Collaborative Ranching in the Methow Valley

Vic Stokes sat comfortably in his camp chair and joked with students around him over his bowl of chili. He deferred introductions to his wife, Carrie, who animatedly told everyone that she had been his first date. With bright eyes and big hand gestures, Vic spoke about his life as a fourth generation rancher on public and private lands in the Methow Valley, Washington. Vic prefers the physical work of ranching, but finds himself pulled into the arenas of business, marketing, local, federal and environmental politics. Cattle grazing in the Methow has come under harsh scrutiny because of its detrimental impacts on watershed health, native fish and grasses. When cows graze in watersheds they tend to trample stream beds and eat riparian vegetation. This makes for increasingly poor fish habitat and stream health. Vic is well versed in the complexities of ranching and environmental policy. It was in the 1990’s that the NOAA fisheries program came to this region, “swinging a billy club in order to get people’s attention.”  Vic preemptively called together a group of ranchers and federal fisheries workers in order to begin solving stream health issues. He is devoted to land betterment, but wants it to happen collaboratively between ranchers, citizens, and the government. For him, the dichotomy between rancher and environmentalist isn’t real. Working landscapes are complex and their management needs to be place specific. For Vic, an effective rancher is an individual who, in the midst of livestock production, embraces collaboration, has an interdisciplinary skill set and is open to learning about the particular ecology of their grazing land.