A smiling man in a cowboy hat poses with his arm around a woman who is also smiling.
Jay and Diane Tanner Jay and Diane Tanner © Infinity Imagery

Stories in Utah

Voices for Nature

Utah ranchers serve as sage-grouse ambassadors.

At first glance, greater sage-grouse and cattle don’t have much in common. A young steer weighs more than 500 pounds. A mature sage-grouse doesn’t top five pounds.  

But after a lifetime of caring for both in tough and harsh northwestern Utah, Jay Tanner sees things in finer focus—he knows that sage-grouse and cattle need a lot of the same things to thrive. 

The Tanners’ Commitment to Conservation

“What’s good for the bird is good for the herd,” says Jay, whose family has been running the Della Ranches since the 1870s. Sage-grouse and cows have equal weight in his view. Even the nearest town, Grouse Creek, is named for the pointy-tailed bird. 

Jay and his wife, Diane, along with Jay’s two brothers, Blaine and Brent, and their families, have made sage-grouse a priority. And it turns out that in order to help this bird, partners who don’t always see eye-to-eye will come together. The Tanners have welcomed them all, from Utah State University graduate students tracking grouse with radio telemetry, to tourists looking to live like cowboys on their Box C Guest Ranch. Jay and Diane have met with the Secretary of Agriculture and, in the spring of 2015, were invited to greet President Obama.  

“We feel like we share a little piece of heaven with those that visit,” says Diane. “It’s worked really well…to have people come and see what’s going on, see what we do.” 

A large brown and white-speckled bird with many pointy tail feathers walks away from the camera.
Sagebrush Conservation Greater sage-grouse. © Joe Kiesecker/TNC

Making a Difference that Lasts

Playing host to so many different interests makes for a long to-do list. “As ranchers, we deal with finances, soils, crops, livestock, marketing, labor relations, futures, equipment, repairs, utilities, water management, public land managers, wildlife and neighbor relations among other things,” says Jay (in one very long breath). 

But being busy doesn’t get in the Tanners’ way of doing everything they can to help the sage-grouse. No matter who you are, if you visit Della Ranch, Jay will probably say, “Let me show you our sage-grouse.” He remembers watching sage-grouse when he was just a kid. “They’re still here, and I want to make sure they’re here for my grandkids and great-grandkids.”

Partnering for Land Protection

In 2017, The Nature Conservancy joined forces with several ranching families, including the Tanners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the State of Utah to protect prime sage-grouse habitat on eight ranching properties, totaling more than 9,000 acres. 

These ranches support nesting, brood-rearing and wintering habitat for grouse, along with five leks—sites where males perform their annual mating ritual to attract females. They are also home to a proud history of ranching, a treasured way of life handed down from one generation to the next.

As part of our work to conserve land and water across the globe, we're expanding community-led conservation with projects like this one.

Learn more about what we're doing to conserve lands while balancing the needs of nature and people.