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“Is The Way Cattle Are Grazed The Key To Saving America’s Prairies?”

“An unlikely alliance of ranchers and conservationists is working to find the best way to preserve biodiversity on grassland in Oregon”

“In the north-east corner of Oregon there is a traffic jam of weathered pickups and horse trailers on the Zumwalt Road. Redwing blackbirds trill over the bellowing of hundreds of cattle clustered by corrals, the sign of a spring branding in progress. Half a dozen cowgirls and cowboys on horseback circle the herd, lassoing calves for brands, vaccinations and, for the steers, castration. The smell of singed hair hangs in the warm air.

Standing in the centre of the scrum is Dan Probert, owner of Lightning Creek Ranch. Probert, 56, smiles as he watches the roping teams deftly manoeuvre his animals.

After branding, Probert’s Angus cross herd will be turned out on Lightning Creek’s pastures as part of an ambitious partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) designed to protect the Zumwalt prairie, the largest surviving native bunchgrass prairie in North America.

The high, rolling Zumwalt, which stretches 500 square miles (1,295 sq km) between the glaciated Wallowa Mountains and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, is gouged by rivers that plunge into Hells Canyon, forming Oregon’s border with Idaho. This diverse ecosystem supports key populations of raptors, songbirds, bees, butterflies and rare native plants, along with elk herds and other wildlife.”

Lynne Curry reports for the Guardian August 19, 2020, with photographs by Leon Werdinger.