Robert Stoll is a retired civil engineer who was looking to find a safe and productive place for his investment funds in the mid-1990s. He saw an advertisement for a cattle ranch in Hells Canyon, and it intrigued him.
“Finally I got a tour, and I decided right then that it was pretty interesting and that this place has a lot of potential,” he said.
Stoll is an avid chukar hunter, so he was excited about owning a ranch in Hells Canyon, a place that’s known for great chukar hunting. But he also liked the idea of owning a well-managed cattle ranch right on the edge of the Joseph Plains. The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, all 652,488 acres of it, is his next-door neighbor.
Stoll also has a spectacular view out the back door of his ranch, where he can peer into the deepest gorge in North America.
“I think it’s fascinating,” he says. “It’s a totally unique place. I love coming down here. It’s peaceful and quiet, turkeys run through the front yard, there’s been a bear coming down the road toward the house, and the elk have been running through here. And the deer are all over the place. Lots of fringe benefits. It’s a really neat experience.”
Marianne Lindsey is the ranch manager. She runs a cow-calf operation, raises yearling steers, and owns a big goat herd for controlling weeds.
The cattle herd grazes on perennial grasses at the home ranch during the fall, winter and spring. They use a deferred-rotation grazing system to keep the range healthy.
“The bunchgrass and the fescue, they’re the lifeblood of this river country,” Lindsay says. “It has nutrition to it, it stands up through the snow, the cattle can still eat it, and if you don’t have that, you don’t have a lot of forage for all winter long.”
Lindsey rents out her goats in the summer to control weeds around private homes and to reduce fire danger. She stays pretty busy managing the goats and the livestock, and always working to improve the ranch. “Marianne has done more than I’ve asked for here, along with trying to manage her goats, and cattle,” Stoll says. “You’ve got a full-time job with that, let alone the restoration and what have you.”
Lindsey likes the lifestyle. “I just ride my horse and have a picnic lunch every day,” she jokes.
“My family thinks I’m crazy. They quit worrying about me, I guess. It’s not for everybody. It’s a pretty tough life, really. I have two-three young men who help me. Between Bob being a good person to work with who has the same goals, and I’m only as good as my guys and my dog, other than that, I try to put it all together and make everything work for me.”
Stoll and Lindsey are always trying to improve the ranch for cattle and wildlife.
“What’s good for the range is good for just about everything,” Stoll says. “I particularly like to hunt birds, and it’s good habitat — good for the wildlife, the chukars, the huns and the quail. They’re like a little added whipped cream on a piece of pie here.”
Carl Crabtree, supervisor of the Idaho County Weed Management program, said it’s great to see an investor such as Stoll support a well-managed ranch and also work to make it better.
“We used to see investors coming in as kind of a negative deal,” Crabtree explains. “A lot of times they’ll get rid of the livestock, and they let the weeds grow. And then they sell the place, and leave it in a condition that’s a lot worse than when they found it.”
“I see Bob and others like him coming in as more of a positive thing, he continued. They’re injecting some cash into the area, which is good, they want to be good neighbors and good stewards. I think the ones coming in now are a good breed that will help rangelands for the future.”
— Steve Stuebner is the writer and producer of Life on the Range, www.lifeontherange.org, an educational project sponsored by the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission.