Ten days ago, news of Al Wiederspahn’s death was a whiplash which cracked quickly around the Cowboy State. His loss is felt keenly by many of us beyond his family and friends because of the many contributions he made to his community. While a very private man, Al was generous with his time and considerable intellect and those of us fortunate to benefit from his wisdom also gained precious insights into his beliefs, opinions and hopes for the future. A conversation with Al was always a journey, a meandering trip that touched on all manner of related subjects before ending up at the required destination. He was a model for civility; always polite, always proper, always impeccably dressed. While one of the most patient people imaginable, he was not always patient. Al could not stand hypocrisy, stupidity, or dishonesty and he was not shy about expressing his opinions of the unworthy. Very politely. Properly. And while handsomely attired. Al served on the Board of Directors of the Stock Growers Land Trust since 2009, and as Chairman for several of those years. He was passionate about our work and the opportunity we have to conserve not just land, but Wyoming’s “cultural landscape.” He gave a great deal of time and energy to our Land Trust and was a greatly valued mentor, leader, conscience, philanthropist, counsel – and perhaps most importantly, expansive thinker. What follows is something Al wrote for the Land Trust’s newsletter in 2010. Not only does it describe our work at its very best, it also reminds us of what we will miss most about Al.
THE RANCHING CULTURE
It is a privilege for me to serve on the Board of the Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust. While much of WSGALT’s work focuses on the conservation of ranch lands, it is perhaps less recognized that by preserving agricultural uses on those lands, WSGALT also furthers the protection of a culture; the culture of ranching.
Culture has been described as the total way of life that characterizes a group of people. By any measure or definition, ranching embodies a singular culture. The ranch culture is comprised of a distinctive set of cultural components, which include animal husbandry, architecture, courtship, cuisine, dance, dress, etiquette, free enterprise, gestures, individual freedom, language, music, values and work ethic. It is primarily through the agency of their culture that people interact with and modify their environment. Ranch culture affects certain attributes of the land, reflecting the way of life of the people who live and work on it. The ranch culture’s relationships with the physical environment create a unique “cultural ecology.”
Almost 2,000 acres of productive ranchland in Crook County will remain in agriculture thanks to a conservation easement on the Wood Ranch donated in part to the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust by landowner Jackie Griffith. The project’s closing on October 22 complements two completed conservation easements in Crook County
held by the Stock Growers Land Trust. The Wood Ranch conservation easement ensures the ranch’s compatibility with agriculture and prevents the ranch from being converted to non-agricultural uses in the future.
The Wood Ranch was founded in 1895 by Jacob Wood and remained in the Wood family for many generations. Jackie Griffith, the current landowner, purchased the land from the Wood family in 2000 and continues to utilize the forage for livestock grazing. At the location of the original homestead, a cabin was erected in Jacob’s honor and is used today as a Pastor Day Retreat, where religious leaders may have a quiet place to reflect, pray and study.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust completed the Martin Place project conserving 840 acres of productive rangeland in Sublette County. The Martin Place conservation easement, which closed on September 26, complements 14 conservation easements in Sublette County held by the Stock Growers Land Trust and results in a new total of 38,312 acres under easement in that county. This total includes three easements already completed by landowner Maggie Miller as part of the Sommers Grindstone project. As with the others, the Martin Place conservation easement will ensure the ranch’s compatibility with agriculture and prevents the ranch from being converted to non-agricultural uses in the future.
Citizens of the North Platte Valley and beyond turned out in record numbers to support area charities at the “Valley Strong” benefit concert put on by Brush Creek Ranch at the Community Center. Thanks to the generosity of Bruce and Beth White, 100% of the proceeds from ticket sales were distributed to 21 different charities as designated by those who purchased tickets.
The main beneficiary of the event was the Corbett Medical Center Foundation which graciously shared the evening’s proceeds. Michael Williams, chief operating officer for Brush Creek Ranch, told the audience of 400 plus people that nearly $300,000 had been raised, with more than $250,000 going to the foundation that supports the Platte Valley Medical Clinic.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a charitable giving bill - H.R. 4719 – that reinstates and makes permanent a federal income tax deduction for voluntarily conserving agricultural lands. This provision, introduced as H.R. 2807, enhances the deductions for gifts of conservation easements that permanently conserve working farm and ranch lands. Conservation easements retire development rights on private lands while allowing continued agricultural production. Thanks to Representative Cynthia Lummis who spoke in favor of the bill on the floor of the House last week http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4504028/lummis-house-floor-conservation-easements
Since 2006, an enhanced income tax deduction has allowed family farmers and ranchers to receive a significant tax benefit for conservation easement donations. This 2006 tax incentive expired at the end of 2013, but the recently passed House bill would make the enhanced deduction permanent and more favorable to agricultural landowners with modest incomes.