Features & Stories
Cowboys and Curlews

"Curlews", he declared, " are personable birds, they'll greet you, they're easy to talk to, they're very likeable, they make you feel good." Is this man a dedicated birder completing his life list? Not at all. Arne Raven is spokesman for the Wolf Ranch, a working ranch in B.C. managed for conservation values as well as for cattle.

The original ranch, on the north side of the South Thompson River between Pritchard and Chase, dates to l876. It's gone through several owners and name changes. Called "Cultra Villa" by the Graham family, it's been the LK Ranch and Green Acres. Owned at one time by Buckerfields, it was purchased in l983 by Walter Wolf. The present ranch , combining six old homesteads, consists of 4,000 acres of deeded land and l,500 acres of grazing leases.

Most of the Wolf Ranch is open grassland with forest encroachment. It encompasses two climatic zones. It has river frontage along the South Thompson and lake frontage at Neskonlith Lake. Five hundred acres are irrigated for hay and alfalfa. The ranch runs 800 head of cattle.

The varied terrain on the Wolf Ranch provides habitat for many species, including mule deer and white tailed deer, moose, eagles, and coyotes. Since Arne came to the ranch fifteen years ago, several generations of black bears have grown up there. He estimates that there are at least sixteen bears on the place at any given time. Recently an actual wolf was seen wandering through. The owner and his family don't hunt and no hunting is allowed on the ranch.

But, back to curlews. The goal of the Wolf Ranch is to prove that grazing is compatible with conservation. The curlews seem to agree. Six to ten pairs of these tall, very visible birds nest on the ranch. "They come later than the killdeer," says Arne. 'Killdeer arrive some dark evening, stop over, then go on. The curlew come to stay." The presence of cows and cowboys doesn't appear to disturb them. In fact, in the spring of 2000, a pair of curlew mated while Arne changed irrigation pipe fifty feet away. Cattle grazing doesn't seem to damage their nests. Arne points out that low stubble is needed for the young ones and that adults bring their chicks onto hay fields after the first crop is cut. The birds go onto irrigated fields as well. "They seem sociable. When you move, they move; when you stop, they stop." Arne chuckles.

Curlews aren't the only special birds. Wolf Ranch is an enthusiastic supporter of the Kamloops Naturalist Club, which, since 1980, has maintained a blue-bird route along its northern perimeter. Records show that the bluebirds, once in decline, are making a strong comeback.

Flora as well as fauna receive consideration. Dr. Bert Brink, respected botanist, and former instructor in Range Management in the Faculty of Agriculture at U.B.C., has recognized some of the ranch as very significant for wild flowers. Steps, including possible fencing, are being taken to protect those areas. It's easier, Arne notes, to protect the deeded land than the grazing leases. Interestingly, cattle grazing does not appear to harm the flower meadows.

How did all this happen? Managing a ranch for values other than cattle and forage; actually including wild flora and fauna in long term plans; doesn't fit the public perception of ranching. Both Arne Raven and Walter Wolf see themselves as stewards of the grasslands. They refer to the Wolf Ranch as a multi-purpose, holistic ranch. Their plan is to keep the ranch as natural as possible, protecting habitats for other species, while maintaining it as a viable, working ranch.

Arne stresses that a ranch is not a park. The ranch must pay its way. Problem bears or coyote are dealt with.

Holistic ranching leads to partnerships. In 1999 the ranch decided to combat an erosion problem and to move its cattle away from the Thompson River foreshore. Once equipment was in place to water cattle away from the river, several miles of river front were fenced off, leaving an unfenced section of riparian zone. Arne contacted the South Thompson Watershed Committee. Forty volunteers from the Committee planted 2,000 willow whips and 2,000 fir and spruce trees, (the latter donated by Tolko and Weyco) along the river bank. The trees, aided by assiduous watering, thrived. Bank beaver were ecstatic. They cheerily munched the willow. This, Ruth Madsen of the S.T.W.C., says, is a good thing. "The willows had already taken root, so two or three new shoots will grow for every one chomped off!" The new wildlife river corridor is a success.

Ruth was enthusiastic about the ranchers who are involved in watershed and grassland conservation. "We're learning so much together about understanding ecosystems and becoming good stewards of the land."

The Wolf Ranch isn't the only one in the Interior where, quietly, without fuss, or publicity, ranchers are going about their business, raising cattle while protecting other species. As human population continues to grow, occupying scarce land, and human activities infringe on animal habitat on crown land, the Wolf Ranch and others managed for natural values are not just important, but essential in maintaining meaningful populations of wild animals, birds and plants.

The logo of the Grasslands Conservancy is a curlew. "But", as Arne stated at a planning meeting, " unless we have grassland, and, in the B.C. Interior, most grasslands are grazed, there will be no curlew. Not only government land is protected. People must recognize there's protection on private land, too" Government representatives acknowledged he was right.

What's the future of the Wolf Ranch? Well, not sub-division or major development. As Canadians, the Wolf family takes great pride in protecting environments suitable for the wild creatures on their land. Plans are that it will be a working ranch in perpetuity, with consideration for all the flora and fauna. It will continue to be a place where cows, curlews and cowboys co-exist.

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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