Ranch

Ranch

New breed of ranchers shapes a sustainable West

These green cowboys try to marry good stewardship of the land with making money. 

By , Correspondent

  • COVER STORY: The green cowboys

Zachary Jones is a saddle-hardened fifth-generation rancher even though, on the surface, he may not look like one. As he threads his pickup truck through the back pasture of a quintessential Western expanse – one carpeted in flaxen-colored grass in the shadow of Montana's Crazy Mountains – he bears little resemblance to the stereotype of the Stetson-wearing cowboy. No pointed boots or spurs. No denim. No bandanna. Not even a rifle mounted in the vehicle's back window.

Instead, Mr. Jones is wearing cargo pants, a stylish shirt with a Patagonia logo on the front, and, most tellingly, Birkenstock sandals. You'd almost think he were heading to the monthly meeting of the men's book club in Bozeman.

What he's actually doing is checking on newborn Angus calves on his Twodot ranch following rumors that wolves might be prowling the area. In other words, real callous-forming wrangler work, which suggests another point: Out here, appearance sometimes has little to do with authenticity.

Recommended: Think you know the odd effects of global climate change? Take our quiz.

"Being a smart rancher – one who's still going to be here in another 50 years – isn't based on how you dress," says Jones. "It comes down to how you treat the land and build resilience over time that matters. In particular, it's about how well you manage grass and water."

Normally, listening to a cattleman talk with reverence about managing grass and water, using terms like "holistic" and "sustainable," would be akin to hearing an environmentalist marvel about the horsepower in an all-terrain vehicle. It seldom happens.

But a new breed of cowboy, like Jones, is changing how ranching is being done in the American West and might – just might – alter the dynamic in the "range wars" that have engulfed the region for more than a half century. Make no mistake: These are not new arrivals carrying out green techniques for the feel-good sake of being green. They are ranchers managing the land in benevolent and environmentally sensitive ways because they think it will help them survive – and make money.

"As a matter of necessity, the old way of ranching is giving way to a new paradigm," says Bill Bryan, head of the Rural Landscape Institute in Bozeman, Mont. "For some, ranching was pursued in the past with an emphasis on raising beef at the expense of everything else. Raising animals for the dinner table isn't an activity that has to be at odds with the environment."

Category Content

Soils naturally absorb and sequester carbon dioxide and following organic...
SDuteil , Saturday, January 31, 2015 - 11:12
Enlarge PhotoCourtesy Parker RanchNeil "Dutch" Kuyper, CEO of Parker...
SDuteil , Saturday, January 31, 2015 - 11:10
With the help of a grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation...
SDuteil , Saturday, January 31, 2015 - 11:07
New offset protocol allows credits for sequestering carbon on rangelands(SAN...
SDuteil , Saturday, December 20, 2014 - 08:34
Public-private partnerships are proving to be instrumental, effective and...
SDuteil , Saturday, December 20, 2014 - 08:33
ShutterstockNRG Energy is targeting large-scale emissions reductions following...
SDuteil , Friday, December 19, 2014 - 11:42
"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which...
SDuteil , Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 10:10
A compost experiment that began seven years ago on a Marin County ranch has...
SDuteil , Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 10:08
The DOE has invested $167 million along with Petra Nova and JX Nippon to create...
SDuteil , Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 10:05
According to a 2014 report by leading climate scientists, convened by the U.S....
SDuteil , Monday, September 15, 2014 - 21:24
Interest of video starts at 2:04.Its designer says it's a new, eco-friendly...
SDuteil , Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 10:41
This video by Peter Byck of Arizona State University introduces upcoming...
SDuteil , Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 10:24
Published on Jun 12, 2014Copyright Vince Bucello 2009. This video shows the...
SDuteil , Saturday, December 20, 2014 - 09:47
Published on Jun 30, 2014Mobile Biomass Pellet - Briquette Plant. Part 1This...
SDuteil , Saturday, December 20, 2014 - 09:36
Published on Oct 28, 2014ITRI wins the 2014 R&D 100 Awards with the High-...
SDuteil , Saturday, December 20, 2014 - 08:38
President Obama delivers a statement about moving forward in light of severe...
SDuteil , Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 10:14
Published on Oct 12, 2014What If A Solution To Climate Change Was Beneath Your...
SDuteil , Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 10:13
John Wick - Marin Carbon Sequestration Project
SDuteil , Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 10:11
"Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,...
jsopczak , Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 15:34
The first time we saw the Urban Reserve, we were stunned. "Surely, this...
jsopczak , Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 15:31