By Ben Wurz
I am lucky enough to be an intern at the Y Cross Ranch this summer. Located in Horse Creek, Wyoming, the ranch was bought by Courtenay Davis and his family in 1941, and they added to it over time. It now spans over fifty thousand acres. The conservation easement on the ranch is one of the largest held by The Nature Conservancy. In 1997, Amy Davis gifted the ranch to the University of Wyoming Foundation and the Colorado State University Research Foundation. The universities are planning to sell the ranch, but are making a grave mistake in doing so. CSU and UW are planning to throw away a vast expanse of land that has an enormous amount of educational potential. The ranch was donated with the intent that it would be used as a teaching tool in agriculture and natural resources, but has been woefully under-utilized. CSU claims that this is because the Y Cross is too far away, but the fact is, it takes the same amount of time to get to the Y Cross as it does to get to Pingree Park, where a good deal of natural resources teaching takes place. It takes far less time to get to the Y Cross than it does to get to Saratoga, where some of CSU’s beef cattle research and teaching takes place. No, it is not the location of the Y Cross Ranch that has made it under-utilized. It is the lack of awareness by professors. CSU is extremely lucky to have a ranch this size, but they do not promote it at all, and do not make it known to their professors that this kind of gem is available for use in teaching. This ranch is the only place that I know of where hands-on education can take place about beef cattle in a range and grassland setting. Most of the other facilities that I know of, at least at CSU, deal only with cattle in a feedlot setting, which is not entirely applicable to the way that cattle are raised and live their lives.
As it stands right now, it costs CSU and UW nothing to keep the ranch (the Y Cross turns a profit), and there are some benefits, though they are not as large as they could be if the universities were to use the ranch more. There have been interns on the ranch each summer, and I can attest to the educational benefits that are gained in that function. On the other hand, if CSU and UW sell the Y Cross, the only benefit will be the money gained, which will be pocket change compared to the operating budgets of either school. What will be lost, though, is a ranch that cannot be replaced, no matter how much money it sells for. What will be lost is the potential to pass on a vast amount of knowledge to a new generation that will one day be stewards of the land themselves. And what will also be lost if the ranch sells, are donations. After the way Amy Davis has been treated, no other land owner or philanthropist will want to give anything to either university. As I heard CSU President Tony Frank say at a forum earlier this spring, donors all have a purpose behind their willingness to donate. If CSU and UW show that they are willing to ignore that purpose and alienate one donor, then they might as well be alienating all donors.
When I pay tuition to CSU, I feel like I have a right to know that CSU will do what is best for my education. Right now, I don’t think that is what is happening at all. So if you are a taxpayer, a citizen of Colorado or Wyoming, a student, a professor, a rancher, an environmentalist, or if you are someone who cares about the preservation of open land, join me in pressuring CSU and UW not to commit what would be an atrocity for the world of education at land grant schools.