Who will take care of the land? Challis team begins to design a future for their community
by Peter Donovan
from Patterns of Choice, 1998
CUSTER COUNTY, IDAHO--Two years ago, rancher Ted O'Neil said he felt "goddam bleak" about his future. In a recent meeting he said, "You know what I feel about today? I wouldn't go back to the old way even if we didn't have to do this."
On federally held grazing allotments near Challis, major changes have been imposed from the outside. What follows is a story about how people have responded proactively to the challenge, and in doing so have taken major steps toward a future for their community and for their state. It is a story first and foremost about leadership.
O'Neil is a member of the Morgan Creek Grazing Association, which runs 1500 cows on a 140,000-acre Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service allotment on Morgan Creek north of Challis. In this rugged backcountry, habitat for chinook salmon--which has been listed under the Endangered Species Act--is an overriding federal issue.
Wolves had been seen on the allotment, and recreational interest in the area was high. Says David Langhorst, who has been active in wolf recovery efforts, "All through central Idaho, ranchers felt really put upon by 'enviros,' by agencies, by people from the East Coast through the political process. They really felt besieged."
Ketchum and Sun Valley are an hour and a half south of Challis. For Challis residents, Ketchum/Sun Valley with its urban transplants and environmental activists was a microcosm of that larger public that was dictating, through federal regulations, what was happening on the land in Challis.
Linda Hestag has lived in Sun Valley. "Sun Valley, to a Challis resident, is very urban. Very developed, very high-end, very upscale. There has been a lot of resistance, a lot of frustration, and actual hatred between those communities. And a great deal of misunderstanding about who each other are, because of the few people that represent each viewpoint."
Hestag felt that things didn't need to be this way. She has been motivated by possibilities. "The defensive posture wasn't serving the people in Challis very well, wasn't inspiring them, wasn't motivating them." The Challis community, she says, can have a hand in designing their own future. But Ketchum needs to be part of the solution.
"Ranching is a business as well as a way of life," she notes. "The Ketchum community is a very strong potential market for Challis ranchers. The Ketchum community can be such an ally to them. There's still resistance to that idea. But as people are beginning to understand that inclusivity is often much more effective than exclusivity, it's beginning to turn around."
Thirty percent utilization
Though many recognize that much of the salmon problem is downstream from Morgan Creek, "NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] is holding the gavel over everybody," says Ted O'Neil. "We'd had a Biological Assessment 4 or 5 years ago by a young lady who had a pretty good agenda. She hammered us."
The Morgan Creek permittees did not believe that grazing was the cause of the salmon's decline, or that their allotment was suffering from too much grazing. "Our allotment was in good shape," says O'Neil. "It wasn't one of the bad ones."
But NMFS and the Forest Service saw things in narrower terms. They required that grazing along the creeks take no more than 30 percent of the grass. Though few people would argue that utilization percentage is an accurate standard of salmon habitat or range health, such standards are traditional. They are also measurable, using long-established procedures.
The Association hired riders to keep the cattle out of the designated critical areas. "They ran a beat, patrolled the key areas," says O'Neil. "We hammered them enough that part of the cattle went clear into another guy's allotment, 4 or 5 miles over a couple of ranges of mountains. They'd had enough. We'd had enough." Several times there were 10 riders going through 2 or 3 horses a day. In 1996 the Association spent $25,000 hiring riders, and failed to meet utilization standards.
Permittees had received Show Cause letters from the Forest Service indicating a major cut in numbers of permitted cattle. Says O'Neil, "We were going to war. We'd backed as far as we were going to back."
In October of 1996, the Morgan Creek Association went to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for help. They met with Steve Cote and Mark Olson, district conservationists in Arco and Challis.
The NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service, wasn't usually involved in public-lands grazing issues. But if the Morgan Creek cattle were kicked off of public land, they would go to the Pahsimeroi Valley, where some of the most active salmon spawning streams were. The Soil and Water Conservation District board, which included several members of the Association, saw that such an outcome would not address the problem that the regulations were supposed to be addressing.
The ranchers felt they were being blamed for all the problems, and that no matter how hard they tried, the future held no place for them. The impasse caused by the regulations, and by the beliefs and behaviors they represented, took a toll on the agency staff as well.
Cote called Lloyd Bradshaw in Rexburg, the NRCS range person for the area. Bradshaw began to introduce Cote to the concepts of holistic decision making. For a district conservationist devoted to a career of public service, these were concepts with tremendous relevance.
"Farmers and ranchers are people," explains Cote. "The Morgan Creek people were only told by agencies that you've got to meet 30 percent standards. They didn't understand the rationale for that 30 percent. They got to hating the Forest Service, thinking 'Why do they hate us so bad? What have we done to them? We're trying our darndest to make this work, it's just an impossible situation.' The public perception is against them. It was the injustice of the situation. I was just bound and determined, we could change that personal tragedy that's happening out there and affecting the community."
For Cote, the foundation of community is soil health. "I've observed total rest and it's not what I want--capping, loss of diversity, runoff, less wildlife. 'Rest is the answer' is wrong."
The Morgan Creek Association was arguing and fighting with the other federal agencies. "They were lunging across the table at each other," says Hestag. "Everything was based on regulations, the stubble height, rather than what everybody wanted the land to look like."
"It was going to be a legal war, a technical battle," says Cote of the NRCS. "We got involved and said we should look at some other options and find out where some of these concerns are coming from."
Cote and Bradshaw went out on the ground with the permittees. "We didn't feel a cut in numbers was an answer to the problem. The problem was animals loafing in riparian areas for too long, or returning to them, punching up the banks, or damaging the plants."
Twenty-five years ago the Morgan Creek allotment went into a three-pasture rest rotation system designed by Gus Hormay. Each year a third of the allotment was rested, a third was grazed early, and a third was grazed later in the season. Several Association members say that the rest rotation made some significant positive changes over the previous management, which was continuous grazing.
But further fencing to gain time control was not economically viable or socially acceptable. In 1996, Cote had gone to a Bud Williams low-stress livestock handling seminar at Blackfoot organized by Wendy Pratt. He saw that herding and placing cattle was a possibility. "It was kind of like the first time I listened to Ray Hunt and saw him work a colt. Boy, I thought, there's something to it."
Cote thought, "We've got plenty of ground up there on the allotment. Can we change management?" Bradshaw told him to call Glenn Secrist in Boise.
Meeting in Bruneau
Glenn Secrist had a long career with the Soil Conservation Service and as a BLM range conservationist in the Owyhee area before serving as Range Program Director in Washington, D.C. He saw the BLM increasingly pushing the agenda of rest or no grazing for the range, and becoming less concerned with helping the permittees do a better job on the ground. In 1995 he had an opportunity to come back to Idaho and work for the state Department of Agriculture, serving the people.
In the spring of 1996, Secrist received notice that there was going to be a meeting in Bruneau to form a team for a BLM allotment nearby. "It was an interesting one, because I noticed that there were environmentalists invited, agency folks."
With Joel Herrmann, permittees Chris and Jay Black had been gaining time control by herding on their BLM allotments, and were making dramatic improvements to the range. The Bruneau meeting, part of the Idaho Roundtables project (see box), was an attempt to get some official recognition for that effort, and to get people interested in being a part of the management team. Endangered species listings--such as the sand dunes tiger beetle--were being cited by the BLM as a reason to cut cattle numbers on the allotments.
There Secrist met Linda Hestag, who led the meeting. "She was doing a little overview of what the Blacks were trying to do, some discussion about goals, why this would have application beyond just what the Blacks were doing. We began with a sort of a round-robin of folks--an opportunity to talk about what their vision of success would be, how did they feel about their lives, what was happening with the resources, and so on. It was quite different, for me. I came away quite impressed."
The BLM, however, saw the attempt to recruit a broad-based team as a challenge to their management, and pointed to existing processes for public input. Some of the environmental people were defensive too.
Adds Hestag, "a lot of environmental activists are focused on issues, and what their perception of what the land should look like, as opposed to what it can look like, or what we can achieve together as a community. Environmental activists, for so long, have been eco-warriors. That's been important."
"But it's been hard for many to make that transition--to understand that some people are actually open to creating change. They are still warriors, fighters, instead of people who are trying to find solutions together. They come with a list of issues, not really knowing what we should do about them, and they presume that rest is the answer."
Secrist says, "I was surprised by the presentation that Linda made and also by the pictures of the work the Blacks had done out there. I was more surprised at the reaction of the feds. If even half of what we were seeing there we're able to accomplish, why are the agencies so resistant?"
Secrist had 10 years left to retirement. The former national director of the BLM's Range Program wanted to do something that he felt mattered, that really made a difference for people. The Bruneau meeting had showed real possibility.
The Experimental Stewardship Program and Lower East Fork
Secrist began to relate what he had experienced in Bruneau to the Experimental Stewardship Program in Challis. About twenty years ago, the federal agencies agreed to set up some experimental areas to demonstrate rangeland stewardship. The Challis Experimental Stewardship Area was one of the longer-lasting programs. It was centered around Challis, and included part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Morgan Creek was not part of it.
Says Secrist, "I had met with this Challis group for ten years--to hear their concerns, sort of as a liaison with the BLM national office. When I came back to Idaho, there was a lot of concern over the future of the Experimental Stewardship program. There were people from the agencies who felt the stewardship program was a dinosaur."
Secrist saw that most of the problems were the result of people not sitting down together and working toward a goal. He got a few people stirred up about it. "There are more issues, more assaults on these rural communities today than there's ever been."
"In the meantime these salmon-recovery issues are looming, big time. Everybody's down, how are they going to cope with this. Many of them had received Show Cause letters from the Forest Service saying that they had exceeded their utilization limits and all kinds of things."
While working for the BLM in Washington, D.C., Secrist had attended one of Allan Savory's three-day crash courses in Holistic Management. "I had seen the results on the ground in Arizona. And of course the Deseret Ranch in Utah. I began to think, there is a way out of this. If we can somehow deal with this utilization issue."
Secrist chaired the Innovation committee of the Challis Experimental Stewardship Program. "I got a hold of Linda and said can you come over and help. Could we get something going like this, akin to what you are trying to do in the Bruneau area. She came over, and we made a proposal."
At an Experimental Stewardship Program meeting, they asked if there was somebody here who is interested in doing something different. Wayne and Melodie Baker, who ran cattle on the Lower East Fork allotment within the Experimental Stewardship Area, stepped forward.
In the meantime, with Linda Hestag and Lloyd Bradshaw, Secrist had taken a refresher course in Holistic Management in Albuquerque. "I came away convinced that if we were going to deal with some of these issues facing us, we were going to have to think a lot differently than we'd been thinking."
The Bakers ran 300 head on a three-pasture rest rotation on their allotment south of Challis. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area had them on a 30 percent utilization rule, measured on the bank of the stream, because of critical salmon habitat. When the Bakers'cattle had consumed 30 percent, they were told to move them out.
The resulting short grazing season was an economic hardship. Says Wayne Baker, "we wanted to try managing the cattle differently so we could stay longer. We're not the only ones here having that problem. If we can do it maybe the neighbors can do it."
In September 1996 Secrist, Hestag, the Bakers, and some agency people met on the Lower East Fork allotment. A good deal of trust and commitment had already been established. Says Melodie Baker, "there's been times when it's been frightening to start--I thought, what are we opening ourselves up to? We've been kind of quiet and done our thing, we have a fantastic allotment, and I feel like we've been doing a good job as stewards."
They began the process of building a team, developing consensus on what they wanted the land and community to be like, and a biological plan on the allotment to move in that direction.
About this time Secrist got the call from Steve Cote, who explained the situation with Morgan Creek allotment, and how the Morgan Creek Association was facing a major reduction and perhaps not even turning out. Secrist and Hestag came to a meeting.
There were parallels to the effort on Lower East Fork, but the atmosphere was very different. Linda Hestag remembers her first meeting with the Morgan Creek people: "We drove up to this location, and as we approached it we saw 25 people standing, with coats on, their arms folded across their chest, every one of them."
"It was just like a showdown," recalls Jim Dowton, president of the Association. The cattlemen were itching to confront the Forest Service with the NRCS view that things really weren't bad out there on the allotment.
Says Secrist, "we told them what we were doing on the Bakers. I don't think they were really fired up about anything we told them, but they were probably desperate. They said, well let's keep going, let's talk a little more."
Hestag went to work. "What was critical was that they somehow have some level of trust that they could even hear the rest of the information. That really was about getting consensus. The consensus being, do we (a) want to work together, (b) is there anything we can work on together, and (c) where do we go from here? We had to have consensus on all those things. The Morgan Creek project started off, by just getting consensus about that, about willingness really. The team began to work together."
A different process was critical. "Linda, she's the one who will bring you together so you're not arguing," says Dowton. "First thing she does, whoever's first, you tell about yourself, what your goals are, where you've been in the last few years. You'd go around to every one of those people. It would eventually fall in that everybody was shooting for the same thing."
"We had meetings with 40 sometimes 45 people there," Secrist says. "The room was packed. We began the same process, sort of going around the room talking about what our concerns, expectations were. Linda was doing most of the coaching, she did a good job. It got pretty tense. There was so much rancor even between the agency people and the ranchers--at first it was hard to get any kind of dialogue going."
"In some ways the Forest Service was as desperate as the ranchers," he says. "They didn't have any answers either. When we started saying, we think there are options, there are alternatives left if we're willing to look seriously, little by little we got some ownership and support, some trust built up."
Says Cote of NRCS, "Our agency was suspect in the beginning with some other agencies, who thought we were there to check their science or just help the ranchers get through another year. They finally realized we weren't there to point fingers. We just want to be working toward what everybody wants. That sure changed things. We brought cookies to meetings, sometimes kids."
Group agreements for meetings were that everyone had to own what he or she said. There were to be no personal attacks. Meetings had to be focused on what the group was heading toward. Some of Stephen Covey's principles were important, says Cote: sharpen your saw, start with the end in mind, and win/win or no deal. "We weren't here thinking, well maybe we can compromise, and get less numbers cut, or have less damage to the land."
The most important thing, says Hestag, was to build trust with the ranchers, because they were the least trusting of outsiders. "Not because they are bad people, or because they are unenlightened, or for any of those reasons. There have been a lot of broken promises between the ranchers and the agencies, and everyone felt vulnerable."
Acknowledging and honoring past efforts was important. "It was clear that people felt attacked. It didn't start out feeling good to everyone when we proposed new ways, because they had been working hard in old ways. Every year they had shown progress. They felt they were succeeding at improving the habitat, and all of a sudden they were being punished for their good efforts--that is how they experienced it."
"The information and history that they carried was very valuable to us. None of the rest of us had that information."
Building the teams
Hestag, Secrist, and Cote began working to build management teams for the two allotments. Monthly meetings, often with speakers, played a big part. Says Linda, "We brought in speakers with a language they could hear. Not to change them, but to give them an opportunity to find out what was possible for them, and what they wanted in the long term. What was holism, without having a vision of Birkenstocks when they heard the word."
Joel Herrmann and Jay Black came, and told what they had been doing on their BLM allotments in order to give people a sense that it could be done. Says Secrist, "It's not like we had a bunch of committed ranchers. We've had to build the commitment with them as well as with the interest groups and the others involved. There were some people who wanted to see this fail. We had lots of scoffs. We still have some."
Dan Dagget, author of Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, came and spoke in Ketchum. "Jon Marvel, who's against cattle grazing on public land, was there," says Hestag. "He was very angry and reactive because Dan was showing pictures of what worked on the land, as opposed to what didn't work. Jon created this big disturbance, which was also very helpful, because then his own community experienced what it was like for the ranchers when people like that are around, and how polarizing it is."
Dagget also spoke in Challis. "In Sun Valley we had 30-40 people, in Challis we had a hundred. It was very inspiring for them. Dagget gave a lot of examples of holistic management." Most of Dagget's examples involved a proactive, inclusive, broad-based team approach to rangeland management.
"We brought in Rick Danver from the Deseret, who is a wildlife biologist. A lot of the agency people really heard what he was saying. He wasn't defending any particular action, just sharing what he knew, what he'd done, and what his results had been."
On Morgan Creek, says Cote, "We had pretty good picture from the beginning of who would be potential team members. The grazing associations and their families--that's a given. The agencies that have regulatory and management authority over those allotments--BLM, Forest Service, the state Department of Lands. Certainly the environmentalists--they were a must. They had concerns. We tried to include all the environmental community that expressed an interest. We looked at regulatory agencies that were not necessarily on the ground all the time--Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environmental Quality, National Marine Fisheries, and Fish and Wildlife Service were a crucial part of the team. In this case the salmon was a big issue in the riparian areas. There's wolves. And endangered plants."
Cote says, "We know a lot of people in those small towns who are active on issues, so we invited those people, and put an ad in the newspaper and in conservation district newsletters about a management team forming. We've had a good representation of people who are interested in the allotment." They made a deliberate attempt to be inclusive. Team members also suggested potential members of the team, such as outfitters or people who lived adjacent to the allotment. A number of them came to the meetings or provided comments during the process.
"We've invited anyone who has a concern with the Morgan Creek allotment to sit down at the table," says Ted O'Neil. "We'll address their concerns. That's the biggest thing that Linda has done for us--she has brought the environmental people, the rational ones you can talk to--to the table. They actually want to do something."
Cote says that the Association recognized that the environmental groups and agency people were making the decisions anyway, and that it was realistic to include them in the team. The consensus-building produced the realization that everyone seemed to want the same things on the land and in the community, and this in turn motivated people. "If we can reach agreement on making things better for all, and all the players are making these decisions together, we ought to be able to carry this out without getting blindsided later."
David Langhorst, founding director of the Wolf Recovery and Education Foundation and a board member of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, was one of those attracted by the possibilities. "When you have such a great rift, as there was in the wolf issue, there is a lot of potential for some coming together," he says. He has participated in both teams.
The Morgan Creek team grew to about 30 people, of which a dozen are the core team of key decision makers. The Lower East Fork's team was about 15, with a core team of about 7 or 8. Several of the meetings drew 50 or more community members. Much of the work of building relationships and trust was done between meetings.
These meetings produced a lot of learning. Cathy Baer, program director for the Sawtooth Wildlife Council, lives near Stanley. She participated in the Morgan Creek team. "This is huge. Getting folks who have been conducting their land practices in a particular way, and getting them to shift--is huge."
Baer had not previously been involved in the management of a grazing allotment. Though she has commented on an environmental impact statement for a grazing allotment before, "I have to frankly say I did not come from a place of personal knowledge."
Though both allotments faced similar utilization requirements, the situation in each case was different. The Lower East Fork allotment was never the focus of as much publicity and contention as Morgan Creek. Wolves weren't part of the picture.
Linda remembers, "One of the agency people from Salmon asked Melodie Baker, 'why are you forming this management team? I thought we all got along really well.' And Melodie, who is the first female county commissioner Challis has ever had, said, 'We're not doing it because we don't get along with you. We're doing it because we do get along with you. We're doing it because we want to find out what's possible out here. We're doing it so that people who come in and camp on this land can be part of the solution.' Which was a very different attitude than the Morgan Creek guys had. Much quieter, less exposure--we have a lot of room at East Fork."
The Bakers and other team members, Hestag says, were not so much attached to being right, as to the best outcomes for the land. With both allotments, the stakes were high.
Says Linda, "With Lower East Fork and Morgan Creek it became clear that it wasn't about this or that grazing allotment. It was about their community. As ranchers begin to be shut out, what happens to the land? What do we want? Are there other solutions besides getting the ranchers off? What do people want their community to look like, feel like, be like?"
Steve Cote remembers an Association member saying during one of the meetings that the livelihoods of Association members depended on the outcomes, and that they were the ones who had to implement any plan. People heard and understood this, and other team members stepped forward to help ride, fence, help find riders, camp overnight, and help monitor. The Association realized that the team was behind them and with them.
The team decided to fence off the headwaters of Morgan Creek with timber. Linda points to the value to the team of "working on a piece of ground--actually managing land together--as opposed to negotiating on issues."
Seeing the whole
"We tried to get everybody talking the same language," says Steve Cote. "We tried to make sure everybody agreed on what overgrazing was. We agreed on ecosystem principles and that we would be trying to manage for the health of the whole. The goal needed to be based on ecosystem processes--water and mineral cycles, energy flow, and biological communities."
Says Hestag, "One of the ways we got people to cooperate was for us, as a group, to really look at the whole. To notice that the ranchers' end of this is only one piece."
It was winter, and many of the participants were not familiar with the allotments. But some sort of temporary goal, with participation of the whole team, was crucial. On Morgan Creek, says Cote, "we're trying to make this a living outdoor classroom where people can learn. What do people really value--why do we care about this allotment? What can it provide for us? What would we like the community to be 50 years from now?"
"All these agencies had never worked together on an allotment before," says Linda Hestag. "Nationally, we've been doubling up on the number of fish biologists, range cons, with different viewpoints and different belief systems, different paradigms."
"All the agency people who work on a piece of land like this, all looked at one another across the table. When they were able to stand unified, everything changed. The common sense of it all came to bear. All of a sudden it became very easy to make decisions, because they weren't isolated any longer."
"Morgan Creek has been a remarkable experience in consensus building," she says, "in realizing, and believing that we have the same goal, in creating our goals together. It is also about transforming politics and our relationship to nature--they go hand in hand. When we progress to the point where we can look at our shared goals, our vision, it can no longer be about a simple yes or no--and that's how politics is, that's how voting is. How we manage nature, ourselves, and our relationship to our communities is complex. It's not a simple yes or no anymore."
For each allotment, the biological plans took several days of meetings to develop. The task was to move toward the holistic goal and at the same time meet regulations. Says Cote, "We had the environmentalists expressing concerns and taking part in it. The ranchers laid out what would work for them. We had Fish and Game biologists who knew the area, we had local people involved--it was a full team effort for both teams."
Glenn Secrist says, "This has been a crash course. What we've tried to do in many ways would have been better if we'd had a year. We had two months before they were looking at turning out, having to come up with a plan on an area that most of us were really not that familiar with, to satisfy this biological opinion that they had to prepare to get the blessing of NMFS. We stumbled a few places along the way."
The Morgan Creek biological or grazing plan called for the 1500 cattle to be drifted through 20 small (4,000-acre average) nonfenced grazing areas every 6 days or so. The grazing season is May 1 through November 15. Elevation, growing season, critical riparian areas, wildlife considerations such as elk calving and sage grouse nesting areas, and timing of grazing near areas of recreational use all figured in the grazing plan. "It was pretty easy to maneuver around those problems," says Russ Camper, a Forest Service range conservationist who is part of the Morgan Creek team.
The team tried to get NMFS to participate. "That worked to some extent," says Camper. "They were not able to be there as much as the rest of us."
Chance Gowan is a Forest Service fisheries biologist who is part of the Morgan Creek team. He undertook to prepare a new Biological Opinion to satisfy NMFS.
"Everybody put their concerns and issues on the table," Gowan says. "Together we worked what we could do and what we would do that we felt would meet all the needs of everybody. NMFS was occasionally present. When I took it to NMFS, we just stood together as a group, and I said this is what we're coming to consult on. We stuck to the intent of what the consultation process was."
On the Morgan Creek allotment the team got the 30 percent utilization rule changed to four inches of stubble along the creeks. The team felt that this was more reasonable and more achievable.
Cote says, "we've been trying to get NMFS off of using a surrogate standard for something that you really want--a limitation on bank disturbance. The teams have refined what we would really like to see in the creeks more than that, but we still have those requirements."
Bank disturbance measurements were to be taken too, although that was more a judgment call with some of the fisheries and range people and some of the team members. NMFS had 8 critical areas on Morgan Creek allotment. If the Association either missed stubble-height standards, or concerns were raised about bank disturbance on any 3 of those 8 critical areas, then it would require immediate consultation with NMFS.
Chance Gowan points out that there is a correlation between bank disturbance and bank instability, but there is not a body of scientific literature on the subject that holds for every area.
The 70,000-acre Lower East Fork allotment, in the Experimental Stewardship Area, was also in a three-pasture rest rotation. When 30 percent utilization was reached in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area portion, grazing use had to cease for the year. Herding in these steep mountains and canyons was going to be difficult.
The biological plan the team developed called for a basic inventory of plants, animals, and other resources important to team members on the allotment, and the team members identified species or areas needing special consideration. The team divided up the two available grazing units into 33 areas, using natural boundaries and basins.
The Forest Service also developed some ownership in this plan. "What the Forest Service did this year was to say, hey, we might be looking at not meeting utilization standards because we're going to try a new system that has potential to certainly protect the riparian areas much more down the road," Cote explains.
Doing it on the land--Lower East Fork
The Bakers hired Pedro Reis to herd their cattle and implement the biological plan. In years past, says Wayne, "We'd open the gate, turn them out, and the cattle would scatter. That's what we tried to do--scatter them so they wouldn't bunch up. That's what they were used to." Herding represented a major change. "It was quite a test for the rider to keep them bunched."
The NRCS helped the Sawtooth National Recreation Area staff monitor the allotment. The plan called for premonitoring--before the cows got there, and monitoring after they've left and then at year end. Members of the management team, including those representing conservation organizations, took part in the overall assessment, which included photographs. There is general agreement that the overall results were excellent, and that the range looks good.
"The herder did real well first time out, not knowing the country," says Wayne. "Our biggest problem was control--getting them all out. To get that 30 percent utilization the old way--you just can't do it. But this way, with that regrowth, if you keep those cattle moving, you'll come close."
Regrowth was excellent this year, and Wayne points to good moisture and better management of the cattle as the causes. Though the full-time herder was an additional expense, the Bakers were able to use the allotment months longer than in past years.
Says Cote, "It's the environmentalist shaking hands with the rancher at the end of a grazing tour, and saying thanks for the job you did out here--that was really rewarding."
Doing it on the land--Morgan Creek
Shortly before they turned out, the Association hired a rider to do the herding. In past years the Association's tactic had been to harass bunches of cattle and to promote scattering. Keeping the herd bunched was a challenge. A wetter than average summer meant there was water in almost every draw.
Several times the Association had to turn out to help the rider. The person hired to do the salting and fencing quit. At times the cattle were widely scattered. Toward the end of the season, the Association took over the riding.
The basic plan was sound, says Cote, and the results were good. Utilization of forage was much more even than in past years, and they got more usage out of the upland areas. Mistakes were made, and there is an ongoing attempt to learn from them. "We ask ourselves, why was the herd together yesterday and not today?"
"It takes time to learn how to handle the stock, and run the range right, and really work together," says Steve Cote. "We've had some wrecks out there--with handling the herd, people things, basic management things. We don't want people to think that this is easy. The stockmanship is an integral part of making it work on the ground. The hardest part of doing that is changing your mindset or paradigm. We seem to be making progress in people being more open to doing that."
Most of the mistakes on Morgan Creek, Cote concluded, involved poor handling of the sensitive animals, the bunch quitters. "The hardest part is overcoming past habits of scaring the cattle to where you want them. We're asking an association to really change the way they run things out there."
Herding has also dramatically decreased the fly problem. The Association has not had a single case of pinkeye this year. Last year they doctored 75 for pinkeye.
"What really made it happen over the course of the season was being out on the ground together," says Chance Gowan. "Usually, the biologists run out and do their thing, the range cons do their measurements, they go back to the office and do their reports. If things aren't going right, they'll call up the permittee or send a letter. Often the biologists never spoke to the ranchers."
"What Russ and I did this year was we made a commitment and we spent a lot of time out there. We'd bump into the ranchers, and we'd ride together, talk about what was going on with the allotment, we'd help them move cows. We'd sit on the edge of a streambank and talk about what was happening there, and what the differences were with the plants and the banks."
The Forest Service and the BLM did the monitoring. Because of the exceptionally green year they measured stubble height in October after dormancy. The Association missed two stubble-height requirements on two creeks. "They just barely missed them, 3-1/2 as opposed to 4 inches, which is a marked improvement over past seasons, where they have been missing standards by a lot," says Cote.
Says Ted O'Neil, "As far as the herding went, we didn't do real well." But, he says, "Our utilization was a lot more even than in years past. NMFS approved what the Forest Service had done, so they didn't have to go back into reconsultation. The Forest Service and the BLM are really happy. NMFS is the group that's still sitting outside of our circle. They go back to their higher ups and get shot down. NMFS has the final say on what goes on out there."
"The results on Morgan Creek really show the potential of this team and the new plans to achieve results," says Cote. "The development of working relationships really showed. The Forest Service in Challis really put forth exceptional effort. The BLM helped a good deal. The Association had to work hard but they almost enjoyed themselves some. Now they can work hard and know it is toward something with a chance of enduring."
Chance Gowan points to the probability of increased weight gains, better conception rates, and lower costs for the ranchers.
"The jury is still out on whether you can implement a totally responsive, flexible way of managing within the rigid confines that were given to us by the Forest Service," says Secrist. "The idea of having a timed grazing thing in a three-pasture rest system is quite a challenge. It's been like a new way of managing within the old system and that can be pretty risky."
"The Association is already looking for riders for next year," Cote says. "High quality riders willing to do certain things, willing to adopt a new way of looking at the range, and also the stockmanship principles." The Custer County Soil and Water Conservation district, which has several Morgan Creek permittees on its board, has identified stockmanship, primarily keeping a herd together and placed, as a critical need in making range plans work. They have applied for Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding from the United States Department of Agriculture to send people to a two-day intensive training with Bud Williams.
Both teams will add members and refine their holistic goals this winter, Cote says. There will be an emphasis on making the herders or riders part of the team.
Neighboring ranchers and grazing associations are also important sources of information and advice. There was a meeting in Arco in December 1997 to share information with other associations (see box on page 14). Several grazing associations from around the state came in search of ideas to help them stay in business.
What they learned
This section is the "inside story." The following people shared some of what they learned. They were all participants in either the Morgan Creek team, the Lower East Fork team, or both. People spoke for themselves.
Morgan Creek Grazing Association
The whole concept [of herding] was a little farfetched to start with. But I'm sure buying into more of it.
If the herding works, it will be less time up there for ourselves. It's a doable deal. It's going to take a special kind of person to do it. Like a sheepherder, you've got to be there all the time. When you're riding all day long, you're doing something wrong.
Ranchers have been at fault: "You mind your business and I'll mind mine." You don't do things like that anymore. They're too many outside concerns now not to involve everybody else in the deal. That's hard sometimes, but if we can go like we did this year, I think we'll see some improvements. We're not there yet, but we're heading in the right direction.
The group deal and the facilitator made a big difference. The biggest thing we've gained is that we're communicating with everybody. There are too many people who really want to see it change, that honestly care.
Idaho Wildlife Federation
Most of the goals we perceive ourselves having as environmentalists, the ranchers had too. It was then easier to start looking at how we can achieve that, instead of one camp over here having their ideas, and another camp over there having their ideas, and having a total breakdown of communication that prevents them from seeing the commonalities. The Roundtable allowed us to sit down and start with that very basic premise: we want a lot of the same things, so how do we get there.
No significant improvements or changes can happen unless everybody has some ownership in the process.
Not everybody has the agenda they say they have. Some people are not as much concerned with improving the condition of the land as they are in winning some perceived battle.
There are reasons why people have built up sensitivities. This happens on both sides. There are some ranchers who wouldn't participate. They've also been hardened by the years of acrimony and bad communication.
This has been the most positive thing I've done in conservation work, the most positive thing I've ever been involved with.
We had some problems, but the herding does work. This gave everybody some hope. The permittees could see that there is a future here. The last few years, they've not really known whether they could turn out. Now that they can see there's a future, they're willing to spend more effort fixing things that are causing problems, and get the whole system working better.
It probably wasn't easy for [the ranchers]. I'm a big long-haired guy, I came rolling in from out of town, and worst of all I was a fish biologist. To their credit they were objective and very willing to try and work together.
Linda Hestag set the stage, and got us talking. From there it was up to us to make it happen, and everybody just did it. They pulled together. When we had problems, we had problems. It wasn't calling up somebody and blaming the problem on them.
rancher, Lower East Fork allotment
It went pretty well. We did make some mistakes. We monitored it, and we'll make some changes next year. As far as the herding goes, we've darn sure got some things we need to change, but overall I can see where it would really work. What I learned is the better management of cows, the better regrowth we got.
Agency people have been willing to work, whatever we can do to make the thing work, it's just been great. With everybody working together, it's sure a lot better. I don't think we've scratched the surface on what's possible.
rancher, Lower East Fork allotment
The team has been fantastic. It's one thing for Wayne and I to say what we're doing is right. Being able to have the team to back us up, for us to learn and all work together, that's been great.
Nothing's in stone. You have to be ready to play with it, reshape it. It's been a big year of learning.
Sawtooth Wildlife Council
The big accomplishment this year was interested people, agency people, and association people all working together in a constructive way, building a real trust relationship. We've approached this as a multiyear experiment. We're looking for an indication that things are trending toward improvement. We're not expecting that things were going to be perfect at the end of this year.
Morgan Creek Grazing Association
We got our eyes opened to a new system that's really going to be fantastic for the resource out there. We're also going to be able to save on labor and maintenance, and spend less time gathering in the fall.
The biggest breakthrough was that we learned different ways to get along with the different agencies. The facilitators, the dialogue--it was a good deal.
Global Environmental Project Institute
I was extremely pleased at how people could put aside any misgivings or possible previous confrontations or discontent about agency difficulties, or environmentalists versus ranchers, which is a big problem.
Each person's voice or position is dealt with and heard. You start putting faces instead of labels to people, and understanding their own particular difficulties.
People stopped squabbling and started working together--and in a much quicker time than I ever expected.
Morgan Creek Grazing Association
The key to this whole deal is the herder. We were able to keep the cattle calmer.
The one thing we did accomplish was to build the trust with one another as a team, with the Forest Service especially. When we're going out there now, and we run into a wreck--and we've had wrecks--it's not our fault. It's everybody's fault. We go out there and straighten it out and go on. Nobody's blaming anybody.
Bringing the permittees to the table, having them look at things differently, couldn't have been done without Linda and the fact that she was an outside facilitator. She didn't have a vested interest, just her own common interest in working out a resolution.
I learned some patience. There's a lot of different perspectives.
We've done a U-turn. We're working, we're talking.
It's easy to fall back into traditional, non-ownership roles.
Most of the change is tied to relationships. Compared to last year, everything we do boils down to relationships. In past years we're worried about fights. Now we're spending more time looking at the land, and looking at where we need to be.
To me the core of the thing was that we were all working together, a common vision, common goals. What I was looking for was the same thing the permittees were looking for, the same thing the environmental community was looking for. Everybody just seemed to trust that their goal was the same as everybody else's that was part of this.
In spite of making every mistake we could make, we had a lot of success. And a lot of fun. Everyone can see the promise that it holds. We're looking forward to next season.
If there's a single thing that ranchers can do to benefit the stock and the land most, it is Bud Williams stockmanship methods and principles. With this, the adoption and implementation of better range plans comes easier. Herd health is sure to improve. Combine this with sound land-management principles and holistic decision making, and you are in a better place with agencies and environmental groups, particularly if you graze public lands.
Seeing the whole has gotten some of the issues off the ranchers. Now we can see grazing isn't the only concern--it may be the sedimentation from this road.
The turning point is asking what people here really want. When we all work towards what we want it's astounding the degree of effort and success. The progress we've seen is not just because of collaboration--we've done that many times before--it's because of collaboration and holistic thinking.
Collaborative management and holistic decision making has the potential to change the West. I don't look at it as anything less. Between the problems with endangered species and the battles on what the tools are to fix them, and people being so polarized and working against each other--it's a never-ending battle that is wrecking people's lives, especially for the ranchers and the loggers.
Morgan Creek is proof that you can have a contentious situation, and a polarized situation, and just turn it around so everybody's working for the same thing. I never thought that it would change this much this soon. We noticed a change even over the summer, how people are to talk to on the phone.
That's the rewarding part. Twenty-five years of hatred and contention--I won't say it's disappeared, but it's a different place to be. That was really what motivated me, more than thinking that we can improve riparian areas or get the range more productive.
That's been missing in my career. Really being able to help somebody with the whole picture. Now you're helping to the core. Now I feel we're really giving them something. Before, we're technical experts helping them solve particular problems. That's never going to end. For 50 years we've been helping people spot-solve problems. Those problems are never going to end unless people address the whole picture.
It's changed people's lives, including my own.
Idaho Department of Agriculture
I've relearned something that I already knew, and that is that those folks out on the ground--if you leave them out, in terms of the education part, you have to catch up some way. The guys doing the herding have to understand the team concept. They hired these guys, and up on the mountain they went.
What I've learned in working with Linda, that anytime you avoid going back to the touchstones again, every meeting, going around the room, talking about people's expectations and what they're feeling, what they've got on their mind, what I call the "touchy-feely stuff" --I guess I hate to do it, I guess I don't feel comfortable doing it, but she does it so well, and anytime she's not been there and we've sort of bailed right into things, it's never come off as well as when we do that. Even the ranchers will tell you that. There's something about going back to the things that unite us rather than divide us, that's really important in dealing with a diverse group like that. She's filled a niche that no one seems to fill very well. We've got facilitators around, but often they are sort of removed from the process, they are there just as sort of a mechanic. Linda does the mechanics, but she is dedicated. It's not a facade with her, and people sense that.
Folks sort of come out of the woodwork. People who you thought would pitch in and carry the thing haven't, and the ones that you didn't think would, have. I can't say enough about Steve Cote and Lloyd Bradshaw and the folks from NRCS. It's that commitment.
I've gotten a lot of phone calls. People want to find something that offers some hope, but there's a certain nervousness about making that kind of commitment. They'd still rather find an easy way. Unfortunately, I don't think one exists.
Part of what has carried us through is admitting to the group, we don't have all the answers. Sometimes people want to challenge it. We say, fine, maybe so, let's go see.
You can argue endlessly around the table about issues. But until somehow you just put aside those things, let's do this together and see . . . that's really helped put a lot of this rancor away. We just refuse to argue about these things.
There is no single right way to manage resources. Something that works in one area won't necessarily work in another--always because of the human element. In managing resources, it's very important to understand the capability, the commitment, the understanding of the people who work at the ground level. And then saying what's possible--the idea of having a vision.
Working together is so much better than this conflict mode we seem to get into. If you could get people together, and somehow you could harness this energy and this vision, it was always amazing to me how they could and would respond to that. But at the same time, how quickly people can circle the wagons and close their minds to a thing when there's a sense that people are not genuine, that they have an agenda, that they're not willing to listen, and that they don't understand the people who live in these rural areas and how important certain things are to them. If you went in with a contempt for that, and the sense that I'm the boss, I know what's right, and I'm going to see it done, then these people could outlast you.
Government agencies need to have a service ethic. As they do so, much more gets done than trying to force or legislate even, or to make those changes through force of policy.
The human side of this thing is just infinitely important. You can go out thinking you've got a cookbook, and try to give it to somebody and it will just fall flat. That's what's really left out of some of these efforts--we just don't really deal well with the social implications. There really is no such thing as resource problems, pure and simple. There is such a complex interweb of the social, the ecological, the economic that there's just no way to separate them out and deal with them in part.
This project in Challis, for me, has been about bringing in people from outside who are environmentally involved and who have become aware of, understand, and are open to what is happening to their greater whole as well. They want to support people. They have really gotten the idea that we, as individuals--if we think about our ancestors, our heritage--that yes in fact they were farmers, they were ranchers, they worked the land, and that is very important for us to connect to. Who is going to take care of our resources and our public land, how is it that we shall use the world?
It's about introducing some new ideas on what's possible, and it's bringing in people who have experienced similar change, to give people confidence.
These projects are not about an environmental position but about finding answers together, about paying attention to what works in nature and finding out how to mimic it.
Jon Marvel calls me Joan of Cow. He says, "Linda, you're going to fail miserably." What he doesn't get is, it's not about failing or succeeding. This whole thing isn't about being right, making a point, or about an issue. It's about being part of the process of nature.
Can we really afford to waste any more time, money, energy, or creativity by fighting while our problems continue to get worse? Why would we want to?
Einstein says you can solve any problem if you know what the questions are. It's really been about asking the right questions.
The Morgan Creek has been the most successful project and the most difficult. It was founded in conflict--which is why people think they have to work together. Sometimes people experience the greatest rewards after conflict has arisen and they have resolved it.
If we don't understand the connections between things, often our solutions will become our problems. Systems thinking works in alignment with holistic thinking in that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Steve Rich says, paradise is not lost. It's dissassembled and the pieces are lying around in plain sight.
Communities are excited about their future, and committed to their future together. If we believe in our heart of hearts that what we want is best for future generations, there is nothing to be afraid of. The idea that people are totally stuck in old ways, whatever that means, is not true, in my experience.
Oikonomia and the Idaho Roundtables
Linda Hestag's involvement with the two Challis allotments has been supported by Oikonomia, an Idaho nonprofit that she founded. Oikonomia is a Greek word that includes the concepts of both economy and ecology.
The organization is committed to "sustaining communities, people and place through shared values, healthy landscapes and strong economies. The organization seeks solutions by looking beyond issues to the design of a sustainable future that reflects the shared values of all participants. Oikonomia also believes that the collective wisdom of individuals committed to their own future can solve complex problems. Success is predicated upon a collaborative approach in the areas of economic and community renewal, corporate sustainability, and sustainable land and water management."
Oikonomia's main project is the Idaho Roundtables. This is a long-term effort to build teams that will help build their own communities. "These teams are not intended to be just about the land itself," says Hestag, "but about the community, its economic base, where it is socially, what's happening to it, and how to create its desired future. And then a real joining of those teams, once a year, to actually share information and find out where they want to go."
"I felt inspired to create a voice for people who work the land. The last thing I wanted was a defense mechanism. It was more about participating in something that connected us all to each other."
"This public land is so vast, and government officials come and go. As well-intentioned as they are, as responsible they are, who comes in next may have a completely different viewpoint. If the community is part of that process, and understands the whole systemically, if we create a completely new definition of what ecology and economy mean to us, then we have a much better-defined future."
"Who is going to take care of the land? Families change as well as government people. It is still the generations of people who have gained understanding of what works and what doesn't, that carry so much of the information."
"The process itself is designed to work with people who are not necessarily just groovy. It's designed to work with people that are turned off to the idea of sustainability, or the words collaboration or environmental. It's geared to open ideas on every side."
Among the organizations involved are the Idaho Wildlife Federation, the Global Environment Project Institute, Senate and Congressional offices, the Governor's office, the Idaho Conservation League, the Idaho Cattemen's Association, the Idaho Woolgrowers Association, the Sawtooth Wildlife Council, First Security Bank in Salmon, Citizens Action Network, the University of Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service.
by Steve Cote
If you stress cows going away from a place (for example a riparian area), they will remember that they were once comfortable there and will want to return to it. Even if that last comfortable place to the cow is miles away or days ago, she may return to it. If you stress cows while moving them as a herd, they will want to leave the herd. Finding relief from stress can express itself by cattle leaving the herd and trying to hide out all summer.
Methods that stress cattle include lots of noise, pressure kept on them, being pressured directly from behind, being crowded and bumped, being moved too fast, turned too hard in different directions, and being moved while separated from calves.
The main ideas for keeping a herd together are:
1. Move the herd so that they are relaxed and comfortable with your way of handling them (see Bud Williams seminar or video for details).
2. Don't try to teach the cows not to leave the herd. If you let dogs nail them when they leave the herd, or you stress them while returning them to the herd, plan on returning the same animals all summer. If you stress them back into the herd you will not get them to stay long.