Lamb, Lava Lake, and a Landscape

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:10/04/2011 Updated:03/23/2012

Making Working Wildlands Work for Conservation

This is part of our Lava Lake series.  Brian and Kathleen Bean’s family-owned ranch is located just southeast of Sun Valley where the Pioneer Mountains meet the Snake River Plain.  They own 24,000 acres and control 900,000 acres of grazing allotment lands.

In a relatively obscure area of south-central Idaho, encompassing the Pioneer Mountains to the north and extending to the Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve to the south, lies a ranching community and research enterprise unique in the annals of ranching history.  There, the goal of one extraordinary couple to build an ecologically viable ranching operation has evolved into the vision of creating a Great American Landscape - a “working wildland,” if you will.

With an operating area of nearly 1 million acres, Lava Ranch and its affiliated Lava Lake Institute is far too large to do justice to its rich history in a humble blog.  Nevertheless, with this post, we begin a series of vignettes of this special place to offer a little of the “texture” - to use Brian Bean’s expression - of the many stories enfolded within its hills. Lava Lake Ranch, courtesy of the Beans and

Economics Support Ecology

While the idea of embracing ecological function as an essential component for economic enterprise is gaining ground in America, Brian Bean and his wife Kathleen are taking the opposite approach:  using their financial acumen and conservation expertise to build a viable business operation capable of supporting functioning ecosystems.  This goal has led them into the terrain of community-based stewardship, branding their lamb products for access to a specialized market, and scientific research.   

As with other ranchers described in this blog, the Beans are acquiring land and grazing allotments, putting some of it under easement, restoring habitat, and have even branched out into consulting to share their hard-won knowledge.  

But that is only the beginning.

What makes Lava Lake Ranch special is its explicit goal of conservation on a “landscape” - or very large - scale. The founders set out to raise livestock in a way that would result in improved habitat for wildlife and protection of functioning ecosystems in their operating area.  That meant considering the grazing needs of wildlife species such as elk and deer, and figuring out how to co-exist with predators, including wolves. It’s an ongoing attempt to weave traditional sheep ranching with applied conservation strategies.

Lava Lake Ranch spawned the Lava Lake Institute for Science and Conservation in 2004, established to conserve and increase understanding of the wildlife and ecosystems of the Pioneer Mountains - Craters of the Moon Region.  What followed is a series of field studies in support of an adaptive management approach that has benefited wildlife of all kinds, particularly riparian bird species and sage grouse; charted a major migration pathway for pronghorn antelope; and led to a grand vision for permanently protecting working wildlands.

The entire Lava Lake Series:

Lamb, Lava Lake, and a Landscape
Making Working Wildlands Work for Conservation

Cowboys, Heroes and Family Roots
How a Childhood Working with Cattle Led an Investment Banker Back to a Working Ranch

Getting Grazing Right
Using High Tech Tools to Manage the Flock and Follow the Grazing Prescription

The Heroes are the Herders
The duty of all staff at Lava Lakes Ranch is to leave the landscape in better condition than they found it.

Ranching Side-by-Side with Wolves
An Ecological Philosophy of Ranching

Co-existence with Wolves Through Research
How using nonlethal methods of wolf control has decreased sheep predation by more than 90%

Pronghorn: Spirit of the Grasslands
Using pronghorn antelope as a charismatic species to engage communities in maintaining and reconnecting rangelands

Thin Economics and High Quality Fat
How grass fed meat can support health while sustaining western ecosystems

Stepwise to a Grand Vision in Idaho
The many ways that ranchers in Idaho are contributing to the conservation of a great American landscape.