Into the Pioneers
Ranch lands protect heart of south-central Idaho mountains
Where the deer and the antelope (and the sheep) play.
I once rode horseback up into the Pioneer Mountains of southcentral Idaho with a Mongolian national park manager. Confronting the view, he began singing a beautiful song celebrating the wide-open spaces, the herds of deer and pronghorn, the uninterrupted view that stretched before us.
Faced with such incredible wildness and beauty: How else to react to such a place?
To the south, one takes in a seemingly endless sagebrush plain, giving way to the other-worldly lava fields of Craters of the Moon National Monument. To the north, shrubby foothills give way to forested mountains and alpine peaks.
From one vista, one can see the home of sage grouse and mountain goat, pronghorn and wolf, pygmy rabbit and wolverine.
Here, pronghorns continue a millennia-old 160-mile migration route, one of the longest mammal migrations on earth. Herds of elk and mule deer still roam, tracked by large predators. Streams flow through the aspen and cottonwood-lined valley, providing homes for native fish.
Stitching this dramatic 2.5 million acre place together—really, at the regions’ heart—are 140,000 acres of private ranchlands. They’re the reason the pronghorns can still migrate, the reason why the view remains unbroken.
The Nature Conservancy is working with these landowners to ensure that they stay on the land, and that the land continues to be protected for both ranching and wildlife.
Lava Lake Lamb, a large ranch in the southern Pioneers, actively markets this conservation as part of its lamb’s taste, posing the question: What does a million acres of land taste like? In turn, lamb sales support Lava Lake’s extensive conservation program on the 24,000 acres it owns and 850,000 acres it leases for grazing on public lands, work that is done with a broad array of partners.
The list of the ranch’s conservation activities with the Conservancy is long and varied: In 2000, owners Brian and Kathleen Bean began by commissioning a Conservancy ecologist to create a conservation and grazing management plan for the entire ranch.
There are the conservation easements protecting the private lands from development. Restoration of streams to so that beavers, songbirds and native fish can benefit. The work with other ranchers and conservationists to address common threats to this place—like energy development and increased recreational use.
Lava Lake’s wool is featured in the Conservancy-sponsored Smithsonian exhibit “Design for a Living World.” This exhibit will open at the Field Museum in Chicago in May.
For these and other conservation efforts, Lava Lake has received awards from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for its ranching and conservation practices.
Upon presenting Lava Lake Lamb its Cecil Andrus Award, Sustainable Northwest perhaps best summed up the ranch’s achievements: "Through groundbreaking partnerships and inspired action, the company brings widespread ecological and land management benefits to its one-million acre operating area in the Pioneer Mountains and Craters of the Moon region of central Idaho. Lava Lake Land & Livestock demonstrates a profound commitment to the well being of people and the environment, and a vision for renewed and sustaining relationships between humans, wildlife and the land."