For Tony and Jerrie Tipton, a couple in their 40s who live in a trailer and run cattle on public land in the Toiyabe Mountains of central Nevada, it is the best of times.
For their neighbor Paul Inchauspe, a
69-year-old Basque sheepherder who came from the old country alone
in his 20s and built up a ranching empire, it is the worst of
Environmentalists have targeted
Inchauspe's grazing allotment as a test case, says Dan Heinz of
American Wildlands and the Sierra Club. "The land is beat to shit,"
And after years of getting along with
the ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management is going along with
environmentalists. Inchauspe's grazing permit is being cut by 64
percent this spring.
Inchauspe is a self-made
millionaire who started with a small flock of sheep. Not
surprisingly, he resents outsiders meddling in his family business.
He has had angry confrontations with environmentalists and the BLM
range conservationist who oversees his allotment.
The allotment covers the entire broad-shouldered
northwest end of the Toiyabe Mountains and takes in five streams,
which have cut banks up to 12 feet deep through dying aspen groves
and weedy, dried-up meadows before reaching the Reese River. The
allotment is 28 miles long and 10 miles wide from the river to the
crest of the range. A 1993 interagency commission concluded that
Iowa Creek which runs through the allotment "is in a complete state
Just across Highway 50, south of
the small mining town of Austin, Nev., the Tiptons have been
allowed to run up to four times the number of cows officially
listed on their grazing permit. The Forest Service and the BLM have
encouraged them in an experiment to restore overgrazed rangeland.
And environmentalists have gone along.
Tiptons' allotment runs in a narrow one to three mile strip for 20
miles along the steep, lightly forested western slope of the
Toiyabes. It also crosses five beat-up streams and a spring that is
the source of drinking water for the town of Austin.
The Tiptons encourage outside interest in their
operation. They are using a consensus-style management group to try
to balance the need to repair damaged ecosystems with their need to
make a living. They are often cited by environmentalists and
agencies as ranchers who are trying to make a
The two ranches run livestock on some
of the same public land. In early summer, Inchauspe's sheep move
through the Tiptons' Forest Service allotment along the crest of
the Toiyabes. But they are at opposite ends of range reform. The
Tiptons are bending regulations in the name of environmental
restoration; the Inchauspes are resisting environmental regulation
and facing cutbacks.
The two families are living
in a whirlwind, if not a revolution. Never has so much attention
been paid to these remote Nevada ranches. How families such as
these deal with the scrutiny and the changes will determine the
success or failure of range reform in the Great
Inchauspes live in a weathered stone house nestled between two
forks of Silver Creek at the north end of the Toiyabe Range,
surrounded by cottonwoods and lilacs, stone barns, farm equipment,
and sheep pens of roughhewn timbers. A sign hangs by the front door
reading "Ongi etthori' - -welcome" in Basque.
Dressed in a sweat-stained cowboy hat, blue
jeans mended in a dozen places and beat-up work boots, Paul
Inchauspe extends a rough handshake as he introduces his wife
Grace, daughters Pauline and Eveline, and granddaughter Katrina.
The family sits around a dining room table surrounded by icons of
the old country. A carved wooden relief of a Basque sheepherder in
wooden clogs hangs on the wall.
A younger son in
a family of seven, Paul Inchauspe left France after World War II to
herd sheep for an uncle in eastern Nevada. After just three years,
Inchauspe began leasing sheep to build a flock of his own; when he
came back from a visit to the Basque country with a wife, his uncle
offered to become partners with the Inchauspes in the Silver Creek
Over the years, the Inchauspes saved
money, bought more land and grazing permits on public land, and
became one of the biggest permittees in Nevada. The names of the
shepherds who have worked for them - Basques, Peruvians and
Mexicans - are carved on the aspen trees in the surrounding
In 1986, Inchauspe bought out his
uncle and cousins. Now that he owns the ranch free and clear, he
says, "They want to take it all away."
sets in the lines of his sun-darkened face. "See that pile of
papers telling us how to run the ranch," he says, pointing to an
inch-thick document his daughter Pauline brings from an office in
the next room. "We know how to run the ranch."
The document is an "emergency" BLM decision
forcing the Inchauspes to cull two-thirds of their herd of 2,400
cows and calves. The agency is also cutting four winter months from
the Silver Creek Ranch's yearlong permit and tightening the
schedule for moving the cattle and 3,000 sheep through the
quarter-million-acre Austin allotment. The BLM has been under
steady pressure from environmentalists and agency biologists to
change management on the allotment. The agency's own blue-ribbon
commission recommended "complete rest for a few years," followed by
"an intensive holistic management plan for grazing."
"The land is forgiving up to a point," says
Swede Erickson, a Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist.
"Unfortunately, we passed that point. It's time to make a stand."
The BLM's "full force and effect" decision means
immediate changes, regardless of whether the Inchauspes appeal the
agency's ruling. So the Inchauspes are pulling in, selling off
cattle, and planning to sue the BLM in federal court.
"It's pretty hard to swallow, what they're doing
and the way they treat us," says Inchauspe. "We've been good for
the country. And they kick us in the ass. They don't need us. I
spend all my life building this. Now the kids take over and there's
no future in it. Maybe it's better to forget the whole deal, it'll
be so bad here. You could hardly make a living at it."
"We were lucky we started when we did," says
Grace. "The only thing Paul had was the will to work. And somebody
took a chance on us. Hopefully, the girls can hang on."
But 35-year-old Pauline is not hopeful. "I'd
just as soon get a job washing dishes," she says. "There's no
future in ranching."
miles south along the west side of the Toiyabe Mountains, Tony and
Jerrie Tipton live in a beat-up trailer beside Big Creek, just
downstream from a popular Forest Service campground. A tangle of
portable metal corrals is the only other sign of settlement.
In the early 1900s, there was a mining camp of
1,000 people here, Tony says, as he leads us through a dusty patch
of sagebrush to the creek. "They farmed the hell out of it," he
The Tiptons reconstruct the town in words,
describing the headgates for irrigation ditches, the gardens and
field crops that depleted the soil during the short-lived boom, and
the decades of grazing that led to the six-foot banks of Big Creek.
Then they point out plants growing along the creek, the beginnings
of a restored watershed, they say.
is a reconstructed Sagebrush Rebel. He once shoved a BLM employee
against a wall in an argument over a grazing form. Now he is the
Nevada rancher whom Toiyabe National Forest Supervisor Jim Nelson
points to as a positive example of "change on the range."
The great-granddaughter of an Arizona pioneer,
Jerrie has played a big part in Tony's
"My grandfather said if you don't
improve you don't deserve to stay," Jerrie says. "I believe we have
rights. But if we are not stewards we have none." Jerrie's family
has been involved with Allan Savory's Holistic Resource Management
Institute in Arizona. Her sister works as a facilitator with
consensus groups around the West.
use "holistic resource management" techniques, the Tiptons are
trying to shed the label. "You know how it is when someone finds a
religion and tries to convince you?" Tony says. "When someone does
that to me I shell up. HRM makes people's hair stand up on their
backs. We're trying to drop any denomination."
Although Jerrie grimaces, Tony talks about
"ground that needs you to beat the hell out of it." He says, "I
think we should have cattle out there for no charge."
"A cow used the right way can create great
things," Jerrie agrees.
"I try not to say cows
and grazing anymore," Tony responds, a sly grin belying his poker
face. "We have formed a vision and goals and a time frame," he
continues seriously. "We're out there trying to create that."
Under a five-year memorandum of understanding
with the Forest Service and BLM, the Tiptons are grazing from 600
to 1,000 leased cattle on their 21,000 acre allotment, using
"short-duration, high-intensity grazing." Cows are bunched together
and herded frequently through different fenced pastures along the
steep slopes of the Toiyabes.
The Tiptons say
they're making progress but losing money. They have sold most of
their private land. They talk of starting a nonprofit and seeking
grants for restoration projects.
is supervised by agency range conservationists and a consensus
group called the Toiyabe Watershed and Wetlands Management Team,
which meets quarterly in Austin. Anyone can attend. The BLM and
Forest Service range managers who oversee the Tiptons' allotment
are always there. State wildlife biologist Swede Erickson is
usually there. So is Betsy Macfarlan, executive director of the
Nevada Cattlemen's Association. There are often other ranchers and
range consultants who are curious about the group. The Tiptons have
personally invited just about every environmentalist in Nevada.
Some have attended meetings. But none participate regularly.
Agency range managers say they are seeing
improvements on the ground. The agencies have issued "findings of
no significant impact" to allow the group free rein. But they are
withholding final judgment until the end of the five-year
experiment, in 1996.
"We're looking for a way to
make this work," says Forest Service District Ranger Dayle
Flanigan. "It's important for the big perspective, not just this
piece of ground. We have to get to the point where we're all in
this together and not separated and isolated out here. I know with
Tony and Jerrie we're all in this together."
far, the Tiptons are the only ranchers in the area not to appeal
their allotment management plan. "For that alone it's a success
story as far as the BLM and Forest Service are concerned," says
Tony. "They could go back to being resource managers instead of
making book for a lawsuit."
these two ranches so different?
by a different set of rules," says Pauline Inchauspe, when I ask
her about the Tiptons. "He talks their talk." Now the BLM wants to
impose holistic resource management on their ranch, she
"He ain't got no rules," says her father.
"If he don't show improvement, he's out. Five years from now, he
won't be around."
Pauline has never wanted to do
anything other than work on the ranch. Now, she says, she regrets
not going to college to learn how to "talk the talk" of
"utilization and endangered species." There "may be some validity"
to criticism of the condition of their range but "you have to look
at wild horses that are there all year," she says. "We try to
The Inchauspes have taken cuts
before. Over the years, their permit has been slashed in half even
before the most recent cut.
won't do a thing," Tony Tipton says when I ask about the BLM's plan
for the Inchauspes. "That's the worst thing they could do to
succeed. The saddest part is the resource won't improve. And the
BLM knows it won't improve. But it's the only stick they've got."
"They need to develop their communication
skills," he says. "Them and the rancher. They're like a mad cow.
You piss it off, it won't see the open gate. It'll break down the
fence. We've done that to environmentalists and agencies have done
it to ranchers. You need to take people through the process. It
goes back to communication and trust."
Heinz, who has been organizing environmentalists to put pressure on
the BLM, it's not the process but the results that matter. "Systems
don't work," he says. "People do. If it makes people pay more
attention, get out there on the land, it'll
"I like the Tiptons," says Heinz. "They're
working their hearts out. I'm for giving them leeway. But not
The Inchauspes, on the other
hand, are "real primitive in their husbandry," says Heinz. "They
just turn them loose. That's their business. But we shouldn't have
to sacrifice public land because that is the way they choose to do
Some of the differences between the
Inchauspes and the Tiptons come down to the land. A lot of the
country in the two allotments looks similar, says Bill Lutjens, the
BLM range conservationist in charge of both allotments. But the
Inchauspe's allotment covers nearly a quarter-million acres with
"competing multiple uses' such as wild horses and sage grouse
strutting grounds. The Tipton's have a "small allotment without a
lot of controversy."
Fresh out of college and on
the job for just a year, Lutjens says he has learned that a range
con's job involves managing people as much as managing resources.
Lutjens says that "if everyone can walk away and feel they've had
an impact and see changes on the ground," such as with the Tipton's
consensus group, "it's definitely more positive. It means less time
The BLM tried a cooperative scheme
with the Inchauspes, but it didn't work, Lutjens says. "It is
specific to the individual players involved." The Inchauspes are
"hard cases," he says. "I've bent them about as far as I can."
"We can reduce numbers and require rest but we
can't force a change in management," says Dayle Flanigan, the
Forest Service district ranger who works with both families. He
adds that the Inchauspes do a fine job of managing their sheep on
the forest but he doesn't have to deal with their
There has never before
been so much attention paid to these remote ranches, and nobody
seems to know now what works best here.
A cut in
the number of livestock allowed on a grazing permit doesn't
necessarily lead to a change in the way ranchers see their land and
manage their livestock. Cutbacks may be necessary in the short
term. But they usually lead to court, often to stalemate, and not
yet, at least, to long-term solutions for people who live on the
Consensus is clearly no easy path either.
Even where controversy is limited, the results may not be enough to
satisfy everyone, especially those who refuse to come to the table.
Meanwhile, environmentalists have chosen to
remain outsiders at a time when they have an opportunity to become
insiders in range reform at the grass roots. They prefer to stay
behind the agencies, picking their battles strategically.
In the midst of all of this, the Inchauspes and
the Tiptons anxiously face the future more uncertain than ever
about what they're doing on the land.
Inchauspe worries that she will lose the ranch she grew up on in a
struggle she cannot understand. "All we can do is prolong," she
says. "If you win one battle, there will be another around the
corner. And the war you'll never win."
Tipton worries that even though he has completely changed himself
and his ways, what he is doing is still not sustainable. "It's hard
to keep losing money," he says. "I can bust my butt and make a
better environment. And I can have nothing that will allow me to
stay. Then what incentive do you have to improve the resource?"