Cowboys, Heroes and Family Roots

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:10/06/2011 Updated:03/23/2012

This is part of our Lava Lake series.  Brian and Kathleen Bean’s family-owned ranch is located just southeast of Sun Valley where the Pioneer Mountains meet the Snake River Plain.  They own 24,000 acres and control 900,000 acres of grazing allotment lands.  Posts continue Tues/Thurs through October 2011.

Brian Bean is not from a ranching family, but his family lore is rich with tales of heroes and cowboys.  Brian’s grandfather was head of homicide with the LAPD during the era of huge water-stealing projects depicted in the movie “Chinatown.”  He was one of a crew of police detectives who made life in L.A. for gangster Mickey Cohen miserable.  “At a time when there was rampant graft and L.A. could have turned out like Chicago, the city got cleaned up and my grandfather was part of that.” Brian says proudly.

Brian’s father, born in 1915, grew up during the Depression.  A great horseman and a cowboy, he worked on Sunset Ranch located north of L.A. back in the 1930s and eventually became head of Universal Studios stables.  “He even dated Olivia de Havilland when she was filming Captain Blood with Errol Flynn.” After becoming a physician, Brian’s dad purchased a 40-acre farm in a lovely wild area of the San Emigdio Mountains, close to the historic Fort Tejon, and Brian grew up working with their small herd of cattle. 

Brian went to college at Pomona and studied botany, molecular biology and zoology. He joined the Marine Corps and saw two and a half years of active artillery duty.  

Leveraged Buy-outs

Next, Brian went on to receive an MBA from Stanford and entered the world of investment banking in 1980.  He worked at Morgan StaKathleen and Brian Bean.  Photo by Nancy Farese, courtesy of lavalakelamb.comnley, then Pacific Holding Corporation, where he met his wife, Kathleen, and learned about classic leveraged buyouts from David Murdoch.

Eventually Brian became active in the institutional derivatives business at Kidder, Peabody, employing futures and options in sophisticated hedging strategies.  After the stock market crash of 1987, he left his position at Kidder Peabody, moved to the Bay Area and joined Robertson Stevens, a technology banking practice, where he ultimately co-headed corporate finance.  

Kathleen Bean, nee Tedrow, comes from a family rooted in southeast Iowa farming, in the beautiful rolling hill country along the Des Moines River.  Before acquiring Lava Lake Ranch, Kathleen worked at The Nature Conservancy for about eight years.  After their first child, Phoebe, was born, Kathleen decided to devote her full attention to family.  Brian says, “We both have many relationships and lasting friendships with the terrific people at The Nature Conservancy”

A Place of One’s Own

Brian explains that during the late 1990s, he and Kathleen spent so much time in the northern Rockies hiking, birding, and backpacking that they said, maybe we should think about having a place of our own.  “Given our environmental bent,” Brian says, “we thought maybe we could be conservation buyers.”  

Kathleen began looking in Wyoming with the help of TNC, but nothing really struck her.  “John Pierce, a ranch broker and a great guy, helped us look at a variety of sites in Teton County around Jackson, which is 97% public and 3% private,” explains Brian.  “We saw some incredible places, but they were homes, and we wanted something that was more along the lines of an operation, something that was working.  This led us to the Green River drainage, which had sections or half sections for sale, but they were often cleaved off from operations and economically sterile - again, just large homesites.”

A Work
ing Ranch

“At some point,” says Kathleen, “Brian picked up a brochure picturing a 7500-acre ranch in south-central Idaho, with grazing leases on about 35,000 additional acres. His interest was piqued. He began to see the possibility of having a significant impact on the land for conservation.”  The Beans bought Lava Lake Ranch in 1999.
Flock of sheep at Lava Lake Ranch.  Photo courtesy of lavalakelamb.com.
“Soon after our purchase,” Brian continues, “the pattern of what was happening around us became clear to me: older gentlemen coming toward the end of their working lives were ready to sell their properties. If we could buy contiguous properties with allotments touching, our ability to control grazing - to the extent we were a sole permittee - could grow to cover a huge area.  This became the intellectual foundation and motivation for the Lava Lake project.”

Over the next three years, the Beans purchased three sheep operations.  Their total operating area grew to about 900,000 acres of public grazing allotments and 24,000 deeded acres, putting them squarely in the sheep business.

The entire Lava Lake Series:
Making Working Wildlands Work for Conservation

Cowboys, Heroes and Family Roots
How a Childhood Working with Cattle Led an Investment Banker Back to a Working Ranch

Getting Grazing Right
Using High Tech Tools to Manage the Flock and Follow the Grazing Prescription

The Heroes are the Herders
The duty of all staff at Lava Lakes Ranch is to leave the landscape in better condition than they found it.

Ranching Side-by-Side with Wolves
An Ecological Philosophy of Ranching

Co-existence with Wolves Through Research
How using nonlethal methods of wolf control has decreased sheep predation by more than 90%

Pronghorn: Spirit of the Grasslands
Using pronghorn antelope as a charismatic species to engage communities in maintaining and reconnecting rangelands

Thin Economics and High Quality Fat
How grass fed meat can support health while sustaining western ecosystems

Stepwise to a Grand Vision in Idaho
The many ways that ranchers in Idaho are contributing to the conservation of a great American landscape.