Colorado rancher Kirk Hanna (1955–1998) dedicated much of his life to holistic land management and the preservation of agricultural operations in the face of urban sprawl.
Hanna was raised on his family’s 12,000-acre ranch south of Colorado Springs, and after a stint as a commodities broker in Denver, he returned home to manage the family operation. Being a rancher, father, and president of the Colorado Cattleman’s Association suited him far better.
In the early 1980s, Hanna grew interested in biologist Allan Savory’s theory of grazing. Savory recommended rotating cattle on different pastures, which put less stress on the land and, over time, yielded better feed and healthier fields. This and other ecologically-minded practices resonated with Hanna, and he became an early adopter of holistic land management—an environmental cowboy.
“He felt responsible for the land and tried to take care of it,” says Duke Phillips, Hanna’s longtime friend and a fellow Southern Colorado rancher.
Hanna incorporated sustainable range management into his own operation and encouraged others to do the same. It could be an uphill struggle; he was asking fellow ranchers to stray from traditional methods and adopt the mindset of an environmentalist. While ranchers and environmentalists often considered themselves in separate camps, Hanna saw them both as important stewards of the land.
Dale Lasater, a rancher and one of Hanna’s closest confidants, explains that Hanna’s charisma and knowledge of ranching brought many critics to at least consider the unorthodox concepts.
“That’s a trait not everyone has—the ability to make friends and win over people who may be on the opposite side of the issues,” Lasater says.
Hanna’s hope for ranch and rangeland preservation was stymied by the ever-increasing encroachment of urban sprawl. Lasater explains that Hanna worked hard to help ranchers realize potential profits on their land so they wouldn’t be tempted by developers with deep pockets.
“I think the rural and urban camps are growing farther apart very rapidly,” Phillips says. “Kirk was someone who could bridge that gap and talk to people about ranching…. He was such an important conduit between those two groups of people.”
Today, Hanna’s wife, Ann, his two daughters, and brother Jay Frost, among others, are dedicated to carrying on the ranching and preservation principles that Hanna worked so hard to share with others.
Kirk Hanna’s life and efforts are the subject of the feature-length documentary Hanna Ranch (2013), critically acclaimed by ranchers and environmentalists alike. For more information and a list of movie screenings, visit hannaranchmovie.com