In the West, ranch real estate owners are working on new ways to add equity to their investments. Some are tapping into the carbon market; others are raising legacy strains of livestock, or using rivers, lakes and streams on the land to build a marketable recreational fishery.
But one very dependable way to add value to a large-acre real estate investment is to document the ranch’s wildlife populations. Landowners can realize their equity potential if their acreage provides quality wildlife habitat, and they can show potential buyers that wildlife happily call their land home.
Large swaths of ranch real estate that boast quality herds of deer, elk or pronghorn give potential buyers the opportunity to use hunting as an income stream or to receive landowner hunting tags from state fish and game management agencies. For some investors, the presence of wildlife is important because it simply indicates that the ranch they’re considering for purchase is a part of the regional ecosystem and not a hindrance to it.
Start with a network of trail cameras
But how do you prove your ranch has wildlife? It’s not as difficult as you might think.
The first and most obvious method for determining the presence of wildlife on ranch property is to find obvious game habitat and set up a network of game or trail cameras that can be secured to anything from tree trunks, rocks or even set up on independent stakes hammered into the ground where you suspect wildlife activity on a regular basis.
These cameras are not terribly expensive and it really only takes a few of them to establish a dependable network that will capture the movement of wildlife as it uses the habitat available on the ranch. Some cameras operate on a cell signal or a satellite signal and can send photographs and even videos directly to an email address. O\thers use simple power systems, like AA batteries, to fire off photos as deer, elk or other critters wander in front of the motion sensor on the face of the apparatus. Then it’s just a matter of paying regular visits to the camera and downloading photos and videos from a memory card.
Also, most game or trail cameras have the capability to capture images at all hours, day or night. You’d be surprised at the quality of the night-vision photo imagery, and you might be surprised what actually gets caught on camera. Sure, you will likely see deer, elk and other game animals. But you might also find that bears, coyotes, wolves and mountain lions occasionally wander by the camera’s too.
If that’s the case, don’t panic. The presence of predators means their prey – those big game animals we all love – is around, too.
It’s not complicated, and, if your ranch property has quality habitat, this is by far the best way to prove it.
Don’t have the best habitat? Make some
This may sound complicated, but if your ranch doesn’t offer really great wildlife habitat, perhaps it’s time to invest in some. The easiest methods for improving wildlife habitat include planting cereal grain crops like oats or rye or enhancing meadows with these seeds that will, over time, bring deer, elk and other game animals to the land.
This is particularly important to ranch land owners whose property might be used occasionally as winter range for migrating deer, elk, pronghorn and moose. As a bonus, when herds congregate in the winter, they’re easy to photograph.
Other methods of attracting wildlife include leaving cover plants intact. For instance, rotate cattle that might graze willows to the nub if left to their devices and give the willows the chance to grow tall, particularly in riparian zones. Big game herds are always after water, and if you give them water and cover, they’ll become more frequent visitors. Moose love willow meadows, and both deer and elk use them, too.
As an aside, healthy willows in riparian zones also provide shade over rivers and streams and can help keep these waters cool in the summer. And, while trout may not be considered “wildlife” by some, many large and legacy ranches around the West are using fly fishing to supplement cash flow. And trout need cold water to survive. Just something to keep in mind.
Finally, water is a necessary element that will attract wildlife and keep them around. Guzzlers or ready access to water sources can be vital in proving that game animals – and other wildlife – call your ranch home.
For some ranchers, and some potential buyers, it’s not just about huntable wildlife. Some simply want to show value in their land by demonstrating that it is part of a functional ecosystem. To that end, ranchers might consider placing bird feeders, hummingbird feeders, nest boxes for waterfowl and even bat boxes on the property.
Some ranchers, to improve water sources, are letting beavers do their thing and have stopped removing beaver dams and allow water to back up behind them. This does a few things. First, it makes access to water easier for wildlife. Second, it recharges the aquifer beneath the property. Finally, it helps create a fire buffer in the event of an ill-time blaze that could be devastating to a ranch property investment.
Finally, some of the best ranchers in the West are also really good photographers who have invested in high-quality gear, including telephoto lenses that allow them to photograph wildlife without having to be right on top of them.
It’s not as difficult as you might think to prove that your ranch is home to wildlife. From trail cameras to hummingbird feeders, you can demonstrate to potential buyers – or just add equity to your investment – that wildlife uses your property on a regular basis.
Other steps might take some time and some work, but smart land management makes your ranch property home to game herds, upland birds and even wild trout. Making a commitment to improving the habitat on your ranch also means you’re adding equity to your property and making it more appealing to potential investors.