How is success influenced by working with a co-op of ranchers? Let’s find that out in this episode as we sat down with Rich Bradbury, who flew all the way from Oregon to Billings, to impart his valuable experience in collaborating with a Co-op of ranchers.
Rich Bradbury is a fifth generation rancher in the Great Basin. He has spent the majority of his life in the Plush, Oregon region. He is co-owner of one of the ranches that make up the former MC Ranch.
Colter DeVries 0:00:00
I'm Colter DeVries, owner of Ranch Investor Advisory and Brokerage Services. I'm an accredited land consultant with the Realtor Land Institute and a proud member of ASFMRA.
The Ranch Investor Podcast is the most downloaded and informative industry-specific content that intrigues wild entertains.
Colter DeVries 0:00:22
Welcome everybody to the Ranch Investor podcast. Colter DeVries is back with a very special guest. I've been trying to get Rich Bradbury on for quite a while now. Rich, here you are in person. You came from Oregon to Billings, Montana. Today, you brought hundred-degree weather with you for the start of September but I'm happy to have you here. Let's just get started. Where do you think this war is going with Vladimir Putin? Before we jump into that, I mean, who do you think is gonna win? No, I'm just kidding. Why don't you introduce yourself? Give us background. Who is Rich Bradbury? What's your history? What's your story? Tell us who you are.
Rich Bradbury 00:01:14
All right. I'm probably not gonna be able to be very comprehensive in the beginning, but I'll do the best I can. I'm Rich Bradbury. I'm a rancher and a real estate agent from Lakeview, Oregon. I grew up in a little town, Plush. I went to a one-room schoolhouse until I was in eighth grade.
Colter DeVries 00:01:34
One room schoolhouse. Kind of a Montana thing too but you're a remnant.
Rich Bradbury 00:01:36
Yes. We still actually have it. So Plush is probably one of the most remote places in the lower 48 states. The joke is it's far away from any McDonald's or Walmart that you can get when you're down in the lower 48 states, not kind of Alaska. But I grew up on a big family ranch that my grandfather put together over the years. The question is always not to go too deep
Colter DeVries 00:02:15
Anyways, you go as deep as you want. We got time. It’s long-form podcasting, Rich.
Rich Bradbury 00:02:20
Yeah. So my family sort of pioneered that part of South Eastern Oregon, not directly. Seven Irish brothers came to the United States from Ireland, worked in San Francisco, and put together sheep herds. The deal was to work down around Dublin, California, which is in the bay area, and run sheep in the Hills there around San Francisco. That's a great cow and great sheep country. As they built their own stock, they expanded out and they got a little piece of Oregon. When they got there, it was the Indians, the trappers, and the guys with the sheep. That was my family. They set up the same type of system with their relatives from Ireland and then they'd bring them directly from Ireland. They'd set them up in the same sheep business. So the little community I lived in is pretty interrelated.
Colter DeVries 00:03:23
So yeah, generational. I mean, who else are you gonna marry but the rancher's daughter down the road?
Rich Bradbury 00:03:28
Yeah. So sometimes you gotta go out of the community so you're not getting into any trouble. In the late sixties and early seventies, everybody transitioned to ranching and cattle. My grandmother had a saying that you can make a sheepman a cattleman, but you can't make a cattleman, a sheepman.
I've heard that. I heard that in Colorado.
Rich Bradbury 00:03:54
Yeah. I remember sheep as a child, there were still some bands of sheep around, but they went away and then my dad married into this family. His father ran the ZX ranch, which is one of the 10 biggest ranches at one time owned it for 16 years.
Colter DeVries 00:04:14
This is to give people context. This is Eastern Oregon.
Rich Bradbury 00:04:18
No, this is the Great Basin.
Colter DeVries 00:04:20
The Great Basin. This is not the Willamette Valley.
Rich Bradbury 00:04:24
Yes. If we could have Great Basin in some state, we'd be very happy with that.
Colter DeVries 00:04:28
I hear that it's very common in Oregon. You'd kind of like to join Idaho. I hear there's a push of movement for that going on.
Rich Bradbury 00:04:33
Yes. Cultural related as much as anything, we have more in common with Nevada and parts of Utah and Idaho than we do with almost anywhere else. My parents were really big on getting out and seeing to experience other things. They encouraged me to leave the ranch, which I did, and came back to start a cattle herd. 2008 came along, I ended up in the oil patch for a decade and slowly started coming back home in 2015. I transitioned from the oil field back to ranching and one of my other passions was real estate. I think one of the things that I like best about real estate is when you live in a remote area, the mail is your lifeline. I was very fortunate my parents got the wall street journal. It came about two weeks later than it should have, but I would cruise over that. Then, of course, we got this year's wish book about October so we can plan all of the gifts that we wanted to get. But probably, the most exciting thing for me which I hope I'm not stepping on anybody's toes here is when the properties would come out for Western livestock and I could just cruise over ranches. I very much love the area where I'm at and I love ranching there, but I love the idea of how ranches and other places were broken out. Even in the short parts of the properties journal that comes out quarterly, there were stories that you could tell and you could match back to the people you've heard of. I always held onto that little thing. And so when I had the opportunity to leave the oil field and really sort of set up my own thing, I thought real estate's gonna be a part of it. Ranching's still a part of it. I get up at four o'clock in the morning and then sometimes I wander in the house at about seven trying to do all my cow stuff early and on the weekends. In real estate, I had no idea I had good timing. I got into the oil field at the peak and I got into real estate at the peak too. We're in transition now where it's not gonna be so busy but it was just an interesting time in the luck of hours, I guess.
Colter DeVries 00:07:12
Well, I didn't come all the way from Ireland to have a bunch of freelancers piss all over my land. So you got into the oil field at the peak and you got into the real estate business at the peak, but I want to hear more about Eastern Oregon because it sounds like you were out there when there was free grazing going on like you just moved bands of sheep around. That was common in Montana too where one brother normally with the sheepherders would come from Basque. We have a lot of Basque in Northern and Southern Idaho.
Rich Bradbury 00:07:54
I actually have a cousin who married into a Basque family from the Northern. I'm a pretty big guy at 6’4 height and over 250 pounds, I have a cousin that's even bigger than I have, then we have another Basque cousin who probably outweighs both me and my other cousin. Dad is three inches taller and he's Basque and from a large part of the Basque.
Colter DeVries 00:08:24
You are a big guy. I was gonna ask, did your Levis even fit by the time you got a late Sears catalog and then they arrived in the mail?
Rich Bradbury 00:08:33
No, my mom was constantly these days worried about my son getting the pants destroyed because he was sprouting up really fast. But when you live in Plush, nobody cares. When I was growing up, it took so long to get into town because the vehicles and equipment were not like it was. We spent a lot of time in this remote area.
Colter DeVries 00:08:59
Your mom would order them three sizes too big and then you'd just have to use baler twine to hold them up until you grew into them, right? So Plush, Eastern Oregon, where is that from the Rajneeshees?
Rich Bradbury 00:09:26
It's about three hours to the east and a little bit south.
Colter DeVries 00:09:31
So if anyone wants further context about Eastern Oregon and how it's a big country, check out Wild Wild Country on Netflix. Actually, the guy who ends up buying that ranch is Montana's wealthiest individual, Dennis Washington. He is the most significant self-made billionaire from Montana. He bought that ranch, but that's an interesting story about how isolated and rural you are in those rolling mountain Hills of Eastern Oregon, as we call them coulee. They're just a whole bunch of steep coulees. It’s a rough country and it takes Basque sheep herds. It's not easy to get around.
Rich Bradbury 00:10:21
Well, the landscapes are just dramatic. I mean, I'm sitting here in Montana, and I'm talking about dramatic landscapes, the war and the romance of the Great Basin are very much different. It's large tracks of sagebrush and these giant geological faults that just randomly shoot out of the valley floors. They catch a lot of water and it's how the whole great basin works. It's a different type of beauty and it's something that I call myself a son of a Great Basin. It's sort of in my blood, like the smells and everything of it. I love coming up to Montana because it's a different type of air up here and it's relaxing. I think that there is a certain percentage of people on the west coast and even across the world that really like that high desert. When you know where to find the beautiful parts of it, they're breathtaking. Oregon doesn't really spend a lot of time advertising Eastern Oregon, which makes up about two-thirds of it. You're not gonna see maybe pictures of the Great Basin or anything because this doesn't sell the same way as the forest and everything.
Colter DeVries 00:11:41
The forest and the high-growth areas like the Willamette where you're perennial and you're permanent planting orchards, vineyards, and stuff. You're gonna get in that $17,000 an acre at least there. That's worth how many acres compared to Eastern Oregon. One acre is the equivalent of 120 maybe in Eastern Oregon.
Rich Bradbury 00:12:05
So conditional wisdom says like a typical acreage in Eastern Oregon is about $500 an acre. It changes with the mountain water it has on it or what kind of feed it has on it. But for the old-school guys, $500 per acreage is really still in their heads. We'll get into it probably later, but when you really dive into it, there are some really great land opportunities if you can break out of that framework of thinking and Great Basin,
Colter DeVries 00:12:40
Let's get into it now. How much BLM are you going to get with that? So let's talk about Eastern Oregon because Nevada is like 95% BLM.
Rich Bradbury 00:13:02
They all have different rules. That's how you can graze on them with different types of access and less environmental pressure.
Colter DeVries 00:13:26
So if you're gonna buy a place in Eastern Oregon, how much is deeded? How much is leased? Because I know a lot of guys in Eastern Montana and Northeast Montana where the Basque people settled. They're really rough areas– the brakes which are still BLM today because it never got settled. It's gumbo. It's really tough. No water. I mean that's why things didn't get homestead. It was no water. But today, if you're a ranch buyer, you're a rancher or you're a cattleman, you want to go find something that's a little bit deeded with a shit ton of BLM. In your case, probably Forest Service. In Arizona's case, I've seen places that are like 10 acres deeded with 250,000 acres of forest service lease.
Rich Bradbury 00:14:14
We're not that extreme yet ideally, you're looking at probably 10 to 20% deeded and the rest is gonna be your permits. Like in Nevada, they have permits where they just come back, wean the cattle at the deeded land, go out, and come in. They take the calves and the cows go out one way, and they rotate them around in public land. By the time they come back around next week, you can season. They've been all to the public grit so they have winter and summer permits. I think one of the hardest things to get is a piece of deeded land that has a winter permit because it works so much better. Our philosophy is the more you can have the cattle out in a cleaner environment, the more they do better. Desert feed is amazing. It's probably a lot like the Wyoming buffalo grass or buffalo glass you have here. So the feed that's under that sagebrush microbiome is amazing. My caps just came off of baby, but our permit that's tied to the mc ranch is about 425,000 acres.
Colter DeVries 00:15:28
Well, before we get into the MC Ranch, Rich, let's keep talking about this because that's a topic we will touch on.
Rich Bradbury 00:15:34
But I was just giving this a scope of the thing. So we have two range riders out there all the time and those cabs come in. The permits actually offer a really great safe source of food, pre-protein, and really make what those ranches are. Your hope is on your deeded land that you can have enough water and thing to get enough hay to get your cattle through the winter.
Colter DeVries 00:16:00
That's the big fight in the Great Basin, isn't it? So my people, the Bunes and the Hammonds, in the Eastern Oregon standoff, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, isn't that stemming from the case of their claim that is a claim to water rights within Forest Service or BLM holdings that they own the water on that land. I'm no attorney, and this is very constitutional shit we're talking about here in private property rights. It's complicated and very complex.
Rich Bradbury 00:16:46
The interesting thing about Nevada is your public permits are tied to the water that you have with water rights, not like the homestead act like Oregon. So originally the people that pioneered Oregon had the government set aside a place for them to home base. Then they probably at the beginning before permits were organized and they pre-grazed around that but they'd have a home base. As people came and left, the guys that were doing better bought up the private land, and consolidated it with theirs. A lot of my family came out, got their piece of deeded land raised, sort of made it for themselves, sold everything, and then went back to Ireland. Then, Nevada, I can't speak to it that much. I need to learn more about it. In the future, I probably will, but their water rights actually dictate what their permit is.
Colter DeVries 00:17:42
So that would dictate carrying capacity. In Nevada, the grazing permit is mostly BLM, right? That's attached to the grazing permit, stocking what they allow you to stock based on water availability, and how much water's there for the life, which makes sense. I think that isn't the issue that comes down to who owns that water. If BLM claims that they own that, it was taking from the rancher who had always used that water. It was taking from him without due compensation or deducting or decreasing his caring capacity. So let’s say he has enough water for 3000 head all year, if they limit his numbers to 500 head, the claim is a taking.
Rich Bradbury 00:18:45
The interesting thing is when you go throughout Nevada and Oregon, especially in the desert area, you'll find that most of the springs and motor roll on private land, even out where the permits are. A lot of that has to do with the railroad check, rewarding of everything, and when people are able to buy stuff up. So when you get into permits in the Great Basin, things get really complicated, really fast. We have a lot of outside environmental interests that have divergent ideas as to how that public land should be managed and cared for. Those nineties were super spooky because they were so radical. I remember as a kid even in Plush which is this little town of 70 people, you have to drive an hour to get from a town of 2000. You have to drive two hours from a town of any size at all. They would come out in spray paint, you'd find dead animals. There were just a lot of things going on in places where I'd grown up and never really seen people, but I'd seen people walking across the desert. I've seen some crazy stuff anyways. This is in places where you wouldn't expect to see people. Even on a horse, it takes a long time to get there. So Oregon with the timber and the activism in Portland, even if you think it's bad now, that's always that undertone. Oregon's always been there. It's really been a center for environmental ideas and activism. A lot of Oregon is unique. The land use laws in Oregon are really unique because of the governor I had named Tom McCall. He was not progressive in a bad way, but he was progressive in the idea of keeping open landscapes open. It is an infringement on what people traditionally think that it’s their property rights, but it is an idea of what we are preserving and what we do want. His main driving factor was he didn't want to see the Oregon coast be turned into like Malibu and just condominiums nonstop for miles and miles. There's a holdover in Eastern Oregon because of the policies that they developed on the eastern or the western side of the state and so people move to Oregon, want to buy a property, and think that they have a bunch of rights. But because of Oregon land use laws, they don't have as many rights as they think and so it has preserved these vast open spaces that I appreciate. It's sort of a double-edged sword. It's good for generations to come, but when you're trying to navigate it and make stuff happen economically, it can be a hindrance.
Colter DeVries 00:21:48
That would be a challenge. I'm glad you brought up the management of BLM and Forest Service and there are conflicting agendas and viewpoints there. No matter what those federal agencies do, they're gonna get sued. It's going to be decided in court. So whether they allow more grazing, Western Watersheds is gonna sue them. If they allow more wolves, Oregon Cattlemen is gonna sue them. I was thinking about that today coming back from Cascade, Montana. That issue came up about tragedy to commons. For anyone who doesn't recall Econ 101 tragedy to commons was when small freehold farmers in the kingdom of UK, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales could access public land per state and they could graze in there with no restrictions. Because everyone owned it, no one took care of it and so you had no economic incentive to pull your cows off. You actually had an economic incentive to leave them on as long as possible because it didn't take forage away from your home base. So these commons just got overgrazed, became eroded, and dusted. That was the tragedy of the commons. Well, we are dealing with a new tragedy of commons today. So when your forefathers came out from Ireland and they were free grazing sheep in the American West that was common. There were a lot of mixed bands. There are a lot of people that their band would follow yours even though there's no forage left. That's when we get the Taylor Grazing Act which started BLM. But today's tragedy of commons is that everyone thinks they own public land, but nobody's responsible for it. Everyone thinks they have a vested interest in it, they're gonna sue and it's gonna cost taxpayers money to fight it in court to defend the BLM decision one way or the other.
Rich Bradbury 00:24:22
This is sort of side commentary on the litigious of it because the lawsuits take away the range specialist's time to actually be on the resource and to be doing their job that they're educated to because they're filing paperwork, they're getting stuff straightened out for lawsuits. Each BLM office only has so many human resources that they can allocate to any given thing. Since the eighties and up until now, more and more of those resources are going to wildland firefighting and to the lawsuits that they have to deal with that have been brought by different special interest groups I don't want to ruin everybody's day, but I want to go back to the thing that happened with Amy Bundy. I respect their platform very much, and I think that what they're trying to communicate to the West is a good conversation. I often get lectured because I'm a little abrasive when I start a conversation, but I want to have that dialogue. I think if you take Aman Bundy and Clive Bundy, you just a hundred x them from where I usually try and start a fight. The unfortunate thing is when he picked Malta here as the place that he was gonna make his stand, the local ranchers that were in Hardee County, which is a county adjacent to mine so I'm very familiar with a lot of those people because it's a very small community, they were unaware that this is where he was gonna make a stand. Hardee County over the years has struggled to develop a really good working relationship with the government agencies in that area. A lot of the ranchers there were really incensed that he didn't make his stand in his backyard, but he came up here. It was very frustrating for everybody that it is not in the media, and this is how the media works, but the Harney County and Burns Ranchers got cast as the villains. There was this happened that they were in the crossfire. They didn't know he was gonna be there and there was no plan for him to be there. I think they would've told not to come. If they were, it would've known because of the relationship. Lake County's the same way. In most of Eastern Oregon, we have a very good working relationship with our BLM and our forest service groups. I'm not gonna say that we're hopping around, holding hands, or anything, but we have developed a mentality that allows us to work through some of the stickier problems. We know what they're up against and we try and help them as much as possible. Occasionally, we're the guys suing them, but it's not as much as special interest groups.
Colter DeVries 00:27:32
So without speaking for the burns, some of the other ranchers around that area were made an example by CNN in the news. Is it seem to you from the neighboring county that those local ranchers were taken hostage and that they were used as political pawns?
Rich Bradbury 00:27:52
Yeah, I know of guys that tried to go out there and talk about it before it escalated. I had the same feelings also. It was really just a really difficult time and it really set our relations back because it comes down to population. The county I live is the size of New Jersey. It's the 19th largest county in the United States. Harney County's either the 21st or the 22nd largest county in the United States. So basically the size of states on the East coast but there are very few people. We still count our people per square mile. We still count as a frontier. I mean, we don't even classify as a rule. We're the next step down so it doesn't matter what platform or how big our megaphone is to get our message out, it gets drowned out and tamped down because the media can say anything they want and they can twist the story however they want. And there are just not enough voices and loud enough to get out and really set the record straight.
Colter DeVries 00:29:07
Yeah, that's interesting. One step down from rural zoning is vacant, isn't it?
Rich Bradbury 00:29:12
They say it's Frontier.
Colter DeVries 00:29:16
Well, I mean big events like that are wild that they are not uncommon to Eastern Vacant Frontier, Eastern Oregon because the Rajneeshees
Rich Bradbury 00:29.:30
That was really the first probably litmus test. That was a tenure and a decade-long battle because their PR was so much greater.
Colter DeVries 00:29:41
Oh, they had millions coming in from across the world to back them.
Rich Bradbury 00:29:44
And here are these poor guys in antelope saying, “Look, this is not a good deal.”. They came in and changed the voting of how the school was set up, which rural communities in Eastern Oregon. Paramount above all else value of our school systems. I think that probably the Rajneeshees knew psychologically that that was gonna be devastating for that community.
Colter DeVries 00:30:17
I referenced Bundy's holding the Burns hostage. Rajneeshees did a hostile takeover.
Rich Bradbury 00:30:30
I have to disclose that I had an ex-girlfriend from Hemlock so I really felt with physically talking to them even after they left that damage, the Rajneeshees did to the community runs deep and still is with them.
Colter DeVries 00:30:52
Small towns don't forget about that. Probably brought up daily at coffee like, “ Do you
remember the days when the Rajneeshees were out here? They're busing homeless out here from Portland, LA, and San Francisco.’”.
Rich Bradbury 00:31:06
Then what gets lost because it happened in the Dowels, was the seven miller poisoning. That was biological terrorism before we even knew what it was. So that really sticks with people and it takes a long time to get back from that kind of treatment to try and work with the federal government on anything because if the FBI didn't check in and out until way later.
Colter DeVries 00:31:39
You bring up a good point. It's been a while since I've watched that document here on Netflix but maybe the point was not made well enough that that was domestic terrorism– organized biological terrorism.
Rich Bradbury 00:31:52
–and coordinated, planned, and premeditated. So if anything like that happened today, it'd become part of the door.
Colter DeVries 00:32:05
Well, let's talk about something a little brighter. They sold the MC horses. Ian Tyson had a song about your ranch. Tell me about how this came together. You're one of how many owners?
Rich Bradbury 00:32:23
I think we're down to nine, maybe now.
Colter DeVries 00:32:25
Started off as 16, I believe. How do you get 16 ranchers to come together to do anything other than drink whiskey? What's the background of the MC Ranch? Why was it in an Ian Tyson song? What's the legacy there?
Rich Bradbury 00:32:51
It's just an amazing storied Ranch. It's about 60,000 continuous acres. About 22,000 of it is the core of the ranch and irrigated land out of two different watersheds. It grows a pile of hay & a pile of cattle. About one-third of the cattle in Lake County and plug the Plush area.
Colter DeVries 00:33:14
How many irrigated acres?
Rich Bradbury 00:33:17
About 22,000 but it's divided into about nine different owners and different people. The MC story was really great. I think before we get started, most of my stories are because of my parents’ exceptional and very innovative team of husband and wife. A lot of my experiences came from them who set the table already, and I just sort of wrote them on coattails. When I was in high school, George Gillette, was the guy that owns the Gillette Razor. He had bought the MC and it had been in different hands. At one time in the 70s and the 80s, it was big for insurance companies to come in and buy big ranches I think it was a hedge against inflation, and who knows if we'll see that iteration of financial moving around. He'd originally bought it from some insurance company that had bought it in the 70s or 80s. He was consolidating, he had Snowbird in Utah and he just decided he was gonna sell it. Well, the only buyer was the Nature Conservancy and at any time, even back in the early nineties, they could have bought that whole thing, and it would've been a big deal for him at the time, but it wouldn't have cost him that much. I think it went for 4.8 million. The community members decided that they wanted to try and buy it, but they had to work together to do it. They gave us a little grace career to try and organize, and we did it. We consult, and we got everybody. We got these 16 people together and they came up with most of the money. The Nature Conservancy was like, “We can still buy it. You can't. If you can come up with this amount of money, we'll just come up with this amount of money.”. The Nature Conservancy's credit sent some delegates down to Lakeview to talk to the community. This is still one of the greatest experiences in my life. There's a little theater called Alger Theater in Lakeview, which sits about 300 people. It was completely full. The Nature Conservancy, the BLM, and the ranchers that were representing the MC group together on the stage. They presented their things and the community asked questions. By the end of the night, there were some passionate people on the Nature Conservancy side.
The nature of conservancy left that meeting and they said, “Look if these guys can buy it and they care that much about it, then we're gonna give them the time to buy it.” My parents and the other ranchers worked together, and they split up the different things. One group took over how to break up the deeded acres from the one whole deed. People had to take property that they didn't necessarily want to make it work. There were houses and shops. There's one group that just worked on organizing how the water would be allocated once we split it up into all these different deeded acres. Then, one group worked on how we were gonna run the desert permit because I think at its peak they could run, I wanna say 6,000, possibly more. We've never run that since we've taken it over, but still runs a lot of cattle and takes a lot of coordination. With the environmental pressures, it's an issue all in itself. The Sea Group was formed and it still exists today. It still very much runs in that way. There are two major groups that run it one is the Babies View Crazy Association and the other one is the Adult Water Improvement District. None of them hears this. Other things that have been involved with my life get run by consensus. A hundred percent consensus. It doesn't matter what your stake is, but it's an idea that everybody works for the greater whole. It's not like communism, but the consensus in capitalism I think can be a really young powerful tool. We'll talk about it, but, and then won't say it because everybody in MC has a vote. It's just warm hope for every ranch. It doesn't matter technically how many acres you have. If you have 60 acres and you're part of it, you get a boat. There's nobody that's that small.
Colter DeVries 00:38:48
So that’s like a co-op?
Rich Bradbury 00:38:50
In a way. They wouldn't want to say that.
Colter DeVries 00:38:51
They wouldn't want to say that, because co-ops are communist?
Rich Bradbury 00:38:57
Yeah. It sort of hurts their patriotic pride.
Colter DeVries 00:39:01
As rugged individuals, as independent ranchers.
Rich Bradbury 39:04
Yeah. That's one of the interesting things that I struggle with in my life all the time because I've been raised in these types of organizations and arrangements. I find it very beneficial to everybody involved. They'll never say that they do anything in consensus. But since 1993, the way that it works is because everybody talks about everything and nobody's trying to get one over everybody. We very much run it for the common good. It's a way to combat the tragedy to commons and take care of your resource.
Colter DeVries 00:39:47
What was the opinion of the Nature Conservancy at that time? Because early on in Montana, I think they made big waves doing these big projects. They were not well received by locals and small-town community ranchers. They were the environmentalist enemy who was attached to Green Peace. When Green Peace was in Missoula, they were putting steel spikes in the timber so that it would blow up the mill and kill people. TNC got an unfavorable attachment to that type of radical environmentalism or that radical activism and totally not the story today. With their technical assistance and their projects, they're working with ranchers. Totally not what people thought they were back in the 70s when Green Peace was blown up the wood mills. That's the joke when I visited Nature Conservancy people, Modern Day Nature Conservancy people, or even people I meet from the Turner Organization. There's been no greater transition from villain to savior in my life than those two organizations because I think Turner's probably just let the buffalo go and let him be buffalo. It turned out that they don't manage themselves very well and so they had to really reevaluate how they were gonna manage their buffalo herds on their ranches. In the process, he is saved and preserves some really pristine ecosystem. Regardless of whether you think there should be cows or buffalo. It's providing protein either way for consumers.
Rich Bradbury 00:41:36
He accomplished what he set out to do. The way that he thought he was gonna do it versus how he ended up doing it was totally different. I think the Nature Conservancy trajectory and their evolution of learning are very much paralleled. Do I have problems with some of their politics? Yes. But I think overall it's one of the greatest transformations I've seen from an environmental group. It's almost to the point where environmental groups now hate them.
Colter DeVries 00:42:04
So we're dealing with American Prayer Reserve, the Great American Serengeti, and the APR. There are strong opinions. So everyone loves a good redemption story like TNC now. I mean, I would love to do a project with TNC. they know how to take a critical look at the natural resource you have, work with you, and your cattle to improve that natural research, and what's good for the cow is good for the bird.
Rich Bradbury 00:42:46
Well, I think what was interesting, I had a little bit of involvement with the Malta group, the Rancher Stewardship Alliance. It started in the early 2000s.
Colter DeVries 00:42:56
When TNC bought the Matador.
Rich Bradbury 00:43:02
This was a great story. The big keystone species in that whole thing was I guess the Buffalo and the Black-footed parrot but probably the most concern to the federal agencies was the Black-footed parrot. Some of the pressures of grazing were around the location of the Matador. I don't know if this is still what they ended up doing, but at the time when I was up in Malta, Nature Conservancy had availed their land to their neighbors so that they could graze on parts of the Matador so they could take pressure off of the other private areas where the black foot affair was. That was a huge sacrifice and that was a totally different type of mental gymnastics than what the Nature Conservancy was used to doing. I believe all across the West that neighboring is one of the most valued things right up there with education like you help your neighbors. I think early on the Nature Conservancy wasn't a good neighbor. This was one of the places when I first experienced them stepping out, being a good neighbor, and still ticking the boxes that they needed to tick for the people that sponsor and funded them.
Colter DeVries 00:44:22
Absolutely. That’s a grass bank, the Matador. So the grazing capacity that the TNC owns does give access to neighboring ranchers with terms and conditions and strings attached, and they're very explicit about it. This is our show either you subscribe, you abide or get out and that's fair. They own the land, they can write the rules and they turn it into a grass bank. I don't know the exact details. It's actually kind of proprietary. They do like to protect what their terms, contingencies, and conditions are, which is fine. But as you said the effect has been conservation on more acres beyond just the Matador.
Rich Bradbury 00:45:11
I think that states though are proprietary about what they want to do, but that just highlights that conservation is a business. That's one of the solutions to have the conservation tied to free market stuff. I don't have any problem with that. If you're a rancher, you're utilizing that resource, it's amenable to you and you can live with it, that's great. That's is Nature Conservancy monetizing their interests or somehow they're creating value out of that relationship where they want to be. The tricky thing about value in conservation and these big landscapes are maybe we don't completely understand where all the value is and where it is. Maybe why we have a hard time communicating with urban brothers and sisters is because I don't think they understand the value like how we understand the value or what value we can create together moving forward.
Colter DeVries 00:46:11
It seems like conservation, there's this ideology that it should be charity. It should be donated or entitled, and it should be dictated by a government whether it's a city, county, state, or federal. There's this idea that conservation is not something to be monetized and encouraged through free market capitalism. As you mentioned, when TNC makes money, they're gonna go buy another grass bank. I mean, when it works for all parties and there's an actual monetary exchange, both people are getting value. Profits are created, and those profits are moved to utilize other resources where they're gonna use them in a way that was probably better than the person before them who couldn't create a profit.
Rich Bradbury 00:47:03
And if you go back, we bring this circle back around with TNC. That's what we did. We created a new business model that created value. I would really like to go back and do a study of how many people the ranch employed, what the economy was when the ranch was run as a whole compared to whether it was run as 9 to 10 different organizations, little cottages like hay contractors that have sprung around it, and the jobs that we produce as a group to run the infrastructure of the ranch. We have range riders and two to four guys out on the desert that we pay. I think that it provided an opportunity for families to go bigger. The community, I think as a whole is larger now and probably has a higher medium income than when it was one large ranch.
Colter DeVries 00:48:05
Absolutely. I'm just gonna jump to a conclusion and assumption. There's probably an independent mechanic in that area and he serves those 9ranchers’ lube, tires, and diesel tractors. He's an independent mechanic whereas when the MC was a corporate ranch, he was an employee. He is out there. He is in control. Let’s say he's bringing home 70,000 a year versus when he was employed at 45,000 a year of full benefits. As an independent entrepreneur, he is in control of his own destiny and there's nothing more rewarding for his family, his self-value, his self-image, and for his kids to see that example. There's nothing more rewarding than him being in control of his own destiny.
Rich Bradbury 00:49:08
I think my idea that we're it's producing more and creating more opportunity for people is by the very fact that we've flattened him out of the housing to house all the people that we could employ out there. So, constantly we are going back and rebuilding older buildings so that we can have the housing or bringing up stuff that had been dilapidated and we can put one more person out there to work up for somebody.
Colter DeVries 00:49:37
There weren't enough profits being created as a corporate ranch right there. There were no profits to update deferred maintenance and the accumulated depreciation. That's why those buildings got dilapidated there. The money was going to other places wasted.
Rich Bradbury 00:49:56
If you look at the MCs nine ranchers coming in and buying stuff in Lakeview was better than the large one. I think there's more equipment than ever was out there. There are more pickups, tractors, and hay equipment. Maybe fewer cattle. I think all across Eastern Oregon in Great Basin there are fewer cattle than there were in the past.
Colter DeVries 00:50:27
So we're gonna have to bring up Vladimir Putin on the next episode, Rich. We're nearing the end of this one. I'm glad you got to cover the MC. What are your final thoughts? Is there anything we didn't cover on the MC because that was one of the main topics I wanted to discuss? You mentioned it's not a co-op, so maybe clear that up before we go. I'm gonna leave this confused if you don't. It’s not a co-op. It's not a corporation. Everyone has their name to their own deed, their own title land. So how is it a ranch? It's just nine different ranches, isn't it? Are you all bound together by one operating agreement or is there a conservation easement in place that binds everyone together?
I don't understand how is this a working group. I don't why stick around with anyone. Go your own way. Do your own thing.
Rich Bradbury 00:51:27
So this is something interesting that I informally adopted. I call them operating humanities. The Beaty Butte Grazing Association soon has its own business and its own operating energy. When I send cattle out there, we set ahead of time. People say, “Oh yeah, they're getting that public land for $2 AUM” or whatever it is now, but that's not true. My AUM cost me $18 to $28, which is for a range of land that's a pretty good market price. What it cost me to run cattle out there is to pay for the guys that are doing it. All the insurance is held by the Beaty Butte Grazing Association. It’s its own independent operating company, the same as the Water District. You pay your water district fees based on the water rights that you have on the land, and it operates as its own. Those are the two organs and the two parts of the group that force us to continue working together. The rest is just cultural neighboring and stuff that we've been doing for years.
Colter DeVries 00:52:47
So you guys broke it up into enterprises and the operating entity. So Grazing Enterprise, which became the Beaty Butte Grazing Association. So that became its own enterprise where there's let’s say today nine members of that who own operating entity and then leases from Rich Bradbury, John Q Smith, and Tina.
Rich Bradbury 00:53:26
We pay it and it manages the cattle at public events. We pay in the water district and it manages the water and allocates the water. But each of them has a board of ranchers that makes the decisions for how it works. Each has their own board. We interchange so this year it was my turn to be in the barrel for the water district, so I'm the president of the water district this year. In the past, I've been the president of the Grazing Association, and so eventually I'm gonna have to go back and be on the board of the Grazing Association because it's just my term of the barrel again.
Colter DeVries 00:54:10
So your term is limited?
Rich Bradbury 00:54:13
I limited my own term. One of my high school classmates is the vice president now and she would become the president later on. It's not a pain position or anything. You usually get the ball and told.
Colter DeVries 00:54:33
If you're not there when they start electing officers and members, you usually get voted on something.
Rich Bradbury 00:54:45
This is the interesting thing, the role very much falls to the person that has the best skill stack at the time to deal with whatever issues happen. I don't want to be egotistical but sometimes our organizations tend to drift into informality and then somebody has to come back here and give it structure. That's what the role I'm filling for now and then in a couple of years there be a different role that somebody has better experience than I have. That's gonna be a better leader at that time.
Colter DeVries 00:55:32
How about hunting, tourism, and recreation enterprises? What's going on there?
Rich Bradbury 00:55:40
We took a good stab at it a couple of years ago. I think we're getting organized. We don't do anything quickly. The interesting thing about groups that work together in this way is if you need immediate decisions, they just don't have it. Running things on a consensus type of basis, even if you have votes and don't want to offend anybody, you can vote up and down. I have a majority, but the mentality of it is like putting stones in a rock tumbler. It takes a long time to get those all polished up and have what you put in a really raw product. What I found through working through co-ops and working with these groups is oftentimes the raw product that goes in, somebody has some tie to it that they absolutely think that that's how it should be. That's hardly ever the case when the group gets to put it in the tumbler and roll around for a while.
What comes out is a nice smooth stone that you're proud of and that has some value as opposed to the raw material that went into that process. Ultimately frustrating to some personality types because they're very much decision-oriented and very much driven to make a decision. Oftentimes, and I think you can see this across corporations, the first decision is not always the best decision. That process of refining it has a tremendous amount of value. I think the economic value is the modern term.
Colter DeVries 00:57:20
That is dealing with boards that are naturally conservative. They err on the side of caution. They are risk management and they're like slow government. You don't make knee-jerk reactions because you're compromising everyone's values. You're compromising years of profits, hard work, and processes that are in place. I'll be the first to say I don't do well in co-ops and boards because it's a very big challenge to hash out, compromise, and accept that things are gonna be thought out for weeks and months, and then if they do, they'll be tested at a small level. They're not gonna jump in head first because it could be the shallow end that you're jumping into. So it is tough for me as a maverick, as an independent to do group work like that. I've never done it. Well, it's probably a character defect of mine, a downfall. But I understand and that is impressive that you guys have been able to make it work. That's not your first rodeo. So when we come back, we'll talk about the other communist organization you started. Must be from all that experience in Russia. We'll talk about that too. Your time in Russia where you learned Marxist ideology.
Rich Bradbury 00:58:48
Yeah. Really had it beat into me.
Colter DeVries 00:59:00
Well, thanks for coming on Rich. If anyone wants to learn more about the MC Ranch and Eastern Oregon, how do they get ahold of you or your real estate services?
Rich Bradbury 00:59:11
I'm pretty active on LinkedIn so that's the best place to get ahold of me and just type my name in Rich Bradbury. If you're a sensitive soul, think about it.
Colter DeVries 00:59:27
He holds no punches on LinkedIn. He will call spade a spade as he sees it for sure. So if you're sensitive, might not want to befriend him.
Rich Bradbury 00:59:41
My company in Eastern Oregon is High Country Real Estate. It's been in business since 73 and we're trying to resurrect its ranch sales. We've been successful with it and it holds a place in my heart because it was part of the community and it's nice to be able to keep that as part of the community.
Colter DeVries 1:00:10
Well, there's no better time to start a rural real estate company than now, because millennials and retirees moving to rural areas. Maybe in your area, you're getting some new migrants from the coast and from some Portland refugees who are just tired of Antifa out there burning the city down. I think rural America does have a great future, and if people need a good agent in Eastern Oregon, reach out to Rich Bradbury. He has lots of years of experience there starting with the Irish shepherds. Well, thanks for coming on, Rich. Look forward to the next one.
Rich Bradbury 1:01:03
All right, thanks, Colter.
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