When asked why he makes conservation an integral part of his cattle operation, third generation rancher James O’Haco restates the simple mantra he said his grandfather lived by: “We just want to leave the land a little better for our children.”
O’Haco will tell you the key to ranching is the continual maintenance and care of the land, even through times of drought and low livestock prices. He intimately understands that his land is a place where livestock and wildlife can coexist with mutual benefits. With one of the largest working cattle ranches in Arizona, O’Haco’s operation stretches across more than 111,000 acres. The ranch is located south of Winslow, Arizona, at about 6,000 feet elevation. It is comprised of pinyon–juniper woodlands and high desert grasslands. This area includes habitat for IWJV Priority Species, such as Swainson’s hawk, ferruginous hawk, and Brewer’s sparrow; focal species, like burrowing owl; and numerous other migratory species, such as black-throated gray warbler, and juniper titmouse.
If you ever attend a calf branding with the O’Haco family, you’ll work hard and learn it takes everyone in the family partnering to get the job done. Likewise, O’Haco partners with dozens of agencies and organizations to enact conservation projects for all wildlife. He has successfully completed numerous conservation projects with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona State Lands Department, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Black Mesa Ranger District, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Antelope Foundation, Winslow Habitat Partnership Committee, and others.
Supported by these partners, O’Haco has restored, enhanced, and/or improved livestock management practices on more than 20,000 acres of private, state, and federal lands. O’Haco restored approximately 14,000 acres of grassland habitat through mechanical mastication of invasive juniper and other brush. To improve livestock distribution and provide water for wildlife, O’Haco installed a well, 20,000-gallon storage tank, 42 miles of buried water lines, and 35 drinkers throughout the ranch.
O’Haco doesn’t just focus on his own operation; he shares his knowledge and experiences with his community. He acts as the First Vice President of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association and actively participates in the Navajo County Natural Resource Conservation District, as well as the Landowner, Lessee, Sportsman Relations Committee (organized by the Arizona Game and Fish Department). He was recently elected President of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association and will begin his term in early 2015.
In 2014, O’Haco was selected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Region 2 to represent Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program cooperators at the Private Lands Partners Day in Mississippi. He was the only Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program cooperator in the southwest selected to attend the Private Lands Partners Day.
Working with O’Haco makes you wish there were more people like him around. He takes great pride in his property, and he is dedicated to sustainable ranching. He has assuredly made his ranch better for future generations, livestock, and wildlife.
“The kids are showing an interest in taking on the ranch at some point, but I’m not ready to retire yet,” O’Haco said. “I want to make sure they can stay ranching and there’s still more I can do to improve the land for them and wildlife.”