Della Ranches Box Country, Utah

Tanner Family

‘We have to be sustainable in our grazing practice and we feel like we have a good story to tell, we need to protect the resources we have.’ 33

– Jay Tanner

Della Ranches is located in Box Elder County in Utah. The ranch “runs about 1,000 cattle on 192,000 acres of private, state and federally owned lands.” 34 The origins of the cattle operation can be traced back to the 1870’s and the ranch has been nationally recognized for its work in improving sage grouse habitat, encouraging conservation partnerships and successful restoration of wetlands and other riparian areas.

“For several months out of the year, Utah State University students study and track a population of sage grouse at Della Ranches, learning conservation methods to help the imperiled species not only survive, but thrive. Elsewhere on the sprawling property, [owner] Jay Tanner has made it his mission to create water resources for his cattle away from natural springs and streams, helping to reduce agricultural contamination of the water. It’s a steady chore as well to remove or chemically treat the brushes and Juniper trees that hog the ground and deprive the ability of natural grasses to flourish.

Keeping the range land at Della Ranches in healthy condition not only helps the cattle Tanner runs, but provides important habitat for the wildlife that routinely visit, such as deer herds…. ‘We are trying in the beef community, not only us, to improve water quality, keep our creeks and streams and riparian areas functioning properly and keep the water as clean as possible,’ Tanner said. ‘We think we are having some beneficial impact.’

Tanner’s approach includes the redistribution of water on his property, making improvements to the riparian areas and routinely regulating the time and duration of cattle grazing to minimize impacts to the land. A 10-mile pipeline on his property helps to spread the cattle away from the streams and those riparian areas.

Tanner is president of the community culinary water system and said as caretaker of that system, it is his responsibility to ensure that the small community of about 80 residents has a dependable and clean supply of water… ‘As we plan our water systems, make these improvements and keep the cattle away from the streams, we know that is a benefit to the wildlife as well,’ he said. Tanner admits he is stickler for details in his operation, right down to the wildlife-friendly mixture of grasses and broad-leafed plants he puts in the ground. ‘The nature of what we do requires that we understand range science, know a little about agronomy and animal science,’ he said. ‘I am not an expert in any of those areas, but for our business we have to have knowledge of those types of things.’

His ranch also becomes an annual outdoor classroom for a group of USU students conducting field studies on the sage grouse, a finicky breeder that has seen its natural habitat and numbers decimated by urban encroachment, wildfires and predation. ‘You can imagine with a name like Grouse Creek that would indicate that we are in the center of a sage grouse population,’ he said. The study that springs from Della Ranches has been going on for nearly a decade, with researchers attempting to learn more about the animals’ nesting patterns, biological threats and causes of death. Jeff Scheck, a district conservationist with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, said Della Ranches is an example of stewardship that has not only made the cattle operation more efficient, but improved wildlife habitat in general and the sage grouse population in particular.” 35

33 Amy Joi O’Donoghue. Della Ranches: Working the range the environmental way, 24 February 2012. Deseret News Website. (Accessed 21 June 2013)
34 35 Idem