Ranchers need flexibility to graze, protect
By PATRICIA R. MCCOY Idaho Staff Writer
Ray Holes, left, a Grangeville, Idaho,
rancher, visits with Matt Ricketts, right,
about his ranch in the Salmon River canyon
where goats are being used to help control
yellowstar thistle. Holes leases the goats to
area landowners, in addition to running them
on his own range.
BOISE – Most of the time grazing management
systems can be developed that allow ranchers to
operate while still protecting threatened or
endangered species. The key: flexibility.
That message recently came from Bert Brackett,
rancher, former president of the Idaho Cattle
Association, and currently serving on the Idaho
Rangeland Resources Commission.
Brackett has bull trout, slickspot peppergrass and
sage grouse on his rangeland near Three Creek,
Idaho. While only bull trout are formally
protected under the Endangered Species Act,
slickspot peppergrass and sage grouse are
sensitive species, he said.
Brackett spoke at the Pacific Northwest Range
Management Short Course in Boise Feb. 23-25. He
was one of five panelists discussing developing
grazing management plans for threatened and
He urged all permittees to apply for applicant
status, in writing. That status allows ranchers to
participate in consultation.
“We manage more intensively for the fish and the
grass. We ran into a real challenge with the sage
grouse. We have two water troughs the birds
congregate around and use as leks in the spring.
To turn off the water to those troughs so the
cattle would stay away would have forced our
livestock into the north end of the allotment,
where slickspot peppergrass grows,” Brackett said.
“To resolve that conflict we propose abandoning
one trough site, and take non-use in that location
during the spring when the grouse are using the
leks. We plan to move the other trough a mile and
a half from its current location, where there is
no slickspot peppergrass. This may not work. The
grouse only started using the trough areas as leks
after our troughs were installed,” he said.
Brackett offered his audience three general
principles for grazing management on rangeland
that is also habitat for ESA-listed species. The
first was his call for flexibility.
Second, management systems designed with the help
of ranchers have a better chance of success.
Third, ranchers and agency personnel need to
develop personal relationships based on trust and
mutual respect, he said.
One key is understanding where the information is,
and who to ask questions of, said Jim Hagenbarth,
who ranches in Dillon, Mont., and Kilgore, Idaho.
He reminded his audience, made up predominantly of
state and federal agency resource managers, that
ranching is a business.
“We make our living as businessmen. We have to
have a profit. At the same time, our function as
public lands ranchers is not just to produce food
and fiber, but to preserve open space. We need to
get that across to the American people. I don’t
think I’ll live to see that understanding
recognized,” Hagenbarth said.
“I’ve been in the cattle industry a long, long
time. My heart, blood and soul are dedicated to
the resources. Today people are using the ESA and
the National Environmental Policy Act as weapons
to change land use. They’re active environmental
terrorists. Modern agency people aren’t educated
in long-term sustainability. The biologists, for
instance, know what species need, but not how to
get it. They and the activists have no ownership
in our business,” he said.
Among other panelists was Kate Forster, a Bureau
of Land Management fisheries biologist from
Challis, who described how agency personnel and
landowners are protecting sockeye, chinook,
steelhead and bull trout in her area.
“Open and honest communication is absolutely
essential,” she said. “A lot can get done just by
picking up the phone, and by getting people out on
the ground. Maps and photographs were also
critical. They showed us where we’d been, where we
are now, and the fact that the habitat really is
improving in many areas.”
The Forest Service lost touch with permittees and
got away from working with them in many ways.
Consultation is bringing the agency and grazers
back together, said Pete Grinde, rangeland
management specialist with the Payette National
“The key elements for any consultation, especially
if it’s the first time for a newly listed species,
is to engage the appropriate biologist, botanist
or fisheries biologist with permittees, and
develop a plan everyone can live with. You must
develop a relationship built on trust,” he said.
Land management agencies are having to show the
regulatory agencies less and less every year,
because they’ve been able to prove grazing
management can work and yield results, he said.
Much of the three-day range short course was
devoted to technical paper presentations on such
topics as rangeland ecological concepts, grazing
management to meet the needs of fish and weed
control, or wildlife-livestock relationships.
Other speakers included Ray Holes, a Grangeville,
Idaho, rancher, who described how he is using
goats to help control yellowstar thistle on his
Salmon River canyon operation, and turning that
effort into money by leasing goats to graze for
weed control on other lands in his area.
Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail address is
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