BEEF Magazine | Thomas Brothers Make The Ground Better In Idaho’s Owyhee Mountains

November 20, 2017

Ranchers Seth, Bob, and Logan Thomas (left to right) partnered with Sage Grouse Initiative to improve thousands of acres of sagebrush range for livestock and wildlife. Photo: Brianna Randall

Cooperating with USDA, young ranchers improve the land for both sage grouse and cattle

Story by Brianna Randall

This excerpt is from this story in BEEF Magazine.

Seth and Logan Thomas unfold their long, lanky frames from the truck, gesturing for me to follow. As we tromp around sagebrush toward willows twice as tall as me, I try to keep the brothers’ cowboy hats in sight.

“This time of year, the sage grouse are on our land because that’s where the water is,” announces Seth when I catch up with them at the creek.

Thomas Cattle Company's ranch with sagebrush, a riparian area, and the Owyhee Mountains -- prime sage grouse habitat.

Thomas Cattle Company’s beautiful ranch includes sagebrush, riparian areas, and the Owyhee Mountains — prime habitat for sage grouse and 350 other species. Photo: Brianna Randall

I see what he means. All around us the sagebrush desert is dry as a bone, save the small trickle of water flowing at our feet.

Logan points out the different tracks in the mud: elk, deer, birds, cattle: a veritable highway of critters. It’s late October on the eastern flanks of the Owyhee Mountains, a crux time for wildlife and livestock to seek out dwindling fresh water—and the nutritious late-season forage that grows in wet places—before winter sets in.

Logan Thomas stands near willows on his ranch as he describes how water is vital -- and a limited resource -- for livestock and wildlife in

Logan Thomas stands near willows on his ranch as he describes how water is vital — and a limited resource — for livestock and wildlife in Idaho’s dry sagebrush range. Photo: Brianna Randall

Seth, 34, and Logan, 28, have been ranching since they were knee-high. Their father, Bob, bought ranchland in southwestern Idaho in 1996. Now, along with their father, the brothers run the Thomas Cattle Company, which they’ve since expanded.

All told, the ranch stretches across 150,000 acres of private land, state leased lands and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing allotments. The rangelands they manage stretch from 2,600 feet in elevation along the Snake River up to 7,000 feet in the Owyhee Mountains straddling the border of Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.

Seth Thomas describes how their ranch has partnered with SGI to remove encroaching conifers on over 4,000 acres, improving sagebrush range for wildlife and cattle.

Seth Thomas describes how their ranch has partnered with SGI to remove encroaching conifers on over 4,000 acres (including the land pictured behind him), improving sagebrush range for wildlife and cattle. Photo: Brianna Randall

Three years ago, the brothers approached the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to inquire about options for improving their agricultural operations as well as wildlife habitat.

“We want to show that we’re willing to take steps to improve things. We know that we have to take care of this land, make it better, so it can support us and our kids for generations to come,” says Logan.

Read the full story >>

Read more success stories from SGI ranchers >>

Learn how Seth and Logan are working with SGI to improve water, grass, and other natural resources to benefit wildlife and livestock on their ranch in southwestern Idaho.

Ed Contreras, SGI field conservationist, talks about how Seth and Logan Thomas spread the word among neighbors about opportunities for improving their operations and the sagebrush landscape. 

 

The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.