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Reinventing Ranching

How today's farmers are adapting to environmental demands

(page 2 of 3)

Increasingly, ranchers are engaging in responsible land and water management practices. Silver Creek, seen above,  became an important model for community based conservation efforts in Idaho and throughout the West.  Photograph:  David R. Stoecklein In Blaine County, the percentage of agricultural land slated for development is a continual ascending curve. “If this exponential development of our agricultural lands continues, our community will be faced very shortly with some tough decisions [about our desire for preserving open space and agricultural traditions],” says Jeff Adams with Blaine County Planning and Zoning.

More than the land, it is a way of life that is under pressure. As Trent Jones, a Wood River Land Trust board member and a real estate broker specializing in ranch properties, emphasizes, “It is not just the ranchlands that we are losing, it is the old-line working ranch family.” 

In his lifetime, Bud Purdy has watched the fallout of working family ranches. Although the ranchlands themselves may remain intact as recreational ranches or hobby farms, multigenerational ranching families face tremendous economic pressures in maintaining their family businesses and lifestyle. Rising land costs, taxes, and equipment costs make it extremely difficult to carve a living out of a ranch. “Most of the original families in Silver Creek are gone,” observes Purdy, “and with that you let go of certain traditions.”

Historically, ranchers and environmentalists have been at loggerheads, mostly related to public land use. For decades, ranchers had controlled public lands and operated with little supervision. The access to public land for grazing is essential to many ranchers; it provides them with a year-round forage base essential to their operations. In the mid-1900s, environmentalists grew concerned and vocal about grazing practices. Environmentalists faulted ranchers for overgrazing and degrading the integrity of the ecosystem. The contention escalated into broad-based animosity and distrust. Meanwhile, both ranchers and environmentalists were losing treasured private ranchlands to growth.

Bud Purdy has played a lead role in preserving the spectacular and beloved Silver Creek Landscape. At 91 he still actively manages his ranch. Find him on his horse, motoring around in his pickup truck or cherokee plane, or lunching at the Picabo store.  Photographs David R. Stoecklein

 

Wallace Stegner, the “dean of Western writers,” once called the West “the geography of hope.” Despite challenges, a sea of change in attitudes and practices has been emerging throughout the West. Environmentalists, ranchers and policymakers have begun collaborating more frequently and extensively. Both sides share a reverence for the land. Environmentalists are recognizing that by weakening ranchers, they abet fragmentation of the lands they are trying to save.

Increasingly, environmental groups make efforts to support ranchers. Local heroes like Guy Bonnivier, Silver Creek Preserve’s first manager, have helped many ranchers adopt better land and water use practices. Communities have supported novel legislation, such as Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) and Open Space levies, to help both the working rancher and the ranch investor preserve land and family legacy.

Today’s Ranching Visionaries:

The Beans & The Peaveys

The values and vision that inspired the Silver Creek ranchers thrive today in the rangeland east of Carey. Two ranching families, with remarkably different profiles, are reinvigorating the ranch business and cooperating to preserve an ambitiously large swath of private and public land. Their vision encompasses millions of acres—from the highest summits of the Pioneer Mountains to the Snake River Plain. If they achieve their vision, their impact will be historic beyond the scale of Silver Creek.

Brian and Kathleen Bean purchased 7,500 acres of Bud Purdy’s ranch on the edge of the Craters of the Moon National Monument in 1999. Lava Lake Ranch is situated on Goodale’s Cutoff of the Oregon Trail 15 miles east of Carey and Silver Creek.  The Beans are not a multigenerational ranching family; Brian is a successful banker from California, Kathleen had been on staff at The Nature Conservancy for seven years. They share a passion and reverence for the natural world and the wide-open West. They committed that they would find and steward a homestead in the West. >>>

 

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