Matters of Scale

One morning in February, Stevens drove me into the Pioneers east of Carey. We passed ranches with impressive gates and fields marked by wire fencing. Grass stems poked from crusted snow. “I think the biggest misunderstanding of collaborative approaches is that the arc goes something like this,” said Stevens. “Very different people learn to trust and like each other. They develop a common vision and achieve it together. But that doesn’t happen often. People are rooted in their own perspective, and you’re not going to change that. You’ve got a fourth-generation Mormon rancher from Carey. The expectation isn’t that he gives up any part of his identity while he works with someone from an urban environment with a completely different worldview.”

Even if ranchers in Carey shared a part of Stevens’s and the Beans’ philosophy, it is unlikely they would have the means to implement it on the same scale. This is a criticism Stevens hears frequently. “I work with a real recognition that we have it really good—that not everyone can do what we’ve done,” he said. Likewise, people will ask Stevens if Lava Lake is a “model.” He calls it the M word. “I don’t fundamentally believe in models,” he told me. “They’re a very linear, point-driven approach.” He considers the ranch to be a distinct case from which others may draw ideas and inspiration.

Stevens stopped the truck where the snow grew deep and flattened a map on the hood. He pointed to the east, to where he lost the first sheep in 2002, then slightly north, to the bottom of the Muldoon Basin. There, several years ago, he helped load lambs into a truck bound south. Jim Peterson, the rancher who owned the operation previously, was there. After the lambs had been loaded, Peterson shoved his shepherd’s staff toward Stevens, insisting that he take it. “I will never get higher praise,” said Stevens. “We weren’t going to see eye to eye on wolves, but he still cared about those lambs.”

Sierra Crane-Murdoch is a writer based in Colorado. On her way home from reporting this story, she found a dead-end road on the Idaho-Utah border and slept in the back of her car. She woke, just past midnight, to a pack of wolves howling a few dozen yards away.

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