Board of Directors
Granger Ranches, MT
Jeff is a fourth-generation owner of the Granger Ranches in Montana’s Madison Valley. He lives in Montana full-time, where he manages the 13,000-acre traditional cattle ranch. Jeff’s efforts to restore a 6,000-acre wetland complex on the property earned him the Environmental Law Institute’s National Wetlands Award for Landowner Steward in 2010.
Spur Lake Cattle Co., NM
Nelson Shirley, the president of Spur Lake Cattle Company, a combination of six ranches in Catron and Apache counties of New Mexico and Arizona, is married with two boys ages 26 and 21, and lives in Kansas and New Mexico.
He left school early and has worked as a logger, roustabout, carpenter, farmer, mountain guide, pipeline welder, deep sea diver, and business manager.
His passion is wildlands and the human communities that help sustain them. He has owned and operated an engineering company delivering proprietary automation and IT software services to the largest oil and gas corporations of the world, from offices in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, and North America.
For the last four years he has operated Spur Lake Cattle Co., a commercial cow/calf and yearling operation that combines economic production and resource stewardship to help support a viable ranching community.
TomKat Ranch, CA
Wendy Millet is the Ranch Director of TomKat Ranch, TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation and LeftCoast Grassfed. For more than twenty years, Wendy has worked to bridge a love of conservation and working landscapes with practical economic solutions and effective partnerships. In addition to working for several years on cattle and dude ranches in Wyoming and Montana, she ran a local land trust, worked for a timber investment company, developed programs for an environmental economics research foundation, led education and leadership programs for the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and spent 12 years at The Nature Conservancy working with farmers, ranchers, and timberland owners to protect and restore ranches, rivers and forests. Her efforts to share best practices led to work on several publications including: Land Use in America (Island Press), A Place-Based Partnership Manual (The Nature Conservancy of California) and Preserving California’s Natural Heritage: A Guide to Land and Water Conservation (California Resources Agency).
Wendy holds a B.A. in Literature from Harvard and studied Environmental Economics at the University of Washington and Environmental Planning at University of Virginia. She serves on the board of the California Council of Land Trusts, the Farmland Advisory Committee for Peninsula Open Space Trust, and the Board of Councilors of Save the Redwoods League. She is also co-founder of Gallop Ventures LLC offering equine-guided teamwork and leadership programs to corporations, individuals and organizations.
TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation provides healthy food on working lands in a way that sustains the planet and inspires others to action. Learn more about their mission by watching this video!
Mountain Island Ranch, CO/UT
Kenyon Fields is one of the main founders of the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA), and served as the executive director for its first year (2013). His background is in conservation biology and landscape scale conservation planning. It is this background that led him to convene the first meetings of what later became the WLA, as he and fellow conservation biologists realized the critical role that landowners can play in keeping the West whole.
Having focused for several years on the need for wildlife corridors and landscape management that thinks far beyond individual property lines, he asked conservation-minded landowners from around the West to consider working together to share knowledge and influence other land managers (public and private).
The resultant collaboration brought together science, policy, human needs, and produced a shared vision of private landowners working collectively to conserve the rich natural values of the West while sustaining their businesses and thus communities. The Western Landowners Alliance was born.
Prior to getting involved in Intermountain West private lands issues, Kenyon spent most of his life working on national forest management. He worked for many years in Alaska for the U.S. Forest Service, an Alaska Native organization, and as executive director of Sitka Conservation Society. He has an undergraduate degree in the natural history and ethnography of the Northwest coast, and received two graduate degrees in systems dynamics applied to ecology.
Kenyon helps his wife Mary manage her large organic cattle and hay ranch in Utah and Colorado, and is an avid mountain climber, biker, kayaker, and musician.
Paul Vahldiek, Jr.
Former Chair; Member
High Lonesome Ranch, CO
Paul R. Vahldiek, Jr. is Chairman of The High Lonesome Ranch (HLR) and President of Deep Water Cay (DWC). He received his undergraduate degree from Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas in 1977 and a J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law, San Antonio, Texas in 1979. He began practicing law in 1980 and in 2008 received the Distinguished Graduate Award from the St. Mary’s University School of Law.
The High Lonesome Ranch comprises approximately 300 square miles of deeded and permitted public lands (BLM), located northeast of Grand Junction, Colorado. The ranch includes lands ranging from approximately 5,000 to 9,200 feet in elevation that have been in agricultural and ranching uses since the mid 1800’s. The High Lonesome Ranch’s vision is committed to ensuring its lands, waters, and resources are healthy and productive for compatible values and uses, demonstrating how private and public lands can be stewarded in perpetuity for ethical uses and economic vitality. This effort will further and model a land ethic.
In addition, Mr. Vahldiek and HLR are actively supporting the development of the High Lonesome Institute (HLI) that is being established to: advance scientific and scholarly knowledge relevant to stewardship of resources on working landscapes in the Intermountain West. It accomplishes these purposes through intentional science, education, and outreach focused (1) on improving land and resource management decisions, and (2) on being a venue for dialogue among diverse groups seeking to find common ground on conservation and sustainable development.
In 2009, Paul and his partners purchased and focused on the refurbishment, expansion and modernization of Deep Water Cay in the Bahamas. The commitment remains to bring the same science ethic to the island and surrounding marine environment.
Additionally, Paul serves as a board member of Trout Unlimited’s Coldwater Conservation Fund, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Theodore Roosevelt Conversation Partnership and Wildlands Network. He is also regular member of the Boone & Crockett Club and supports The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Mule Deer Association. Paul is chairman and a founding member of the Western Landowners Alliance.
El Coronado Ranch, AZ
Mr. Josiah T. Austin, Je, serves as the Managing Member at El Coronado Holdings LLC. Mr. Austin is the Owner and Operator of the El Coronado Ranch LLC and Cattle Co. He has been a Director of Goodrich Petroleum Corp., since August 2002 and also serves as its Presiding Director. He has been a Director of Protea Biosciences Group, Inc. since January 28, 2013. He served as a Non Executive Director of Novogen Limited from September 20, 2010 to April 19, 2013. Mr. Austin served as a Director of North Fork Bancorp., Inc. since 2004, Home Federal Savings Bank since 1995 and Monterey Bay BanCorp, Inc. since 1999. He served as a Director of New York BanCorp, Inc. from 1996 to 1998. He served as a Director of North Fork Bank. He serves as a trustee of the Cuenca Los Ojos Foundation Trust, a non-profit organization working to preserve and restore the biodiversity of the borderland region between the United States and Mexico through land protection, habitat restoration and wildlife reintroduction. Mr. Austin graduated from the University of Denver with a Bachelor of Science in Finance in 1971.
Craig Taggart for Louis Bacon
Trinchera-Blanca, Tercio, & Sheep Camp Ranches, CO
Craig comes to WLA from a diverse educational background (zoology and landscape architecture) and a broad history of work experience. Craig moved to Colorado in 1978 where he pursued a 25-year career in land management consulting, including three years with the BLM, and the last 10 years in private land management. Craig currently serves as the Environmental Manager for the Trinchera and Tercio Ranches in southern Colorado. His diversity of experience has led to an appreciation of the complex interactions at play in western land management and a solutions-based approach to addressing them. At the 175,000 acres Trinchera Ranch, he developed an environmentally sound Coal Bed Methane project. The resulting 41-well field has won wide acclaim as being state-of-the-art in its sensitivity to the significant environmental values present there. Craig divides his time between the two ranches and other western land holdings. His indirect path his education and career have taken reinforce the notion that while we usually can’t see the end from the beginning, with creativity, collaboration and a disregard for who gets the credit, we can overcome seemingly great obstacles and find winning solutions.
Ponderosa Advisors and Hollowtop Ranch, CO/MT
Kelly Bennett is a Colorado native whose great grandparents ranched north of Fort Collins. He is a co-founder of Ponderosa Advisors, LLC, a boutique firm focused on applying technology and analytics to natural resource issues. The company built and operates Water Sage, a web-based mapping and research platform for water and land information.
Kelly’s family operates the Hollowtop Ranch at the base of the Tobacco Root Mountains in Pony, Montana, where they raise registered Angus, wheat, and hay. His family is committed to supporting efforts to encourage and protect private conservation and the values of the West. Kelly has a strong interest in the intersection of resource issues, preservation of large landscapes, and private property. He holds a BS in Diplomacy and World Affairs from Occidental College.
Mountain Island Ranch, CO/UT
Mary Conover owns and operates Mountain Island Ranch in Utah and Colorado, which she took over from her mother, and will pass to her son, who is 23. She and the family that manage the cattle operation work hard to conserve the wildlife and habitat while producing quality organic beef.
Aside from ranch life, she has been a professional photographer, editor and artist, floatplane pilot, restaurateur, and sat on the boards of numerous non-profits. Mountain Island Ranch is all under conservation easement (which were amongst the first in Colorado), has one of the first Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for sage grouse, and participates in the Ranching for Wildlife program. In the future, Mary would like to see the ranch serve as an educational opportunity for young people interested in profitable conservation ranching and farming.
Sycamore Ranch, AZ
Bill McDonald is the fifth generation on his family’s 105 year old Sycamore Ranch in far southeastern Arizona. Bill is married and he and his wife Mary have a daughter, Sarah Parmar, who lives in Denver, Colorado. Bill is a graduate of Arizona State University. He is a Past-President of the Cochise-Graham Cattle Growers, and past Director of the Arizona Cattle Growers. He was for 25 years on the Board of Supervisors of the Whitewater Draw Natural Resource Conservation District. He is a co-founder, past Chairman and currently Executive Director and Board Member of the Malpai Borderlands Group.
Awards and Recognitions
• MacArthur Foundation Fellowship
• Arizona Game and Fish Commission Wildlife Habitat Stewardship Award
• Arizona Association of Conservation Districts Outstanding Supervisor Award
• Quivera Coalition Award for Leadership in the Radical Center
• Beef Today Magazine Conservationist of the Year
Mirr Ranch Group, CO
Ken is one of the West’s top producers and has brokered the purchase and sale of thousands of acres of land in the western U.S. and South America. He began his career as a public lands attorney who assisted ranchers, conservation groups, natural resources companies, ski areas, telecommunication companies and others in handling specialized land transactions with State and Federal land agencies throughout the Rocky Mountain region. In 2005, he founded Mirr Ranch Group, a ranch real estate brokerage specializing in legacy and sporting properties with conservation values. Over his career, Ken has brokered open space and land conservation transactions and consulted on conservation easements, exchanges, grazing issues and special use permits.
Ken holds a J.D. from University of Denver and a B.A. in History and Political Science from Southern Methodist University. Previously, Ken was President of the Board for the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, an organization dedicated to promoting high-quality land preservation on behalf of its member land trusts and open space programs in Colorado. He is also a board member of the Cherry Hills Land Preserve and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust.
Trout Stalker Ranch, NM
Ashlyn Perry and her husband, Dan, are owners of the Trout Stalker Ranch in Chama, New Mexico. Their stewardship includes extensive habitat restoration in and along the Rio Chama, management of a bison herd, hay production and protection of the historic character of the Rio Chama Valley. Because the ranch encompasses the convergence of several different natural communities (riparian woodlands, aquatic, wetland meadows, dry uplands) there is an unusual diversity of plants and animals supported on the ranch. The riparian woodlands along the Rio Chama are especially suited for nesting birds. Wet meadow habitats are relatively rare in northern New Mexico and Trout Stalker Ranch provides habitat for migrating birds, frogs and garter snakes, the savanna sparrow, Wilson snipe, western harvest mouse, and possibly the endangered meadow jumping mouse. Dan and Ashlyn have protected the ranch through a conservation easement. They are active members of the Chama Peak Land Alliance and Dan is a member of the Western Landowners Energy Council.
Chico Basin & Zapata Ranches, CO
Ranchlands was founded by Duke Phillips, who currently serves as CEO with responsibility for strategic vision and operational oversight of Ranchlands’ ventures and all managed properties.
Duke was born in Venezuela and raised in a multi-generational ranching family on the large, isolated cattle ranches of northern Mexico. Ranching has been his passion and his life’s work. From his family, he was imbued with a dedication to living from the land and living with the land—making a living from what the ranch would produce, practicing responsible stewardship, and seeking ecological sustainability.
Encouraged by family to study outside of the cattle industry, Duke pursued a formal education in classical studies that emphasized literary translation and creative writing with the goal, after university, of studying with the foremost thinkers and practitioners in the ranching world. This path led him on a unique journey that laid for Duke a strong foundation in cattle ranching, land conservation, animal genetics, and fundamental principles of business. Duke worked closely with Allan Savory, the father of holistic land management; with Dale Lasater and the Lasater family, pioneers in herd genetics and developers of the beefmaster breed of cattle; and with Bill Sanders, the renowned real estate investor who taught Duke to apply the “Wall Street” approach to the ranching business. He experienced ranching in Florida, where intensive management practices rotated 1,500 head of cattle through five acre pastures. He ranched in Oregon, Texas, and back in Latin America. And he worked on Australian cattle stations, running herds up to 75,000 head on three million acres. The process was both inductive and instructive, demonstrating the manifold ways that ranching, conservation, and business are undertaken in various cultures and climates.
Duke’s extensive journey led him to a set of core beliefs that forms the basis of the entire Ranchlands organization. First, land is a multidimensional resource, and diversification is key to economic and ecological sustainability. Second, ranching’s close connection to the land makes it one of the best alternatives today for landscape scale land conservation, and the most effective form of conservation is that which is supported financially by the land base itself.
Over the past three decades, the profile of landowners in the American West has shifted, and continues to do so. As the number of traditional cattle operations has declined, investors, hobby ranchers, and conservation groups have become increasingly more active purchasers of western land. Facing this new reality, Duke’s vision is to build an organization that partners with this new landowner to preserve western landscapes on an economically sustainable basis. With comprehensive management, land can become more productive, more ecologically healthy, and more valuable to its owners and the surrounding ecosystem. Thus, conservation becomes not just a practice, but a product with marketable value that is produced on each ranch that Ranchlands manage, the same as beef or bison meat.
In addition to conservation of land, Duke seeks to perpetuate the ranching legacy of the American West. With the decline of traditional ranches comes a waning in the knowledge, practice, and heritage that made ranching a defining industry in American lore. The Ranchlands model centers upon outreach through education. Whether to daily visitors, weeklong guests, or apprentices in the Ranchlands Management Guild who train on Ranchlands ranches for a career in ranch management, Duke sees interaction with the outside world as a key to spreading the message of ranching’s importance to American cultural history and its role in large scale land conservation.
Duke’s early commitment to living from the land and living with the land can be seen today in the organization he has built. With over 190,000 acres under management and each property hosting a self-supportive suite of land-based businesses, the Ranchlands model is Duke’s answer to the issues confronting ranching in the 21st century. And the results are verifiable. After over a decade in Ranchlands’ hands, the land under management has shown remarkable improvement in ecological health and biodiversity while becoming economically self-sustaining.
Duke and his wife, Janet, are proud to have raised their four children on their ranching operations. The two oldest have now joined the family business along with a cadre of other talented young professionals who view ranching as one of the most honorable and rewarding lifestyles available, and who share in Duke’s vision of caring for the land while living the old traditions handed down from their forefathers.
Mike Phillips for Ted Turner
Turner Enterprises, MT
Mike Phillips is a Montana State Senator. Mike also represents Ted Turner’s 2 million acres across fifteen ranches in the US and South America (1.2 million of those are in Montana and New Mexico). He has served as the Executive Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund since Ted Turner launched the effort in 1997. From 1994-1997 Mike served as Project Leader for the Yellowstone gray wolf restoration effort, and from 1986-1994 Mike served as the Field Coordinator for the Red Wolf Recovery Program. His professional interests include conservation and restoration of imperiled species, integration of private land in conservation projects, and privatization of endangered species recovery programs.
Turner lands are innovatively managed and work to partner economic viability with ecological sustainability. All Turner ranches operate as working businesses, relying on bison and outfitting as principal enterprises. Turner Enterprises manages over 50,000 head of bison across the various Turner ranches. In addition, Turner ranches support many progressive environmental projects including water resource management, reforestation and the reintroduction of native species to the land. Mr. Turner’s commitment to the environment is consistent with the management philosophy of his ranches and properties. The mission statement of Turner Enterprises, Inc. is “to manage Turner lands in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner while promoting the conservation of native species.” This philosophy allows natural processes to take precedence, but still recognizes the “hand of man.” Turner Enterprises, Inc. strives for management that is both ecologically sensitive and commercially sustainable. All of the Turner properties are used in some way through bison ranching, commercial fishing and hunting and, in a few cases, limited and sustainable timber harvesting. There are also many ongoing projects to save endangered species on Turner properties. www.tedturner.com/ranches