

Tim: We’d been spending time in Colorado since the late 1990s, and the property that we would visit was getting sold off piece by piece over the years, continually decreasing our opportunity for hiking, hunting and fishing. We decided to find a place that we could call our own that had both a recreational and agricultural component. 

In late 2009, we found and fell in love with Rolling Thunder Ranch — a high mountain ranch sitting at about 8,500 feet — and were able to close on it in spring 2010. We’ve been spending 10-12 weeks there every year, but from November through mid-May, we’re usually snowed out. A neighboring rancher leases summer grazing rights on our land, and last year, 600 head of yearlings grazed on the property. 

Photo by Tim Delaney.

Whitney: Why this specific ranch? What makes it unique and special? 

Tim: Rolling Thunder is one of the most scenic properties I've ever had the privilege of traversing with an incredible view of three mountain ranges. It is essentially a large bowl, and at up around 8,000 feet, we’re able to view nearly the entire perimeter of the ranch. It also has incredible wildlife habitat for moose, grizzly bears, elk, deer, pronghorn, black bears, sage grouse, mountain lions and wolves.

Photo by Tim Delaney.

Whitney: Will you tell us about the conservation initiatives you’ve prioritized at your ranch?   

Tim: As I said, I am in the construction business, so when you own a bulldozer for a living, you are not considered necessarily to be conservation minded. But owning this ranch has been a great opportunity for me to get involved in conservation, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I couldn’t help but apply my construction planning mindset to ranch improvements, which led me to do some pretty extensive conservation planning as well.  What’s great is that the conservation planning makes a lot of sense economically, both today and for the future value of the ranch and its agricultural operation. Our experience has been that conservation can certainly go hand-in-hand with ranching — they are mutually beneficial. 

Whitney: How did you become involved with The Conservation Fund? 

Tim: I was contacted by Luke Lynch, the Fund’s late Wyoming State Director in the Jackson Hole office. He explained what conservation easements could successfully offer landowners like myself. He was very interested in our long-term vision for the property; understood that we wanted to protect it and leave it in a better condition than we found it; and that we didn’t have any interest in developing it. Luke connected me to funding from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for conservation easements, which we used to protect the first two permanent conservation easements on our working land.

The areas outlined in blue represent the three bargain sales, including Rolling Thunder, Rim Ranch, and Rolling Thunder II.

To date, we have now worked with The Conservation Fund and NRCS to complete bargain sales of three conservation easements that encompass the 3,600 acres of our original purchase of Rolling Thunder Ranch, the additional 4,000 acres of Rim Ranch that we purchased a few years later, and the 340-acre former subdivision lot we call Rolling Thunder II that is essential for mule deer and pronghorn antelope migration. 

That final 340-acre piece is so essential because it is entirely in the stop-over area on the mule deer migration route. We’ve witnessed hundreds of mule deer on the property migrating through in the spring and fall. In addition to its incredible importance for mule deer and antelope migration, our ranch properties are also located within Wyoming Game and Fish Department designated habitat areas for sage grouse, and they advance the goals of the NRCS’ Sage Grouse Initiative.

Mule deer. Photo by David Parsons.

This year, NRCS is celebrating 25 years of conservation easements, which now protect 4.4 million acres of wetlands, grasslands and agricultural lands. This includes more than 560,000 acres of prime sage grouse habitat, which have been protected through the Sage Grouse Initiative since 2010.