Vic Stokes, a fifth generation Methow Valley rancher, is learning the art of stewardship. He grows alfalfa on his 1600 acres of privately owned land and grazes his cattle on the local Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest. Because the Stokes’s livelihood hinges upon access to healthy forest, Vic and his wife Carrie are acutely conscious to the physical impact left by their herd. As Forest Service biologist John Rohrer explained, cows are neither natural nor well suited to forest ecosystems—they threaten delicate riparian zones and increase soil erosion. For this reason, grazing on National Forest is a point of contention between environmentalists and ranchers.
Vic Stokes believes that ranching is integral to the cultural and economic character of the Methow community. However, ranchers must strike a balance between making a living and fostering a healthy forest. The Stokes’ regularly consult with a range specialist and have worked with local land trusts to set up conservation easements for their ranch, thereby ensuring its future use as agricultural land. Vic remains resolute in his conviction that when practiced with attention to ecological limits, grazing can improve the resilience and stability of the range. As the Stokes family has learned, the path of a land steward is often rocky. Yet, between the bumps in the road, there is fidelity to both family tradition and Methow Valley homeland. Vic explained: “I chose my path. I chose to ranch.”