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The heart of a ranch was a coyote

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Dear HCN:

Sid Goodloe's reliance upon wild turkeys to keep grasshoppers down and to fluff the forest floor (HCN, 4/15/96) to help it burn reminds me of a similar situation involving coyotes on a mountain ranch near Chiloquin, Ore.

Through befriending a coyote they later named Don Coyote, the Dayton Hyde family was led to finding how to restore their land to a healthy condition with predators as a key ingredient. And in a time when many family ranches have failed, the restoration made their family ranch, the Yamsi, a paying proposition.

After years of typical hit-and-miss traditional ranching, weathering droughts, hard freezes and insect and rodent infestation, Hyde ran into Don Coyote. His ranch had never lost many cattle to coyotes, so they were tolerated. Not fearing the Hydes, Don Coyote built a den under an old bulldozer. Hyde left the dozer in place for nearly a year. The animal started following him around, and he noticed its diet was primarily composed of voles, ground squirrels, field mice and rabbits - all the bane of forage grasses that his cattle depended upon.

Although Don Coyote lost his leg and tail to a hunter, he survived, and led Hyde to think of his ranch in a broader way. The rancher started to think of other natural elements he might have overlooked. He rehabilitated a prehistoric lake on the property, whose waters held heat into cold nights and created a warmer microclimate on the ranch, which helped fend off killing frosts. Native grasses returned to fatten his cattle more than the exotics had done.

In a series of drought years, Hyde's ranch flourished. The lake and marshes attracted swans and thousands of migrating birds. Raptors took up residence, and field mice, voles, ground squirrels and insects were never again a problem.

Livestock production doubled in the last 20 years, and in 1994, the Hydes were given the National Cattlemen's Association annual Environmental Stewardship Award for the entire Northwest. As far as Hyde is concerned, the coyotes were the key to it all. "I thought of the other species on the ranch," he said. "Without the flickers, badgers, trout, deer or chipmunks, the ranch would have still flourished. But if I took away the coyotes, the whole system fell apart. They were as necessary as any tool I owned."

R.E. Baird

Boulder, Colorado

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