In order for Thunder Wilds to succeed in generating an amazing amount of ranching/farming, ecological, recreational and economic benefits throughout the west (see the Benefits Tab), it will need enthusiastic support from many in the region where it will be established. This includes the ranchers, farmers and other large landowners, small and large towns, small and large business owners, and the population in general. But the ranchers, farmers, and other large land owners are the key. It makes sense. What is happening on the land is always the foundation of everything.
If the ranchers and farmers continue to ranch and farm as they have been, then the rural west will continue to decline in the myriad of ways that I have been describing. Outdoor lifestyles, wilderness living, western small town America, and ranches as family enterprises everywhere will continue to disappear and the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the pioneers, mountain men, and ranchers of old will end up becoming suburbanites just like everybody else.
But if the ranchers, farmers and large land owners of the Wild West are bold enough to try something new they can lead the charge to get back something we have all lost, and transform the west back to a wild land full of promise, where the dream of building an empire out of the wilderness could still live. The only difference is that ranchers, farmers and other large land owners must be willing to allow one new thing. Instead of managing each of their own holdings to grow domestic animals and crops, they just need to manage their lands and herds as one vast common crop of wild prairie, timber and wetland habitat and one vast common herd of massive mega fauna.
That is what the Rancher’s Associated Wildlands (RAW) is all about. RAW will provide a viable mechanism, primarily for the ranchers, farmers and other large land owners, to combine and transition their lands, crops, and herds into one vast landscape, one vast highly productive ecosystem, and one vast wild herd. These landowners hold the key and if they don’t make this change to landscape scale management, then nothing changes. If they don’t lead the way to a new paradigm of economic and ecologic prosperity then all of us will lose everything that the Wild West was about. Fortunately, the ranchers, farmers and other large land owners also stand to gain the most from this transition, which is why I’m hoping that they will be willing to lead this change. You can read more about the benefits, for everyone, under the Benefits Tab and under the Livelyhoods Tab.
How would it work?
Remember that I’m only 17 so I hope you will be forgiving if I don’t have everything figured out.
But if it were up to me I would:
- Create a nonprofit organization called the Ranchers’ Associated Wildlands (RAW) whose mission it would be to facilitate and coordinate the combined effort of ranchers and other large land owners across a broad swath of the rural western great plains, the Northern Rockies, and the Rocky Mountain Front to restore a natural habitat, and to manage this vast wild landscape as a system of adjoining PRIVATELY OWNED lands that would function as ranches, hunting preserves, and massive recreational and ecological parks depending on the land owner’s interests. This system of adjoining private lands could be called Thunder Wilds. RAW would not only help to coordinate the efforts of private land owners to restore their lands but also to coordinate their efforts to grow and manage the vast wild herd of Pleistocene mega fauna across these lands. This nonprofit would be a co-op of large land owners and its board of directors would be primarily made up of these kinds of land owners.
- The first thing that RAW does is to decide which region of the American West is best suited to create Thunder Wilds. The region RAW would chose would be the one with some of the best percentages of intact wild habitat, some of the best support for the project from ranchers, other large land owners, other businesses and towns in the region, especially those that are tourism related, and some of the best tourism infrastructure from the perspective of potential gateway communities to be developed.
- Then we all become members of the nonprofit. This would give RAW some of its starting capital. These members would include landowners most especially, ranchers and farmers. But other businesses and individuals, anyone who feels that they could benefit from a huge park in their region. With this investment RAW starts to ramp up its staff, including its fund development department. The IRS considers creating wild ecosystems and opening them to the public to be a charitable endeavor so any donations made to RAW are tax deductible. RAW’s new fundraising staff would be working to raise funds from all across the region and nation, from individuals, businesses, foundations, and even local, state, and federal habitat restoration grants and tourism development grants, maybe even crowd funding. It would also work to secure other potential conservation funding and even carbon mitigation or sequestration funds, etc.
- With RAW initially funded and staffed we proceed to actually create Thunder Wilds. RAW approaches the many enthusiastic landowners that were ready to become partners in that chosen area and negotiates to lease their land under long-term grazing leases, starting in one to five years after the park was founded. That’s right, RAW doesn’t actually own the land, the private land owner partners do. Although it might make sense for RAW to own the very first and smallest core area. The leases would begin first in the identified core Thunder Wilds area, then in identified Thunder Wilds expansion areas a few years later, and then in the Thunder Wilds buffer areas a few years after that. Of course, these lands would need to be adjoining to the greatest extent possible. RAW would even negotiate to lease public land for grazing.
- RAW would then start to breed, purchase, import, and capture the Pleistocene native North American herbivores, proxies, and deextinction species when available, on a vast scale and release them in the core areas for breeding and management. In the core areas land owner partners would sell their cattle, begin the work of restoring their land to a wilderness and native habitat, tear down their fences to allow the wild herds to roam on their land, and invest in developing their own capacity to host guests, hunters and tourists if they wish. They could also increase their investment in RAW if they wish, which would increase their profit shares. That’s right, RAW would share its profits with its investors, of course.
- RAW will start paying provisional grazing lease rates on all partner core area lands where the growing herds are grazing, and therefore where the cattle and farms need to be removed. This compensates the core area land owners for their lost revenue while the herds are growing. The land owners can decide, now or later, if they would rather continue to receive the majority of their compensation through this passive simple lease rate, or if they would also like to take a more active role in the building of RAW in order to earn greater compensation, benefits, and personal fulfillment. For more information see Lifestyles and Livelihoods.
- RAW would work with core area landowners to start to restore their lands to the wild habitat Pleistocene mega fauna need. RAW would provide the ecological expertise and could pay for the restoration work and could get the work done. However, the more RAW has to pay for and accomplish on the partner’s land the more the land owner’s lease rate will be adjusted down. The more that the landowner partners want to pursue the work themselves and pay for it themselves the more freedom they will have to do it that way they want and the more they will preserve or increase the lease rates they will be paid, which will depend on the wild quality of the forage and the general quality of the habitat.
- Land owners can also decide if they would like to partner with RAW to help breed animals, care for animals, move the herds, and protect them from poachers when they are on the landowners’ land or anywhere within Thunder Wilds. That’s right, any rancher’s relatively small ranch becomes part of the vast whole of Thunder Wilds and landowners who opt to help with herd management will get to ride over and enjoy lots of very wild country. It’s a life in the saddle with all the adventure, actually a whole heck of a lot more adventure, than their pioneer ancestors enjoyed. Why should RAW go out and hire laborers when each rancher family has plenty of experienced members, and their ranch hands to do the fun work instead? Land owner partners would be compensated for their work in this regard with additional herd management payments.
- Once the mega fauna herds’ abundance and diversity has reached initial targets limited numbers of predators will start to be reintroduced. This would include native mega fauna predators, proxy predators and deextinction predators when available.
- At this point the RAW would be working intensively with interested core area landowners and gateway communities, providing expertise to help them develop and upgrade accommodations, amenities, outfitting, activities, and entertainment for tourists, hunters, fisherman, nature lovers and many others who come to Thunder Wilds to enjoy the park, the wildlife, and the lifestyle if only for a little while. RAW will help its partners develop any aspect of working with visitors to Thunder Wilds that the partners are interested in getting into.
- As the herds grow meat production will start. First as game for big game hunters that will come from all over the world and pay huge hunt fees. Ranchers and other land owners may want to invest in starting operations to cater to them or at least to serve as hunt masters on their land. The next level of increasing wild meat production would be hunted by RAW land owners and served within the hospitality industry within Thunder Wilds. The third level of increasing wild meat production will be to cater to discriminating meat buyers across the world. Why try to produce cheep beef and try to compete with third world countries when we could produce wild mammoth steaks at a huge profit. RAW land owners would have first choice on being the professional hunters that harvest this wild game. Tourists will line up for their Pleistocene mega fauna steaks from here to St. Louis!
- As the herds continue to grow in size and migrate over larger areas RAW will start to focus more on the expansion area landowners just as it did initially with the core area landowners and gateway communities in steps one through 10 above.
- As the partner lands become quickly restored to a high wild fertility the numbers of other wildlife will also grow rapidly. Deer, elk, fish, and game birds will increase and partner land owners will maintain the right to hunt on their land for their own sustenance and they can take out guests to hunt as well. However mega fauna herds will grow a bit slower, as will the numbers of their mega fauna predators. These mega fauna will be the results of significant effort and investment on behalf of RAW and all of RAW’s land owner and business partners. As soon as possible landowners will be able to hunt these great beasts, mostly with the eye of the wolf, in order to sustain themselves and enjoy the Wild West lifestyle. Certainly limited trophy hunting will be granted when possible, to the land owners or to their trophy hunter guests.
- RAW will also operate as a revenue sharing cooperative of all the RAW partners. As the park grows to a vast multistate landscape the movements of the herds will depend upon the seasons and the rainfall. Therefore, so will the movements of the guests and tourists, who will follow the herds with where they spend their money to some extent. Regions of the park with temporarily less mega fauna present for the public to enjoy could experience significant temporary revenue drops. Therefore, RAW Partners will be able to participate in the RAW Tourism Cooperative Self-Insurance Fund by paying in a small percentage of their income so that they can draw upon the fund if bad weather keeps the herds out of their region, significantly decreasing their visitation and tourism income.
That is how it would work! With the huge increase in the wild herds and their predators, not to mention the huge increase in mule deer, ground birds, water fowl, and many other kinds of wildlife, and the vast increases in forests and prairies, the wild frontier would be reborn. Land owners could return to life in the wilderness, winning their livelihood from the wilds, and not just on their ranch. Kids and grandkids could come back to small town America in the Wild West. They could come back to the ranch, back to mom and dad or grandma and grandpa, the home of their ancestors. The wild lifestyle could begin again. And the millions of tourists would bring their vacation money to the area as well and economic prosperity and opportunity would be there for the taking for all those interested in and enterprising enough to capture it.