A coming-of-age memoir that illuminates the pleasures and problems of running a conservation-oriented sheep and cattle ranch.
After college, with no clear direction for his future, Andrews took a summer job as a ranch hand on Sun Ranch, a 25,000-acre property in Montana. The ranch “straddles one of the most important wildlife corridors in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” The farm animals cohabitated with grizzly bears, massive elk herds and, more problematically, wolves. The guiding idea of the venture “was to integrate ranching into a functional, natural ecosystem.” The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 presented a recurring threat to the cattle and therefore the economic viability of the ranch. Park officials tracked local wolf packs with radio collars as they tracked elk. The local pack grew in numbers, and in 2003, when the elk sought higher ground, the wolves began preying on the hundreds of sheep being used for weed control. The USDA gunned them down from a helicopter, but a new wolf pack replaced them. Andrews looks back on the painful task of dealing with another pack of wolves that was picking off the cattle. The ranch was owned by a millionaire whom the author describes as “a well-intentioned conservationist and an avid fisherman.” Neither he nor Andrews, who was born in Seattle, were native to the area, but both loved it passionately. The problem was that even after combining ranching with ecotourism, the venture was a money-loser. The only way for the owner to make up the difference was to sell a portion to developers. Andrews spent a year on the ranch, toughening up in the process and finding his vocation as a writer on outdoor subjects and as a conservationist ranch manager.
An evocative, poetic account of rugged terrain, the men and animals who inhabited it, and the complex realities of sustainable agriculture.