November 14, 2018|By Emily Korest
The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States and in the world. Peering over the rim to see the vibrant sandstone walls and the meandering Colorado River a mile below is the highlight of many a vacation (in fact, Grand Canyon National Park is the second most visited national park in the U.S.). Most of these visitors, though, are viewing the sweeping landscapes from the South Rim. The North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is barely 30 miles farther north, but this region feels much more remote because it is less accessible and is visited by only 10% of all Grand Canyon visitors. 

11 14 North Rim Sunset cAnimesh KumarNorth Rim Sunset. Photo by Animesh Kumar.

While the North Rim is emptier in terms of tourists, it’s a place with a long history of ranching along the edges of these public lands. Ranching and grazing in the area started in the mid-1800s and continues to this day, and government-issued permits allow nearby ranchers to continue graze livestock in national parks. 

Central to our story are the Kane and Two Mile ranches, which have functioned as working ranches since the mid-1800's. Kane and Two Mile were originally separate operations, but they merged into a single working unit known as K2M. 

11 14 Corral Grand Canyon TrustCorrals at the former Two Mile Ranch. Photo by Grand Canyon Trust.

Mike Ford, The Conservation Fund’s Nevada and Southwest Director, first heard about the Kane and Two Mile ranches while working for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and he has been interested in them ever since. He lovingly referred to them as a “donut-hole” of private land in the center of a “donut” of protected public lands made up of various national parks and monuments. 

11 14 Kane Ranch MapThe Kane and Two Mile ranches lie in the heart of a vast system of conservation lands. They merged andcollectively became known as the K2M. The property is now referred to as the North Rim Ranches.

In 2004, Ford learned the current owner was planning on selling K2M. The Fund jumped at the opportunity to avoid having the ranch parceled out to various local grazing operators and the numerous inholdings sold for cabin sites. The damage from numerous small operators, each anxious to maximize grazing use, would have been devastating.  

Partnering with a local nonprofit, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Fund pursued purchasing the expansive property and grazing rights, hoping it could become our first foray into sustainable ranching. We successfully applied for funding from the newly created land conservation organization Acres for America—a joint effort between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Walmart—and the Kane and Two Mile Ranches became one of the first projects Acres for America ever funded. 

Overgrazing was a serious issue on the land and had degraded the landscape. Previous grazing practices had harmed native flora and fauna, negatively impacted the creeks and riverbeds, and allowed invasive species to take over. Although some might have preferred grazing practices to be completely halted on the lands, federal grazing permits cannot be retired and are legally required to be held by someone in the cattle raising business. With that in mind, we created North Rim Ranches LLC along with the Grand Canyon Trust to continue sustainable livestock operations on these lands. 

North Rim Ranches began working on strategies to repair and restore the landscape. The first initiative was to decrease the amount of cattle kept on the lands by half through special governmental permits, but decreasing the number of animals alone could not rehabilitate some of the lands. Ranchers used research on each individual pasture to find the best way to help all parts of the 830,000 acres of grazing lands. Some overgrazed areas were closed to grazing completely to allow them to recover. Closed areas also included fragile creek and river corridors and notable archeological sites. The rest of the lands are now grazed using a rest-rotational style, giving every pasture at least every other year off and ensuring that all of these lands are grazed at 20% to 50% of their previous rates, allowing native plants to flourish and wildlife to return. 

11 14 CowboyA rancher on horseback at the North Rim Ranches. Photo by Ed Grumbine.

 Next, Grand Canyon Trust created the Research and Stewardship Partnership, bringing in federal organizations, nearby universities, and various other nonprofits to plan and manage these unique lands in the best way possible. This partnership has sponsored research on topics ranging from sustainable livestock management to climate change adaptation. It also focuses on educational opportunities, increasing access to these landscapes for students of all ages.

“We’ve certainly had victories in terms of our grazing. We’ve been able to keep the number of cows down and our ranching partner is making a living. Our research projects have results that are actually getting through to the managers. So those are all victories, but in this kind of work there is no end game. You know, what’s a victory today is a challenge tomorrow and opportunity to create another chapter and another victory story. When that book is over there is another volume in the series, but the scenery is pretty.

- Ed Grumbine, North Rim Ranches Program Director for The Grand Canyon Trust

This first foray into sustainable ranching has paved the way for our many other sustainable ranching pursuits. The North Rim Ranches continue to operate, with the ranchers able to support themselves as well as the continuing and growing research and educational opportunities. Mike Ford summed up the importance of this project to the Fund and conservation as a whole, saying, “At The Conservation Fund we have always embraced, from day one and to this day, balancing economic development with conservation. This project is exactly what we do. We are all about balance and we are all about innovation and creativity and doing things that folks never imagine possible, and we’re all about partnerships. North Rim Ranches achieved all of those things and I am immensely proud of it.”


Click here to read more about Mike Ford and the story of our work on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. 

Read Emily’s first post in this series: Ensuring Our Nation’s History Will Not Be Forgotten: Minidoka National Historic Site.
The wrongful incarceration of over 100,000 Japanese Americans—two thirds of whom were natural born U.S. citizens—during World War II is one of the darkest pages of our country’s history. Sites like Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho help memorialize the stories and struggles of Japanese Americans imprisoned without due process so that future generations can learn from these injustices. Emily interviewed the conservationists responsible for protecting and almost tripling the lands at Minidoka in 2008—adding historic structures like the fire station, mess halls, and barracks.