Gary Price has been a lot of things in his life: husband, father, logger, excavator, rancher and long-time conservationist. He’s 85 years old, has lived in the Grande Ronde Valley for decades and still loves it.
“I’d been logging in the Idaho panhandle country, and in the winter we’d get shut off for months at a time, maybe losing a third of the year. I figured we’re not gonna get anything in the bank here; we’re not going to be able to take care of five kids—let’s go someplace else,” Price said.
Price loaded up his family and belongings, and drove south until they ran out of gas in Imbler. He traded cleaning up the gas station owner’s trashed rental for a tank of gas. His family lived in the rental for eight years while he resumed his logging career. He’s lived in the valley ever since.
Price may be 85, but his grip is strong and sure. He sees me looking at his neatly-stacked pile of firewood and the worn Stihl powersaw sitting by the door.
He tells me he still cuts his own firewood and occasionally logs the property. “I don’t clear-cut, and I don’t cut live trees. I won’t cut my trees to make money,” Price said.
Price is now retired and raises Wood Bison on his 170-acre Monticola ranch out on Mt. Glen Road. He shares his house, which he built himself, with a black lab named Sarah and a Sylvester look-alike cat named Bearcat.
Price is adamant about doing his part to preserve the quality of life he finds in the Grande Ronde Valley, and he’s not just talking about the human aspect. “I logged for many years, and I’m an outdoor guy. Nature’s a part of it as much as we are. If you can’t respect it or appreciate it, you’re missing out on one of the real joys of life.”
Price keeps this in mind while maintaining his ranch. He sometimes worries that the subdivisions of farmland he sees may impact the local wildlife.
“We have an abundance of wildlife here that is dependent on this farmland for grazing during the harsher times of winter. The wildlife is fine 10 months out of the year, but two months of the year they need to come down from the mountain and get something to eat. What if that land’s covered with houses?”
Along with deer and elk, Price counts red foxes among his property’s dwellers. “They had a little den in one corner of my hayfield. I told the guy I hired to hay it to leave them alone. They still live there.”
Price originally raised Angus cattle on Monticola. Years ago he switched to bison and hasn’t regretted it. True to form, his Wood Bison are from Alberta, Canada, where they are on the Endangered Species list. We drive down to the barn to see the bison.
The barn, which he also built himself, is made from the remains of an old railroad trestle and holds 100 tons of hay—all from Price’s land. He sells the surplus of his hay crop and says the EOU Polo club is one of his best customers.
The hay is stacked in a way that allows Price to feed 30 buffalo by himself in less than an hour. The feeding area is below the barn, the floor has holes which allow him to roll the bales over, and drop flakes of hay into feed troughs below.
While we’re standing there, several deer drop by to visit. “These animals are smart,” Price says. “They know there’s feed here and they’re safe, they know I don’t hunt.”
From above the feed troughs Price shows where slats are cut from the Powder River panels for the benefit of deer and elk feeding there—so their horns aren’t caught in the panels.
We walk to a deck on the back of the barn and watch the buffalo grazing below. “They look good, don’t they?” Price asks.
Price turns back to the buffalo and says almost to himself, “We need to remember this land is a union of wildlife and farm animals, and it’s important to honor that.”
That you do, Mr. Price.