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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Range managers journey to eastern ‘bump’ of state

Range managers journey to eastern ‘bump’ of state

McClarans share insight about ranching in far northeast corner of state with visiting range professionals 

Summer turned to fall this weekend, but visitors to Wallowa County continue to arrive — and not just tourists.

This past week, members of the Society of Range Management’s Pacific Northwest section toured the rangeland and forests of the north central part of the county, meeting with ranchers and natural resource agency representatives.

The group of more than 70 people stopped at Buckhorn Lookout for lunch and took in the view of the Imnaha River Canyon. At the overlook, Scott and Jill McClaran talked to the range managers about ranching in the canyonlands and forests of Northeast Oregon — or the eastern “bump” of the state, as Scott McClaran described the area where he ranches.

“Our family history goes back to 1919 when my granddad and his bride went to Lightning Creek. Eight miles up there was a 160 (acre homestead) a fellow proved up on and they bought it and raised sheep,” McClaran said.

At one time they had 10,000 ewes at the mouth of the Grande Ronde River and 25,000 head that summered in the high mountains and wintered on the Snake River, McClaran said.

The family switched from sheep to cattle in 1945. During World War II, many Eastern Oregon ranchers did the same thing because it takes fewer men to raise cattle than sheep and much of the labor force was in the military.

McClaran and his wife, Vicky, came back to Wallowa County after college and continued in the family tradition of ranching. “We are a like a lot of cow outfits, we get two nickels and go buy chunks and pieces of land — not necessarily to get bigger, but to add value, like buying ground at elevation or a piece of wet ground — to make us more sustainable.”

Today, McClaran and his three daughters, Jill, Beth and Maggie, run the family ranch that stretches from the breaks of Imnaha River to the forested Chesnimnus country to the west. He said his dad, Jack, can no longer work cattle in the canyons, but tracks the family in his mind as they move their cattle around the northeast corner of the state.

In the winter, the cattle graze in the low elevations of the lower Imnaha River, but snow can still cover the ground and make it hard for the cattle to forage. In those times, Scott McClaran said they will take up to a quarter ton of hay per head to supplement grass. As for winter watering, he said cattle can live off eating snow and drinking out of puddles made by their tracks for up to two weeks.

To protect both horse and rider, Scott McClaran showed the range professionals a special horseshoe he uses in the winter that have caulks in them to help prevent from slipping on snow and ice. “The challenge of winter outfits is we kill animals annually in the canyon country.”

Jill McClaran described moving hundreds of cow/calf pairs in the seemingly inhospitable country. “We ride (horseback) 320 days a year and are constantly pushing cattle.”

She said they divide the herd up into smaller groups of 30, 50 or 100, a better method in narrow canyons. “Big bunches are more dangerous and it’s harder to get them placed.”

The McClarans graze their cattle on both private and public land, but he said as far as management goes, it doesn’t matter. “We aren’t concerned if we own it or Uncle Sam does; we do the best job we can grazing it so the perennials flourish,” said Scott McClaran.

John Laurence, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest supervisor, said he was on a tour of the area with the Pacific Northwest Regional botanist, who said the forest had the best range program in the region. “That’s a rare compliment from a botanist,” Laurence said.

Laurence said that the success of public grazing is a good relationship between the Forest Service and the permittees. “It makes all of our jobs a lot easier when you work with skilled and helpful partners.”

John Williams, Wallowa County’s OSU extension agent and member of the Society of Range Managers, said at last year’s annual Pacific Northwest meeting, which includes members from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, it was decided that Wallowa County would be this year’s host.

The members attending asked for the topics covered, Williams said, including fire effects, wolf/cattle interaction, ranching in the canyonlands and public grazing challenges.

Forest Service range professionals Jamie McCormack and Shawn Mork, along with Kelly Birkmaier, private range consultant, helped put on the tour for the 70 in attendance last week.

Contact Katy Nesbitt at 541-786-4235 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Katy on Twitter@lgoNesbitt.

 
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