South Dakota

Family Donates Historic Ranch to the Conservancy

Cornerstone Ranch is the largest gift in history of Western Dakotas Program.

Beverly Tucker had always dreamed of being a rancher, but it wasn’t until the last 15 years of his life that he lived that dream. After 30 years in banking and a decade of farming in Ohio, he and his wife Constance bought four ranches in western South Dakota.

He wasn’t a native son, but he grew to love the ranching life style, his neighbors and the land, especially Cornerstone Ranch, a 5,908-acre ranch named for its location where three states—South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana—come together.

This month, a little more than a year after his death, Mr. Tucker’s wife and children Sarah, Stewart and Nate donated the ranch to The Nature Conservancy.

“My husband Beverly loved Cornerstone and wanted to make sure that it was protected and stayed in ranching,” said Constance Tucker. “My children and I are giving the ranch to The Nature Conservancy to honor Bev’s care of this land in West River, South Dakota, and all that it meant to him.”

The Tuckers’ gift of Cornerstone Ranch to the Conservancy is the largest gift in the 16-year history of the Western Dakotas Program.

“We are honored the Tucker family chose to donate Cornerstone Ranch to the Conservancy,” said Bob Paulson, the Conservancy’s Western Dakotas Program director. “It is through the generous support of people like the Tuckers that we are able to conserve Western South Dakota’s grasslands, which are vital to wildlife and to maintaining our state’s long and productive ranching tradition.”

In the Neighborhood

While the Tuckers had heard a little about the Conservancy from friends in Montana, they didn’t know much about the organization and had no idea the Conservancy had a “local branch in the neighborhood.”

After her husband’s death, Constance Tucker was still deciding what to do about Cornerstone Ranch when she happened to see the door of the Conservancy’s office building on Main Street in Rapid City. She remembered seeing the office the year before when she and Beverly were in town, and that’s when she said she had her “eureka moment,” and went home to call the Conservancy.

“When our neighbor, who had ranched Cornerstone with my husband, decided not to buy the ranch, my children and I needed another solution,” Constance commented. “It struck me when I saw The Nature Conservancy’s office on Main Street that they just might be the right answer. I’m very happy I made that call.”

Keeping Cornerstone in Ranching

The Conservancy’s long-term plan for Cornerstone Ranch is to sell it to a private conservation rancher. The Conservancy will retain a permanent conservation easement that limits future subdivision and development, ensuring the land will remain in native prairie and maintain its ranching tradition.

The Conservancy will prevent surface disturbance from oil and gas exploration on the ranch, to the extent possible, and pay property taxes as it does on other lands it owns in western South Dakota.

“Proceeds from the sale of Cornerstone Ranch will help fund our work across western South Dakota, where we use cattle and bison grazing to conserve sage grouse, black-footed ferrets and many other native plants and animals,” Paulson said.

A Part of History and Refuge for Rare Species

Two-thirds of the land at Cornerstone Ranch is native mixed-grass prairie on a high ridge between Owl and Lonetree creeks. From the ridge, you can see the Black Hills to the south and into Montana and Wyoming for 20 to 40 miles. There is a spring on the ridge which, together with the impressive views of the surrounding landscape, may have been the reason Lt. Colonel George Custer and the 7th Cavalry chose to camp at the ranch in July 1874 on their way to gather information about the Black Hills.

To the south and west, the grassy ridge drops off into sagebrush terraces. It is this sagebrush habitat that attracts the greater sage grouse, the largest species of grouse in North America. Sage grouse populations have declined precipitously throughout North America largely due to habitat loss. It is currently on the list of species that are candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.  The sage grouse at Cornerstone Ranch are part of a larger population that extends into Wyoming and Montana.

“Keeping ranches rich in native wildlife, productively grazed and on the tax rolls is a hallmark of the Conservancy’s work across the West,” Paulson said. “This generous and deeply inspirational gift from the Tucker family will have a lasting impact on grassland conservation in western South Dakota.”