Last summer, Brandon Sickel joined the Ranchlands team as an intern at the Zapata Ranch.
“Over the course of the summer of 2017, through participant-observation, interviews with my coworkers, and solitary exploration of the ranch ecosystem, I tried to grapple with understanding the meaning of the ranching heritage of the West, and, given the history of irresponsible and destructive ranching practices on western rangelands, the unique ways that ambitious biodiversity conservation is able to coexist with for-profit livestock production at a large scale at Zapata.”
In the fall, he returned to complete his senior year at Haverford College, where he wrote an ethnography of ranching as he observed it during his time at the Zapata.
“This thesis is an ethnography of a working cattle and bison ranch in the high desert of south-central Colorado, where ambitious land conservation and for-profit production have learned to coexist. Ranching is defined by a culture—be it shrouded in myth—that performs and keeps alive a set of traditional skills, which in turn shape the way ranchers interact with their homelands and the animals who they share them with. Without the skills that persist through the ranching culture, the local knowledge of ranchers may be lost, and so too will an invaluable asset for the conservation of working landscapes. It is within these landscapes, as we have seen, where the most meaningful and laborious and earthly and ethical attachments to place take root. So, if we have any hope for a more livable future, it lies here, on the range, with the people who know it best.”