Dude Ranches Lead the Way in Eco-Friendly Tourism

Dude Ranches Lead the Way in Eco-Friendly Tourism

Many dude ranches take a hands-on approach to what is now known as eco-tourism: an all-encompassing approach that benefits the environment, local community, guests, and the ranch itself.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Dude ranches are known for extensive landscapes, almost untouched by human influence...or at least they appear that way. Actually, most ranches are carefully managed to ensure the most benefit is gained from the land while minimizing the impact on the environment. The essence of any farming is the idea of sustainability and a ranch is, after all, traditionally a very large farm. Many dude ranches take a hands-on approach to what is now known as eco-tourism—an all-encompassing approach that benefits the environment, local community, guests, and the ranch itself.

Responsible Management

When you visit a ranch, it might appear that the landscape surrounding you is completely natural, serene and mostly untouched. Effortless natural beauty? Well, no. Any large area of land needs careful management to ensure it stays as stunning as it started out. This applies to everything from the number of cattle to ensuring the local grasses are the still providing the correct habitat for the wildlife that lives there. The natural balance of ecosystems is in the hands of the ranch owners, and they take this very seriously. At Rowse 1+1, located in Nebraska, the team can tell you the difference in price and resources between keeping a cow and a mare that's in foal, and Mexico's Rancho Los Banos operates a 'Leave No Trace Behind' method when hiking, ensuring that the area is protected for the future.

By involving other organizations and experts, ranch owners can implement strategies that will help keep their land sustainable for years to come. At Chico Basin Ranch, in Colorado, the team work with ecologists, botanists, and biologists. This has resulted in new time-controlled grazing programs for the cattle which will likely help improve the soil, water table, and ecosystem health.

Self-Sufficient Ranches

Many ranches try to be as self-sufficient as possible, sourcing most of what they need to run the ranch from within it. For you, visiting on vacation, the most obvious form self-sufficiency will take is in the food. Zapata Ranch, in Colorado, sources all its meat from the ranch stock. At Estancia Ranquilco, in Argentina, they produce their own beef and free-range eggs; any fresh produce that can't be grown in their organic vegetable gardens is sourced from suppliers in the local community. Some ranches also make their own specialty products, including wine and bread.

Supporting the Local Community

As well as buying from local suppliers, many ranches support the local community in other ways. Rancho Los Banos returns a percentage of their profits to the local villages, an investment that can guests can see. Other ranches have invested in specialist local projects. Brush Creek Ranch, in Wyoming, has established a nonprofit center for artists and throws its net wider by sponsoring visits by inner city children, too.

Product Choices, Green Energy, and What Happens After

Even the product choices on a successful, eco-friendly dude ranch have to be carefully considered. From chemical-free cleaners that won't upset the balance of the local rivers to refillable shampoo bottles provided in the showers, every little choice makes a big long-term difference. When rebuilding or repairing, many of the ranches will use reclaimed or sustainably produced materials.

From solar panels to wind energy, ranches are at the forefront of alternative energy sources with the aim of reducing their carbon footprint. Harnessing the power of the elements makes perfect sense when you consider how close to this resource these ranches are. One example is White Stallion Ranch in Arizona, which has the largest privately owned solar system in the state and provides 35% of the electric needs of the ranch.

As well as the obvious recycling of products when reusable items are not an option, ranches also reuse their natural resources. Composted organic matter from the kitchens can then be used to fertilize the next crop of vegetables and collected rain water can either be filtered for use by family and guests or used to water vines.

Learn More about Eco-Tourism

On some ranches, there will even be the opportunity to see eco-tourism in practice. For those who enjoy getting their hands dirty, schemes like that at Estancia Ranquilco allow visitors to work alongside traditional gauchos to find out exactly what being self-sufficient means on the ground. High Lonesome Ranch, in Colorado, has ongoing research projects, including monitoring everything from changes to particular types of tree to what mountain lions eat. New projects are added every year and guests are encouraged to find out more.

Taking it one step further, Montana's Averills Flathead Lake Lodge has become an off-site institute for the University of Montana. Able to expose students to real-life issues, the ranch can show you what environmental and social conservation looks like in practice. Several ranches have been officially designated as important conservation areas, making them ideal ranch vacations for tourists wanting to expand their eco-tourism knowledge. Zapata Ranch is owned by The Nature Conservancy, while the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, in British Columbia, Canada, has been designated a biosphere reserve area by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations.

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