Rancher to Rancher Tour
The McClaran Ranch
Scott McClaran, a full time cowboy and father, part time poet, was our host for a Rancher-to-Rancher tour this summer at their ranch along Oregon's Snake River in the Hells Canyon area. We saw first-hand his lines of poetry, “Steep, rugged and full of rims, no question Mother Nature's the boss.”
We began the tour near Joseph, Oregon, at the valley ranch headquarters, the historic Dorrance barn nearby, preserved in honor of the ranch's founders. Irrigated pastures here are used for grazing or haying depending on yearly conditions. Weaned calves will be wintered on open lots along the Wallowa River, which is protected by grass filter strips.
We traveled on to nearby forested country where the cow herd will spend portions of the spring and fall in their annual migration, much as wild ungulates would naturally journey. Riparian areas will be free of cattle by July 1st to allow for bull trout and steelhead management. Winter is spent down in the canyons along the breaks of the Imnaha River. The cows eat snow and graze nutritious native bluebunch wheatgrass and Idaho fescue. They will move on by mid-April, or by biological indicators, such as when the lupines bloom, and will go on to the Forest Service allotments by June.
It's the kind of country that makes you feel small
-A poem by Scott McClaran
We had lunch at a magnificent Hells Canyon overlook and enjoyed the best part of the tour, a history lesson by Jack McClaran. As a six month old, Jack and a brother were packed by his dad and mother some twenty miles by horseback. A lifetime later Jack declares,“You don't own the land,the land owns you.”
The McClarans, with multiple public land leases, deal with a layering of government entities and policies including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Nez Perce fisheries, Endangered Species (salmon and wolves), and the Forest Service. Due to the McClarans' easy going nature and willingness to manipulate grazing strategies to address wildlife needs, they maintain a good working relationship with government personnel. This family is one of only a few who have remained in the area, as many of their neighbors have sold out and moved on.
The vast scale of the McClaran ranch left a deep impression with all of us. The delicate balancing act they practice, like the careful steps of the horses on the steep canyon terrain, impress us as a role model we can all take home to our own.
Scott, along with wife Vicki, and parents Marjorie and Jack, have done what many family businesses have failed to do – attract the next generation back to the ranch.
Daughters Jill, Beth, and Maggie, following graduation at Oregon State University, have come back home to the canyons, determined to carry on a ranching heritage started by their great grandfather who homesteaded here in 1919.
Jill and Maggie met the tour driving a pickup full of herding dogs. The dogs are integral to the operation, as are these young women, who possess an inborn knowledge of the land and grass as only those who were raised here can.