Sun Ranch Slates 11,000 Acres for Conservation Easement

Sun Ranch Slates 11,000 Acres for Conservation Easement. New West. By David Nolt.

The Sun Ranch, which is at the base of the high scenic Madison Range, has played a major role in keeping this long, beautiful valley, not far from Yellowstone, from subdivision ruin.





  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    We need to start asking whether Roger Lang is deserving of what is clearly a carefully crafted image as a conservationist. He’s already running cattle on his land–and anyone with any ecological awareness and education know that cows and land/wildlife conservation are not compatible. He certainly has no economic need to run cows. He can earn more money from his “ecotourism” business.

    Now he’s talking about bringing domestic bison onto his land and thus into the brucellosis imbroglio. Further, some of the discussion focuses on the construction of 3 300-acre pens for the vaguely defined purpose of “genetic research.” Just what is that? Is he in fact negotiating to build additional wild bison quarantine sites, which clearly are incompatible with wild bison conservation? So far, he hasn’t said.

    He needs to say.

    More livestock–particularly domestic bison–in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, given the alleged brucellosis problem, certainly doesn’t benefit the conservation of bison, much less the conservation of elk, wolves, or grizzly bears. As this “conservation” easement proceeds, people need to start questioning Roger Lang much more closely about his intentions.

    Remember, at least $4.5 million of public money is going to pay for this easement on private land. Those public funds are certainly a public investment in private enterprise, and our public investment in Lang’s operations gives us the right to expect certain returns from our investment.

    We get no return from the presence of domestic bison or cattle on Roger Lang’s property.

    Is Roger Lang a conservationist? Or is that merely a marketing scheme with no substance?

  2. Jay Avatar

    “anyone with any ecological awareness and education know that cows and land/wildlife conservation are not compatible”? That seems a bit of an overstatement Robert…like everything in life, moderation is the key. Raising cattle can be done responsibly, its just up to the producer to do so.

  3. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    It’s no overstatement. Moderation is not a part of the western livestock culture. Nor is responsibility. Livestock producers don’t read Aristotle. They read Machiavelli.

  4. Jay Avatar

    That’s a bunch of bull, no pun intended. You can’t stereotype or pigeonhole every producer into that category, and it’s damned irresponsible for you to throw everyone into your simplistic little category. That’s like saying every environmentally conscious person is a vegan, birkenstock wearing hippy. I can think of several examples of responsible producers, with probably the best example being the Lava Lake company that runs sheep.

  5. Monte Avatar

    You just keep demonizing the man for trying to balance his operation with wildlife and habitat. It’s no wonder more landowners aren’t trying these things. It’s impossible to convince these anti-captalist anti-landowner thugs that private land ownership might be compatible with conservation. If you were smart, you would be thanking whatever entity or object you worship that this ranch is owned by this man, instead of some 19th century minded rancher who doesn’t give a hoot about anything but maximizing cattle profits.

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    It doesn’t take much intelligence to conclude both from the history of livestock raising and the disasters of current livestock operations that the West would be a lot better off without livestock and ranchers.

    Funny that you livestock apologists keep trotting out the same examples of “responsible” livestock management. And in any case, we only have your word that they are responsible. I haven’t seen any of it here in Wyoming–it’s all hype.

  7. Jay Avatar

    Oh, I see–so you haven’t seen any examples, therefore it does not exist, is that what you’re saying? Sounds EXACTLY like the hunters’ BS argument that they didn’t see any elk, so therefore the wolves killed them all, don’t you think? I’m definitely not a huge fan of the livestock industry, so don’t try to stereotype me as well–I’ll readily admit there are countless examples of how not to do things, but there are folks out there that are doing things the right way, too.

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    What is the right way–to continue to impose an exotic, non-native, inherently destructive species upon the western landscape? What kind of thinking is this? It’s not conservation-minded thinking, that’s for sure.

  9. Jay Avatar

    Unless you eat native grass, you’re a hypocrite. Aside from a handful of vegetables cultivated by native Americans, there isn’t a vegetable or meat product (aside from wild game) that isn’t exotic. With proper stocking and herding practices, cattle aren’t any more detrimental or damaging then elk or bison are.

  10. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Jay, I don’t know about you, but I don’t eat any veggies that come from AMERICA’S public lands.

    “With proper stocking and herding practices, cattle aren’t any more detrimental or damaging then elk or bison are.”

    How many cattle producers actually move their cattle away from riparian areas every day or two or three or whatever the recommended time frame is? My money says very few, if any.

    On AMERICA’S public lands, privately owned livestock eat forage that would otherwise be available to wildlife. We have a non-native species competing with native species.

    May the native win.

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  11. Jay Avatar

    Well, I guess this could go on and on…I’m not pro-livestock, just trying to say there are some folks out there that do care, and do their best to try to do things responsibly. I’ve met quite a few that do care, despite what you may think. Also, I’d say they benefit wildlife a lot more than your average citizen when they have private lands grazed by livestock as well as “natives”, as you put it…how many folks do you know that own hundreds, if not thousands of acres that are grazed by cows, deer, elk, etc.? Furthermore, Mack, there was no mention of grazing on public lands, this thread was regarding a person putting his PRIVATE ground–which he so chooses to raise livestock on–into a conservation easement, for which Robert immediately criticized him for. I guess it just goes to prove you just can’t win for trying.

  12. BW Avatar

    You guys are truly amazing!

    Isn’t this private property? I guess you are all programed to attack anything having to do with livestock, even if it is something that comes from a conservationists.

    Good managers do exist as Jay pointed out. Sounds like Mr. Lang is trying to do something positive instead of simply participating in discussions on blogs such as this one.

    From the article it seems like he has been pretty clear that he wants to set something up with Bison. Maybe a private citizen will be the person that takes the lead in helping the APHIS develop an effective vaccine for Brucellosis. It also stated that he has done things to help cutthroat trout, isn’t that something that conservationists should be emulating rather than criticizing?

    The article also misses it whent hey claim that the only free roaming Bison herd is in YNP. I guess no one has heard about the Bison herd roaming freely on the Henry Mountains in Southern Utah. Of course, that is probably a good thing. Just forget that I mentioned it.
    – – – – – —

    Bob, I guess I can’t expect you to do a complete search of the archives every time you post, but I have written many times about the Henry Mountains bison hunt in southern Utah, how the bison are derived from Yellowstone, and how the hunt is a challenge, not at all like shooting a barn; and how this indicates a free ranging bison hunt in Montana could work as long as they are not confined to the Park. Ralph Maughan

  13. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Jay, I took your statements about veggies and “With proper stocking and herding practices, cattle aren’t any more detrimental or damaging then elk or bison are” at face value.

    And I obviously disagree.

    Cattle have to be forced out of riparian areas whereas elk and buffalo naturally move off. And if the cattle aren’t moved, damage results. I think cattle are definately more detrimental and damaging than elk or buffalo.

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  14. BW Avatar

    Mack P. Brayn

    Your opinions are your own.

    I thought one of the good things that wolves have done is keep elk from over-eating all of the willows in YNP? Guess all of that damage was done years ago by introduce non-native herbivores.

    You probably also think that wild horses don’t cause any damage to the range either. Course, you probably consider feral horses to be native wildlife don’t you.

  15. Jay Avatar

    So, that being said, how would you explain the “trophic cascade” effect in Yellowstone, with wolves being postulated as the cause of the resurgence of riparian species by pushing elk out of them? Seems elk can be pretty darned damaging, if the theory is true.

  16. Jay Avatar

    Eliminating regrowth of aspen, willow, and cottonwoods is pretty dramatic, I might add. Cows aren’t the only animals that need pushing around.

  17. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    I’m no scientist, but I would speculate that elk move out far sooner than cattle; hours as opposed to days.

    True, elk can be very damaging. Perhaps I should have said “I think cattle are definately more detrimental and damaging than elk or buffalo when natural predators are on the scene.”

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  18. Brian Ertz Avatar

    does anyone know whether this is in perpetuity? … i know in Idaho at least – that’s a relevant question/suspicion …

    “Traditional ranchers have to take care of the land, otherwise they lose the productivity of the land next year,” Lang contends.

    i always love this one… it demonstrates the immediacy/shortsighted concern for next years productivity as analogous to a conservation ethic.

    the problem, as i see it, is that the culture has a tendency to play on the exception as the rule. an economic model resting heavily on public financing ~ without perpetuity ~ and independent affluence is hardly a convincing model. it does no good for the land if other producers are content and able to use it vicariously.

    we never see articles/media condemning the majority’s abuses given the allegedly apparent demonstration of an exception’s ability to not conspicuously abuse. it’s always acclamation for a superficial standard (as demonstrated in the quote above) that should have been practiced as a baseline for the past decades.

    and next season we’ll gaze across a blown-out/gullied system ~ and with one word the failure will be swept under the rug ~ ‘drought’ …

  19. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    Maybe this is Roger Langs attempt at making amends for the wolves he had shot on his ranch on July 23. One of the wolves that was wounded was hit and run over repeatedly with an all-terrain vehicle before it was killed. His ranch “predator manager” said he believed that running the wolf down was allowable under the 10J rule!
    From the Bozeman Chronicle…”.Dixon, the ranch employee started chasing the wolf and realized it had an injured leg. He caught up to the wolf and knocked it to the ground several times with the ATV and ran it over several times. After wearing the wolf down, he ran the ATV on top of the wolf and parked. The wolf was trapped there for two to five minutes before other ranch employees arrived and shot the wolf in the head.”
    The ranch has been issued federal citations.
    Careful what you ask for when you have someone like this in charge.
    P.S. Lang just purchased 26,000 acres about 20 miles south of Missoula.

  20. TPageCO Avatar

    I had the good fortune to hunt the Sun Ranch a few years ago – it’s a really fantastic piece of ground and probably the most complete piece in the Madison Valley. I’d like to see some before and after pictures from when Steven Seagal owned it until now. Roger Lang has done a ton of weed work, and there has been good progress made to get more water in the Madison tributaries down to the river. Several thousand elk run through there in the spring and fall. I’ve never seen a larger herd of pronghorn in one place than on the Sun Ranch…native cutt ponds, wolf sign… I could go on. Is it perfect? Of course not – the wolf killing this summer was a terrible thing, but it’s MUCH better than most comparable properties. 20,000 acre spreads that are managed this well are very rare – I worked in conservation for ten years and I can think of maybe one that I would compare it to. Lang has already done an earlier easement on something like 7,000 acres and the tax incentives for easements are good right now, so I don’t think this easement is intended to wash away the bad PR from the ATV incident. Drive the highway and look at the range – if cows are hammering it, why is it full of wild animals and good (native and exotic) grass?

    Incidentally, in order to maintain your ag tax status in Madison County you have to have some stock grazing, so there is certainly incentive to keep at least a few cows around. I think the land is leased for grazing, but I may be wrong.

  21. Dan Stebbins Avatar

    I guess I don’t really have much of a strong opinion on Lang. It seems to me that he is trying to do the right thing by being a conscientious rancher. Which I applaud him for.
    On the other hand the wolf incident on his property earlier this year was despicable to say the least.

    However I did hear him on the “Wolves in Paradise” documentary that aired recently on PBS as saying something to the effect of, “Cattle grazing is good for riparian areas.”

    If he actually believes that, then I would have to question his sanity.

  22. Mike Avatar

    As much as some of the stories eminating from this ranch bother me, they aren’t nearly as bad as having it turn into 11,000 one acre lots with an ATV in every garage.

  23. d.Bailey Hill Avatar
    d.Bailey Hill

    All the arguing in the world about Mr. Lang’s plan will accomplish nada. Only time will reveal if he is sincere in his efforts to acheive a working model. I think that he should be held accountable to his word, especially with the tax breaks and 4.5 million dollars of public money. There should be a very significant return for that investment. Perhaps a migration corridor for unimpeded movement of wildlife.
    In my opinion it would be in Mr. Lang’s best interests to “push” for the reclassification of non-domestic bison as wildlife and transition from cows to bison. With that much acreage it could be accomplished according to USDA documents on the beneifits of bison over cattle. Points of note in the USDA doc, Bison can can move great distances from water sources as they can go several days without water. Not being dependent on water sources also prevents damage to riparian areas. Bison are constantly moving and so they do not overgraze, etc. The only downside to raising bison is the need for vast tracks of land allowing for unimpeded movement. It would be in best interest of livestock ranchers to invest in the restoration of western lands, tear down fences and raise bison instead of cows. I find it quite interesting how bison are able to produce immunity to brucellosis. When bison are classified as infected it technically means they test seropositive which for those of you who do not know, that means that they have the antibody that makes them immune. If the MDOL ever bother to test the bison, they do not distinguish the difference. One more point; bison can withstand harsh winters, whereas cows drop like flies.
    To add a humorous sidenote of my own opinion, it also seems that bison are intellegent enough to avoid prairie dog holes unlike bovine who can’t seem to avoid them. Ranchers are almost constantly poisoning the little buggers because their sacred cows have the tendancy to break their legs in the holes. Those little p-dogs are essential to a healthy ecosystem.
    Back to bison—-If someone would take the initiative to get ranchers to associate the almighty, most important than everything else dollar sign with domestic bison, that dollar sign alone would make the myth of brucellosis and all other associated lies, disappear overnight. And as we all know the dollar sign erases a multitude of “sins”.

    Gotta go. I am on vacation. Happy new year to all.

  24. bob vantreese Avatar
    bob vantreese

    Roger Lang is no friend of conservation or montana hunters! He and his people routinely haze wild elk back into the center of his property and off of adjacent public lands. He touts the opening of a meager 1% of his ranch into the BMA program and then hails how he allows access to his ranch for hunting. Here’s to the MT FWP for not buying into his hypocritical antics. The sun ranch is private property, but if he wants the tax benifits of conservation easements, he needs to play fair with the state– not try to underhandedly exploit it.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan