Rancher promotes ‘new paradigm’ on the rangeland

Concept involves intensive herding of cattle


Greg Moore, Idaho Mountain Express

May 10, 2019


Relying on a mix of plant ecology, carefully calculated ranch economics and an understanding of animal behavior, a Pahsimeroi Valley rancher has created a way to regenerate degraded rangeland while producing profitable cattle.


Alderspring Ranch is a certified organic grass-fed beef operation near the tiny town of May that sells via the internet and through some grocery stores, including Atkinsons’ Markets. According to the ranch’s website, the operation is one of the largest certified organic ranches in the U.S. Its operations include the Hat Creek allotment—46,000 acres of publicly owned rangeland managed by the BLM and the Salmon-Challis National Forest in the Salmon River Mountains.


Since 2005, the ranch has been owned by Glenn and Caryl Elzinga.


In a presentation hosted by The Nature Conservancy at The Community Library in Ketchum on May 2, as well as in an interview, Glenn Elzinga described the couple’s frustration in being unable to promote regeneration of riparian areas and aspen stands while grazing their 350-400 head of cattle on the range. A former forest ecologist with the BLM, Glenn Elzinga said the couple spent long days in the saddle, driving cows away from environmentally sensitive areas, but when they returned the next day, the animals were back where they had started.


Elzinga said he thought about how cattle were run in the old days on the open range. At that time, cattle were herded to good grass by cowboys who slept out on the range.


“In [painter] Charlie Russell’s day, they were living with their cattle and staying with them,” Elzinga said. “But that one little invention changed everything.”


The invention was barbed wire. Since range allotments have been surrounded by fences, ranchers have typically turned their cattle out in the spring, let them roam wherever they want within that area, then gathered them in the fall as snow drove them down from the high country.


“Cows were behaving badly on their own, because there was nobody there,” Elzinga said.


He said that more recently, livestock operators have moved to a “keeping out” management style, barring cattle from sensitive habitats such as riparian areas, primarily through fencing.


Elzinga said that since he started to become aware of stream conditions in various grazing allotments, he has noted that degradation increases the farther a section of stream is from a road—where building fences is more expensive and controlling cattle is more difficult. In addition...