For the last decade or so, we’d call each other at least once a week. I’d get a call from Jim, “Where are you? What are you doing?” he’d cheerfully holler into the phone. I’d tell him and ask the same of him and his response was almost always, “Just came in to change horses.” Then we would get into our regular discussion about rainfall, the cattle market, ranches for sale or lease, sports, and then we would plan our next adventure.
Jim and I traveled all over the West together, usually looking at ranches and just seeing country. It was on these trips that Jim and I talked about where we knew and feared the West is headed. Over our lifetimes we have seen many great ranches split up and sold out of ranching. Jim was passionate about conserving ranch land. He was a pioneer in the 1990’s when he protected his first ranch in Merced County. He took a chance and it turns out, as he often later said, that it was the best decision he ever made. By protecting his ranch with a conservation easement he ensured that the land would stay as it is: a cattle ranch. He could pass it on to his kids and grandkids and they would be able to continue his ranching legacy.
In the ensuing years he protected more of his ranches with conservation easements and decided to join the Board of Directors of the California Rangeland Trust to encourage others to follow his example. I had the privilege of serving alongside him on the Rangeland Trust Board. Jim and I had similar styles and philosophies in many ways. I learned a lot from him on the road and in the board room. He knew when to take a risk and he knew when to play it safe. He was never a frivolous man, who wasted time or money, but rather he invested in quality. He invested in California Rangeland Trust because he believed in its mission and the people who work hard day in and day out to carry out its mission. This is why my wife Valerie Gordon and I have started a California Rangeland Trust memorial fund in his honor. The response has been fantastic. I am not surprised because Jim swung a wide loop and was respected by many.
When Jim, Valerie, and biologist, John Vollmar were working on Jim’s conservation easement in Merced, he often joked that the rocks in the vernal pools on his ranch were the other side of Half Dome, carried over the Sierras by the glacier that sheared the face of Half Dome eons ago. It was his life-long dream to climb to the top. He made that dream come true in 2011. We were privileged to be part of that adventure. I’ll close with the following story that I hope will make you smile when you think of Jim.
Jim showed up at the Half Dome trailhead parking lot in his usual white shirt and instead of blue jeans he was wearing sweatpants.
“That’s not going to work,” cautioned Valerie, “you need shorts.”
“Well I don’t have shorts,” he said.
“Do you have a knife?” she asked.
“Of course, got one sitting here,” and with that Valerie crudely tailored a one of a kind pair of shorts out of his sweatpants right there in the parking lot and his legs were freed up to carry him to the top of Half Dome. It was a proud moment for all of us.
A car accident tragically took Jim Chance’s life in September 2016. He is being honored by the California Rangeland Trust with a special memorial fund that will be used to further Jim’s vision of conserving California’s working ranches. As a savvy and successful cattleman, and a forward thinking conservationist, Jim made significant contributions serving on the California Rangeland Trust Board.
Such is the testament of Jim’s life, that two California Rangeland Trust Board Members, Valerie Gordon and Devere Dressler, chose to launch the Memorial Fund and in a short time the fund doubled. Jim got things done without a lot of fanfare and discussion and that’s the spirit behind the creation of this fund: raising money to protect land that matters.
There is nothing that will ever replace Jim’s gentle yet strong presence in our lives and on the Board but this fund will help ensure he remains a part of California Rangeland Trust forever.
First published in the January 2017 issue of California Cattlemen’s Magazine