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Merrill Beyeler

Idaho's pro-conservation rancher-lawmaker

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Merrill Beyeler is a man of contrasts: The rancher and former Lemhi County educator speaks French, doesn't think wolves are the threat they're made out to be and unseated 22-year veteran Challis Republican Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett in the 2014 GOP primary election.

The 69-year-old operates Beyeler Ranches, which raises 800 head of cattle on 2,400 acres near Leadore with his wife, their three sons and their families—a total of 11 grandkids live in Leadore; two daughters (with three kids total) live in Utah and Illinois. The freshman Republican House member took some time out to talk with Boise Weekly about his life, land ethic and linguistics.

You've been pretty proud of your conservation credentials; talk to me a litte about that.

It goes back to how you see the world and what you value in the world. I remember the very first time that I went fishing with my grandfather. Just before we got ready to go fishing, he said, "You know there's only one rule you need to remember: You can only catch one fish out of one hole. If you get one out of a hole, you've gotta go to the next one." Then my father always said, "The one thing you want to do is you make sure that you leave it better than you found it."

It sounds like that may have been part of what spurred you to run for office.

That is part of what made me think about running. I think private lands add value to the public lands as a whole. If you lose one part of it, you risk losing the whole of it. ... There's no reason that conservation should become a wedge.

That brings to mind a big political issue: the proposal of state takeover of public lands. Do you favor that idea?

On the very surface it seems pretty attractive. But I think as you begin to look at that a little more closely, I'm not sure if you just change jurisdiction—you move it from federal lands to state lands—that you've really accomplished anything. ...

We've been able to keep the decision-making process pretty darn local. I think at the end of the day, if [a state takeover] did occur, I'm not sure we'd be in any better place.

Another hugely political issue is wolves, and I know that your part of Idaho is one of the more heavily affected by that issue. Can you give me a thumbnail of your perspective?

It's really not that hard. Wolves are here. I'm just going to say that. They need to be controlled just like anything else on the landscape.

The worst thing that I can possibly envision is if the wolves went back on the endangered species list and that would create a huge amount of problems for the citizens of Idaho—not only the livestock producers but the sportsmen, the big game populations and the citizens at large.

It's like anything else. We have to manage those resources; it's just part of what we do in Idaho.

How do we shift that conversation to one that's less emotional?

I have to be really careful that I don't over-exaggerate the impact that wolves are having on our ranch. I expect that I'm going to lose between 1 and 1.5 percent while they're on public lands.

On the other end of the spectrum, let's create some openness and honesty from Fish and Game; let's look at the impact wolves are having on our big game populations and what do we need to do there. And then from the "environmental" community, let's also say, "Look, let's make sure we're not over-exaggerating this deal and not allowing any management of wolves to occur."

I think once we get past that, things will go along just fine.

You have to know that people around Idaho were pretty surprised to see you win your election bid.

I think maybe the difference that I bring is a difference in approach.

I've always been really, really open. My door's always open. I think I would try to listen to anyone who came into my office, and I would try to listen while trying to understand where they're coming from and do that in a respectful way.

Who's running the ranch when you're in Boise during the legislative session?

We've been able to grow our ranching enterprise to where it's large enough that it can accommodate really comfortably four families, so I have three of my sons that have been probably running the ranch anyway, waiting for dad to get a little bit away so they can run it right.

How long have you been in Leadore?

In 1959, my folks bought a small ranch near Leadore, and so we've been there since then. There was a little bit of time I wasn't there. I spent two-and-a-half years in France and then got a degree in education, started teaching in a small rural school north of Shoshone-Richville and taught there for four years. My father wanted to know if I was interested in the ranch, so we came home and bought the ranch, and I taught another 17 years in Leadore and we grew the ranch in the process.

After 21 years of teaching, I left education and began ranching full-time.

I have to say I'm a little surprised to hear the French connection.

Well, I speak French and my son speaks French and my daughter speaks French. ... I served a mission in France and don't ask me why, but I started to learn French before that. ... My son actually went back to the same mission that I served in. My daughter majored in human resources with a minor in French. We have at least three in our family that speak French.

So it's the official second language of the Beyeler ranch?

That's right. :

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