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Big Creek Ranch is owned by Tom Page and Michael Page. The owners have goals to break even financially, while enhancing the base asset value of Big Creek Ranches. They wish to maintain the ranch properties in the family (or under conservation management if sale becomes necessary) for the long-term.

Big Creek Ranch consists of a complex mosaic of six private parcels and seven allotments, six of which have been included in the Network. Big Creek Ranch is unique in that all cattle on the ranch belong to other operators, although they are moved, doctored and fed by Big Creek Ranch staff. Most of these approximately 2,000 cattle aplayinginthecreekre present on the ranch from May to mid October.

Big Creek Ranch is comprised of ranches that were purchased in variable condition, with the twin goals of making them more environmentally sustainable and improving overall land health.  Working with degraded lands presents an opportunity to show what can be achieved through infrastructure improvements combined with different management techniques than had been employed in the past.  Irrigation system efficiency and better integration between between private and allotted lands are two areas in which these improvements are evident.  Simplifying infrastructure, as in the reduction of fences, should also enhance the efficiency of the ranch and make it an example of what can be achieved by creative management practices.

There are numerous conservation goals for the ranch that are as important as the operational goals. One of the main conservation goals is to use cattle and the ranch operation as a means to support conservation.  In a Grazing Management Plan prepared by Environment Solutions Inc, five specific goals were outlined. These goals included resting pastures at least one out of every five years, deferment of grazing on pastures that are critical to wildlife uses, alternating season of use for specific pastures, rotations occurring at intervals of no more than once per week and ensuring that livestock herds are manageable by ranch staff so that the above goals can be achieved (Environmental Solutions Inc.,2011).  A final operational goal would be to reduce groundwater pumping costs at Sulphur Creek, and overall fuel consumption.

Big Creek has many objectives to support their conservation goals. Specific goals of the ranch include re-connection of streams, increasing rangeland diversity and health, increasing permeability of the ranch to wildlife (allowing for easier movement through the ranch), increasing habitat security and reducing disturbance for wildlife, enhancing sage grouse habitat, reducing road densities and improving the overall population of wildlife on the ranch. 

The entire Big Creek Ranch contains prime habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, and IMG_0761pronghorn are found throughout the ranch with elk being especially abundant during the winter/spring  in Mill Creek and the upper Pahsimeroi area. Bighorn sheep from the Lost River Herd winter east of Sulphur Creek and Lemhi Range Bighorns occasionally stray onto the Mill Creek allotment from their nearby wintering grounds at Patterson Creek. Deer herds are resident and migratory.  A significant migration path along the front of the Lemhi Range is heavily used by elk, mule deer and pronghorn in the spring and fall.

Sage grouse are found most frequently in the River Pasture of the Upper Pahsimeroi allotment, especially during the winter months.  During the spring and summer they disperse to the south, east and west into the summer pastures on the Upper Pahsimeroi allotment, the Goldburg allotment and the Dry Creek allotment.  An active sage grouse lek also exists on the Grouse Creek allotment.

Since acquisition Big Creek Ranch has contracted for the removal of fifteen miles of interior fencing, and the replacement of another ten miles of tall five-strand barbed boundary fence with four-strand fence meeting state wildlife requirements, including restrictions on fence height and the addition of a smooth bottom wire.   Some fences that have been removed have been replaced with temporary or permanent electric fence. While there is a significant labor investment in removing the fences, the increased flexibility gained in management is worth the effort. Ideally, they would also like to implement the same technique on public lands, in limited fashion.

Another innovation and challenge faced by Big Creek Ranch is the increased integration of USFS, BLM, state and private lands to enhance management of the land resource. Core areas for conservation efforts include the Sulphur Creek, Big Creek and Goldburg private parcels that adjoin larger BLM  and IDL allotments. Private and state lands that comprise the hub of Big Creek Ranch consist of four main fields. These fields are referred to as Sulphur Creek deeded, Big Creek deeded and Goldburg deeded and state land. Sulfur Creek deeded lands total 1500 acres. Of that land, 714 acres are irrigated, 60 acres are composed of riparian corridor along the Pahsimeroi River and another 100 acres of riparian exist along Paterson Creek. Dry uplands comprise 628 acres. Big Creek deeded land totals about 750 acres. Center pivot systems are used to irrigate 347 acres of land while 196 acres are flood irrigated. Riparian land comprises 45 acres of this parcel and 193 acres are upland. Goldburg deeded and state lands total about 1960 acres of land. Irrigated land comprises about 450 acres of this parcel and 245 acres consist of wetlands or riparian/wetlands. The remaining 1225 acres is upland

From approximately May 15 to September 15, 320 yearlings are fed on the Sulphur Creek private lands. These cattle are also leased and are taken home around the 15th of September each year. Also on the Sulphur Creek private lands about 270 pairs of employee cows are fed hay from December 15 to approximately May 15. These cattle will then spend the remainder of the year grazing on pivots, river bottoms or crop aftermath. This group of 270 cattle is never grazed on public land.

The ranch has fenced (single-strand electric wire) several miles of the mainstream Pahsimeroi River – a section that had been severely degraded by dewatering, channel alteration and poor grazing practices.  In combination with big flows in June of 2011, several old oxbows have since re-opened and the floodplain has been re-established in the lower part of the property. 

Most ranch conservation efforts to date have been focused on irrigation practices and infrastructure.  Water use on the Big Creek parcel has been cut to approximately 25% of previous use, and unauthorized ditches haveIMG_1744 been closed.  Wheel lines have been converted to pivot irrigation systems and the mainline at Big Creek was replaced in 2010.  Irrigation of public land has also ceased.  Flows in Big Creek and the Pahsimeroi have been more consistent as a result of these practices. 

Big Creek Ranch completed a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy on more than 1,700 acres in 2012.  The easement also provides for instream flows in Sulphur Creek – a tributary to the Pahsimeroi River.   Additional easements or land transfers on over 5,000 acres, with significant associated instream flow enhancements are expected to occur in 2013.

Bird surveys are being conducted for two out of every five years on the ranch. There are also ongoing photo monitoring efforts taking place on various locations throughout the ranch.

According to Tom, the Central Idaho Rangelands Network represents an opportunity “to break the logjam” over public lands grazing in the west. The problem, according to Tom, rests in the polarizing debate about public lands grazing and the inability to make management decisions that will benefit wildlife, water and other natural resources.

The opportunity to help with this debate comes through the co-operation and strength in numbers that can be attained by working together with other like-minded operators. Some problems also exist with other ranchers who may feel that more environmentally friendly ranching practices are a condemnation to the way in which they have been ranching for generations. By working with the network, the chance exists for like-minded ranchers to gain strength in numbers while at the same time providing an avenue for co-operation that will benefit all members of the network.

Grouse Peak Up Close
Upper Pahsimeroi River
Big Creek Ranches
Grouse Peak
Creek and Cattle
Creek and White Mountains
Storm Brewing
Storm over the Upper Pahsimeroi
Carlson Slump Spring
The Line
Sagebrush Storm
Cloud Formations
Carlson Slump Pond
Carlson Slump Pond 2
Wild Country
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