Company-owned Cattle Ranch Helps Protect Bagdad Mine ’ s Future
It ’ s not hard for Ken James to imagine what it was like running a cattle ranch a century ago in the steep , rocky canyons near Bagdad in central Arizona . It ’ s not much different from what he does every day now as Foreman of Freeport-McMoRan ’ s Yolo Ranch in Yavapai County .
Most of the ranch is inaccessible to motor vehicles , which are largely confined to the winding dirt road that cuts through the mountains between Bagdad and Prescott .
Ken James , Yolo Ranch Foreman , often thinks about those who worked the land for hundreds of years before it became Yolo Ranch .
Work still is primarily done on horseback , just as it was in 1885 when Yolo Ranch was founded . During the twice-yearly roundups , James and the crew of hired cowhands spend weeks living in the rugged wilderness , flushing out unbranded cattle and culling those that will be taken to market to be sold . The rest of the year also is largely spent in the saddle , riding fences , checking water holes and making sure the hundreds of cattle that roam loose in the isolated arroyos stay healthy .
It ’ s a hard life in hard country , but it ’ s the life James grew up in and loves .
“ We still have to make a lot of horse tracks ,” James said . “ That ’ s the only way you can get around here . It ’ s a good lifestyle . It ’ s not too hard if you ’ ve been doing it all your life . It ’ s all I ’ ve ever done and all I ever wanted to do . I wouldn ’ t trade it for anything else .”
James feels a special connection to the land and area history .
“ The whole ranch pretty much fascinates me ,” he said . “ What I think about more than anything , just sitting up on one of those rims , is turning time back to a long time ago ... just to see what it looked like .”
LAND BANKING ON THE FUTURE
It might seem odd that a mining company owns a cattle ranch . And as job titles go , it ’ s hard to associate James ’ occupation as ranch foreman with producing copper and molybdenum . His is one of many professions at Freeport that do not make much sense without knowing the context of why they are important to the company ’ s success .
The reason Freeport owns a cattle ranch has to do with the complexities of land ownership , grazing leases and historic mining claims in the Bagdad area , said Marcus Middleton , Manager-Environmental and Sustainable Development at the mine . Land ownership in the area is a jumbled mix of federal , state and private holdings . The government land also comes with grazing leases and mineral claims held by Freeport and other ranchers in the area . All of that makes land acquisition needed to protect or expand the Bagdad mine extremely complicated , Middleton said .
Yolo Ranch was purchased in 2011 as a strategic land bank that can be used to trade both deeded parcels the company owns and grazing leases tied to the government land . Much of the ranch already has been traded away to expand the companyowned holdings adjacent to the mine , either to create a buffer or to allow for future growth .
Yolo actually is the smaller of two ranches Freeport owns near Bagdad . In the mid-1970s , the company bought the much larger Byner Ranch , partly for its water rights but also as a vehicle for land and lease trades . Today , Freeport owns 37,713 deeded acres and 382,525 acres of grazing lease allotments associated with the Byner Ranch . The Yolo Ranch contains 9,238 deeded acres and 49,283 acres of grazing leases .
Ken James , Yolo Ranch Foreman , lassoes the horse he will ride for the day ’ s work .