The ranch includes an on-site manager’s home and a central headquarters area with mature trees and an older unoccupied home and various support buildings. The ranch also contains remnants of historic mining structures as well as dispersed improvements including windmills, dirt tanks, and a line cabin to support cattle operations. Water diversion and irrigation improvements are in place along the Vermejo River. Despite the ability to farm and harvest hay in the irrigated meadows along the river, current ownership/management has chosen to leave it for the wildlife. The ranch has not been grazed for the past three years and forage is presently in good condition. Together, the improvements in place could provide a basis for the development of a moderate cattle operation with lower open grazing lands of several thousand acres, over 11 miles of bottomland meadow along the Vermejo River, and countless more miles of upper drainage meadows.
Water is the lifeline of the West and this property is no exception. The ranch currently holds senior water rights to approximately 400-acre feet of water with a direct diversion point out of the Vermejo River that provides flood irrigation to several native grass-filled meadows below and provides valuable forage for the hundreds of elk and other wildlife that inhabit the ranch.
A unique feature of this property is that it retains ownership of all the mineral rights, and 50% of them will be conveyed (buyer will retain 100% executive rights) with the sale of the property. In addition to conveyance of mineral ownership of the coal deposits, these rights include all minerals, known and unknown.
With regard to the coal, despite the years of mining, an estimated 110 million tons of high BTU low sulphur coal reserves remain. While the long and storied history of coal mining along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico has come to a close, there has been extensive development of these formations in recent years for coal bed methane (CBM) gas. Numerous companies have developed operations of various sizes, and the supporting infrastructure has been established to process and transport CBM gas to markets in the West and Midwest.
The 560,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch, which abuts the Dawson Ranch on three sides, has been notable in this regard through El Paso Energy’s long-term CBM development there. As a result of the success there, limited testing was completed on the Dawson Elk Valley Ranch in 2001 to determine the economic viability of a CBM operation here. While the expected formations were in place in adequate thicknesses of both coal and gas-bearing sandstone, the gas content results and economic calculus were inconclusive due to the limitations of the study.
History has repeatedly shown that economic conditions, technology, and politics all play a role in determining the ebb and flow of mineral demand and value. What is certain from this study is that significant coal deposits and CBM gas underlie the Dawson Elk Valley Ranch. It represents an asset in hand, and as history has shown, current value does not indicate the future potential of this resource.
Forest Values and Condition
The majority of the ranch is covered by a combination of pinõn-juniper woodland and mixed conifer forest. The determining factor in how these two communities differentiate themselves spatially in the southern Rocky Mountains is primarily governed by a combination of elevation and aspect. Here on the Dawson Elk Valley Ranch, pinõn-juniper woodland is the first to rise above the low elevation prairie-shrubland. Within a short rise in elevation, groves of ponderosa pine appear among the more dominant pinon-juniper background, eventually giving way to a dominant mixed conifer forest. Traveling the roads on the ranch there is a pleasing interplay of these two types, transitioning from one to another and back again. While elevation does play a role, the greater influence here is aspect, with the north-facing slopes receiving less solar radiation and generally supporting conifer forest, while the dryer south-facing slopes are dominated by pinõn-juniper.
Both communities provide excellent habitat, and natural beauty, particularly in the mosaic pattern they form across the landscape here. The conifer forest, however, is of special interest in terms of its potential and its management implications. Left alone, it remains an asset of great value in terms of its scenic and habitat value. With proper management, it can also become a possible source of income and improved forest health. The conifer forest here ranges from pure ponderosa pine stands to a “mixed conifer” forest, which in this case includes a mix of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The stands exhibit excellent health overall and include a good range of age classes from mature-near mature to smaller trees of intermediate size and age classes down to pole and sapling size.
Tree stands are reasonably open in the understory and do not suffer from significant overstocking. The forest timber resource of the property is of significant volume and where slopes permit, could be marketed for small-scale logging if desired at some future time. Ideally, an ongoing program of thinning would help to keep the forest condition in a healthy state and provide a possible revenue stream. If such an income source is desired it should be noted that there is typically a good market for firewood in northern New Mexico, especially pinon pine. The extensive pinon-juniper stands could also be selectively targeted for small-scale harvesting without compromising the visual quality of the ranch if desired.