Homesteading at the turn of the twentieth century brought ranching to the Boulder-White Clouds. Like other families who settled Idaho, the Baker family began ranching a century ago along the East Fork of the Salmon River in the White Clouds. Six generations of Bakers have lived and worked along the East Fork. “My husband’s family, my brother-in-law and his father know every inch of this country,” said Melodie Baker. “We love it. We care for it. We want to see it continue in the same kind of operation, the same way of life, and the style that it has always been…It’s about the way we should be raising our kids and everything. That’s what makes this place so special.”
As ranchers, the Bakers are embroiled in two national controversies. Livestock grazing is the single largest use of public lands in the United States. When frost or snow is not on the ground, the Bakers, who hold some of the 22 grazing allotments in the Boulder-White Clouds, graze their cattle on the public lands near their ranch. In Idaho, grazing allotments on state land are auctioned off every ten years. On federal land, there are no grazing allotment auctions. Instead, ranchers pay $1.35 per month to graze a cow and a calf, and sheepherders pay 27 cents a month to graze one sheep.
Recently, environmentalists began bidding on state grazing allotments and encouraging Congressional legislation to authorize the voluntary buyout and permanent retirement of federal grazing permits with federal funds through the National Public Lands Grazing Campaign. “I think ranching, first of all, is not economic,” said advocate of the buyout program Jon Marvel. “It requires tremendous government subsidies. We should be realistic about that, and not choose to continue that. But maybe provide a way out financially for ranchers. I think that we should provide a way so that they do not have to subdivide their land and clutter up the landscape.”
At the same time that ranchers began grazing their livestock on public lands, the eradication campaign of the gray wolf in the Boulder-White Clouds was underway. The gray wolf was considered to be a threat to the livestock industry and a dangerous predator. Though the gray wolf was once the most widespread predator in the West, it was one of the first species to be listed on the Endangered Species Act of 1973. After 20 years of proposals to re-introduce the gray wolf into the Boulder-White Clouds, the federal government released 35 wolves in Central Idaho during 1995 and 1996. Today, there are as many as 300 wolves in Central Idaho, including three packs in the Boulder-White Clouds.
The management of the gray wolf in the Boulder-White Clouds has been fiercely debated since the $17 million re-introduction program began. Ranchers, who opposed the re-introduction of the gray wolf, have lost calves every year since the gray wolf was re-introduced in the Boulder-White Clouds. The director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council, Lynne Stone, supports the re-introduction program. She said, “they will continue to struggle until Idahoans find room in their heart to accept them as a predator who belongs here and was here originally.”
According to Cliff Hansen, who is a rancher and Custer County Commissioner,
the re-introduction of the gray wolf and the Endangered Species Act have
crippled ranching in Custer County. “At this particular time, I
would not advise anyone to go into the ranching business,” said
Hansen. “You can read that anyway you want.”