Friday, December 19, 2014
What's New in the New West
Home » Business and the New Economy » Cows or Condos? Neither!
"I’m a former tree hugger who was opposed to everything, every timber sale, but now I see that the worst thing you can do is lose it all to development." Anne Dahl, the director of the Swan Valley Ecosystem Center in Montana quoted in New York Times. The above quote appeared in an article about how timber companies are increasingly selling off land for development, and how some former logging opponents now view logging companies as allies. We hear the same kinds of remarks from those supporting ranching in the West as well, many in response to previous posts on this column. For want of a better term, these views can collectively be termed the clearcuts vs. condos and/or the cows vs. condos debate. There are three things wrong with the underlying assumptions behind the “cows are better than condos” idea.

Cows or Condos? Neither!

“I’m a former tree hugger who was opposed to everything, every timber sale, but now I see that the worst thing you can do is lose it all to development.” Anne Dahl, the director of the Swan Valley Ecosystem Center in Montana quoted in New York Times.

The above quote appeared in an article about how timber companies are increasingly selling off land for development, and how some former logging opponents now view logging companies as allies. We hear the same kinds of remarks from those supporting ranching in the West as well, many in response to previous posts on this column. For want of a better term, these views can collectively be termed the clearcuts vs. condos and/or the cows vs. condos debate.

The general idea is that no matter how bad you might think logging or grazing is for the land, subdivisions are worse. Increasingly this idea is used to silence criticism and/or even examination of the real environmental impacts associated with these industries.

Since most of the West’s private lands are devoted to ranching, I’m going to focus on the condos vs. cows debate, but much of what I say about ranching is equally as true about logging and/or farming as well, especially in other parts of the country where these industries dominate land use.

There are three things wrong with the underlying assumptions behind the “cows are better than condos” idea.

First, livestock proponents vastly underestimate the ecological costs of livestock production (or logging/farming). Growing cows in the West involves more than the mere cropping of grass.

Livestock production impacts include dewatering of rivers for irrigation, replacement of native plant communities with irrigated hay fields, and killing of native predators, pollution of water, transmission of disease to native wildlife, consumption of forage that would otherwise support native herbivores, trampling and compaction of soils, pollution of water sources, truncation of nutrient flows and so on. (I could list a similar litany of ecological problems associated with logging). Such a full accounting of livestock production costs greatly increases the negative impacts of livestock production on western landscapes and wildlife.

Just as a full accounting of sprawl’s impact should take in more than the physical footprint of the house site, and must include the added traffic on roads, the fossil fuel energy used for commuting, pollution of ground water from septic systems, loss of wildlife habitat, and so on, a similar full accounting of livestock production must include more than grazing effects.

Second, livestock proponents ignore the vast differences in the physical, geographical footprint between development and livestock production. Livestock production affects nearly all of the non-forested landscape in the West in one fashion or another, whereas sprawl and its impacts remain relatively concentrated.

Third, and perhaps most importantly to this debate, ranching and/or logging does not prevent subdivisions. Relying on ranching and/or logging to prevent sprawl and preserve biodiversity is ultimately a flawed land conservation strategy.

Rising Land Values

Part of the problem is that most people fail to consider the factors that drive sprawl and subdivision. If you don’t identify the source of the problem, you can’t correct it. The biggest predictor of sprawl is land prices, which in turn are driven by demand. Ironically the higher the land values, the more likely it is to be subdivided. If you live in a place with jobs, amenities, educational and outdoor recreation opportunities, demand drives the parceling up of land.

When land prices in a local real estate market are higher than the return on extraction profits, industries that depend on low land prices—and ranching, logging, and farming all do—often gradually disappear and/or migrate to places where demand for land is lower and prices reflect that lack of demand. This shift may take decades, but ultimately high land prices doom extractive industries.

Even farmland producing high value fruits and vegetables (in terms of dollar return per acre) ultimately succumb to this economic maxim. Many former agricultural lands growing high value crops such as the fruit orchards that once graced California’s Santa Clara Valley, now known as Silicon Valley, or the suburbs that now cover the veggie farms of the “Garden State” of New Jersey are extreme examples of these trends. If high value Ag lands can’t prevent sprawl, then what chance does a low value activity like livestock production have to thwart subdivisions?

A widget made more cheaply in Indiana than in Montana can be moved to Montana and sold there. People tend to buy the least expensive item. However, unlike other things we buy which can be transported, land is “grounded.” The old quip of real estate agents about the three most important things in real estate price being “location, location, location” accurately describes the driving factor in subdivisions. Land prices reflect location which in turn is affected by amenities and quality of life factors.

There are millions of acres of private land for sale right now in North Dakota. It’s cheap. It’s available. So why isn’t North Dakota being overrun by developers? The reason is that almost no one wants to live in North Dakota, and you can’t transport that cheap land to the mountain valleys of Montana or Colorado.

Geographical Footprint

The second important factor to consider is that the majority of development in the West occurs in a relatively small geographical footprint within commuting distance of urban centers and resort areas, where jobs, educational opportunities and amenities are in abundance.

Though sprawl is consuming more and more land in the U.S., particularly in the West, animal agriculture (ranching) affects many times more of the American landscape. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, less than 5% of the total U.S. land area is developed. This includes all the highways, shopping malls, urban centers, housing tracts, etc. in the country.

By comparison, livestock production (including both grazing lands and croplands growing livestock feed) impacts an estimated 50-60% of all land area in the U.S. (Precise figures are lacking.)

Don’t take my word for it. Get up in an airplane anyplace in the Interior West and stare out the window (or check out Google Earth). I guarantee that once you leave the immediate surroundings of a major urban area, what you will see is not subdivisions, malls, or anything else we call sprawl. Instead what you will see for mile after mile are lands used for ranching—either grazed lands and/or hay fields and other crops planted to sustain cattle or, in more forested areas, used for timber production.

Open Space is Not the Same as Good Wildlife Habitat

Let me use Montana as an example. Montana is known for having some of the most intact wildlife populations left in the nation. Yet even in Montana there are quite a number of species that have suffered huge declines in population and geographical distribution, including prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, wolves, grizzly bears, swift fox, sage grouse, Columbian sharp-tail grouse, bull trout, and Arctic grayling, among others.

Yet according to the latest census data, approximately 87% of Montana has 6 people per square mile or less. For all intents and purposes the majority of Montana is uninhabited—in other words there’s a lot of open space. So why can’t these Montana species thrive in a place that’s practically deserted? If “open space” were synonymous with good wildlife habitat, there would be few endangered species in Montana. In Montana, as in most of the West, animal agriculture is the single largest factor in species decline.

GAP analysis (using computer interpretation of air photos to determine land use—a highly accurate method) shows that only 0.17% of the state of Montana is affected by urban development. (This has changed slightly towards greater development since the study was done, but not significantly to affect general conclusions.) Thus it’s hardly subdivisions that are responsible for this huge decline in wildlife numbers and distribution.

The real culprits are agriculture and logging. For instance, in contrast to the one fifth of one percent of Montana that is developed, more than 5.5 million acres, or about 6% of the state, consists of irrigated crops that are primarily grown for livestock. In most cases the native riparian vegetation has been supplanted by a monoculture of exotic grasses, and is cut a couple of times a summer, reducing its effectiveness as hiding cover for wildlife.

Riparian communities are the most important wildlife habitat in the West, typically used by 70-80% of all wildlife species. Therefore, the degradation and loss of these riparian areas as a consequence of hay production has huge impacts on biodiversity. Let’s not forget the dewatering of our rivers for irrigated hay production and the consequent loss of fish habitat.

Hay fields may look nice and bucolic, but in terms of supporting great numbers of wildlife, they pale in comparison to the native plant community they replace. And hay fields are only one impact associated with livestock production. Some 70% of the state is pasture or rangelands used directly for livestock grazing, with its own share of serious ecological impacts.

A Blunt Tool

At best, livestock/timber production is a blunt tool for land and wildlife conservation. It is a passive, unfocused approach that only occasionally results in “coincidental conservation.”

Given the rapidly growing populations of many western states, relying on livestock producers and/or timber companies to maintain open space and critical wildlife habitat is a haphazard approach to land conservation. Such a strategy depends almost entirely on the whim of a landowner. Even if today’s rancher or timber company owners/stock holders are inclined to keep their property intact, the next generation or next owner may not.

If we want to control sprawl, there are effective, active methods that work: zoning, planning, conservation easements and outright acquisition. Though all have drawbacks, they can restrict or guide development. More importantly, they are a focused approach to land conservation that provides the best hope of protecting biodiversity in the face of growing human population. (Ultimately our own population growth and consumption needs to be dealt with—but those are issues that most governments and conservation organizations are loath to tackle).

Fortunately in some places people are realizing they cannot count on low-value land uses such as farming, ranching and timber production to prevent further development. Voters in Nevada, Colorado and Arizona have approved bond issues to fund land acquisition. States such as Oregon, New York (in the Adirondacks), and California (through the Coastal Commission) have instituted statewide or regional zoning that has dramatically reduced sprawl.

Furthermore, if the multiple subsidies that are annually bestowed upon large land owners including low property taxes, Ag and timber subsidies, the acceptance and thus costs of environmental externalities like water pollution, soil erosion, loss of wildlife habitat, and so forth, were included in the accounting of “keeping the rancher and/or logger out on the land” we might find it far less expensive in the long run to just buy the critical lands and permanently withdraw them forever from potential development.

False Choice

The argument that we must choose between condos and cows (or condos and clear cuts) is a false one. Neither is desirable, and the negative impacts of all extractive land uses, including ranching, logging and sprawl, should be restricted to as small an area as possible. This is not as difficult as it may seem, since much of the ranching and logging in the West is marginal in productivity and easily replaced by reduction in demand through conservation of resources and other measures. Ironically a full accounting of environmental costs would help generate demand for alternatives since internalizing the full costs would make many of these products—beef and wood from marginal lands—too expensive to extract.

The sooner we begin to use proven focused land conservation tactics to thwart sprawl’s impacts, the better. However, we should not ignore the terrible environmental costs of livestock grazing and logging upon the land, native fish and wildlife. And if we must choose between either condos or cows/clearcuts, ridding the West of marginal livestock and logging operations would have greater ecological and economic benefits.

About George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner has published 36 books, including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy

Comments

  1. Crystal L. Cox says:

    Montana Really is Seeing to much development, here i Northwest Montana there is subdivision after subdivision and for seemingly, no real reason, homes are going up but there are no buyers, land is being chopped up and roads built but no buyers. I am sure the buyers will eventually come but really why let the subdivision go through when the economy does not support it. Here, the jobs, do not pay enough to buy the real estate and really how many second homes can we take. Here, second homes left unattended, quite often are subject to theft, freezing and varmits infiltration. I think Montana needs to slow down with the building and the subdivisions, at least until the economy can support it. TenLakesRealty.com

  2. Mike says:

    No doubt it is a false choice. But if forced to choose, there is no doubt that cows are preferable to development.

    Ranching damage can be reversed. Sprawl cannot. Anyone whohas experienced the sprawl zones of Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and LA will tell you the exact same thing.

    Sprawl wipes out everything. It causes light pollution. It brings more recreationalists, more people having an impact on the land (motorized recreation, etc). It ruins scenic views, takes away from a sense of wildness, worsens air quality, amongst other things.

    Anyone who would choose sprawl over ranching has never seen sprawl.

  3. geo says:

    Mike

    Nothing you say is wrong about Sprawl. Sprawl is bad. It’s just that sprawl doesn’t impact nearly as much of the landscape.

    But you are missing one of the major points of the essay.

    Ranching hasn’t stopped sprawl. That’s an illusion, and people who suggest that somehow ranching can preclude it are deluding themselves. Every major community you mentioned was once a farm or a ranch. LA was orange groves. San Francisco was dominated by ranching. Chicago was farmland. So it goes. Ag does not prevent sprawl, so we need to think beyond that tired argument. If you want to contain sprawl, you have to choose something else besides cows that really works–like zoning, like conservation easements, like outright purchase of land. That is the only thing that will prevent sprawl.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Mike,

    Give me a break! And give George credit that he knows what he’s talking about. Also be clear WHAT he is talking about. The issue here is not a question of impacts of sprawl around big cities and, really, which is better, cows or condos. That is a much too simple reading of this piece. Reread this thoughtful essay and especially the last two paragraphs. George has taken on a complex issue here and brought some real knowledge to the table. There’s no question that sprawl has its own costs–to humans as well as to land and our “more than human” partners here on earth. Let’s not be so anthropocentric to forget about them. To my understanding, complete reversal of ranching damage is darn near impossible if you include the loss of biodiversity, soil compaction, invasive species, etc. And take a look at nearly anywhere U.S.A. on Google Earth and see the bogglingly vast impact of agriculture–primarily cattle-connected ag.–on U.S. soil. Really, check it out as George suggested, and take in how agriculture is king on the map, way over and above the impact of cities, towns and sprawl in general.

    Decisions about land use should be made with care and intention by planners and those who are thoroughly knowledgeable about ecological issues and about sustainable growth of human communities. And these decisions should be made with more-than-human values–in mind.

  5. Michael Kellett says:

    I live in New England, which has plenty of sprawl. In Maine, Plum Creek “Timber” Company has bought large tracts and is planning a massive development the size of the city of Portland, Maine, around unspoiled Moosehead Lake. The land is zoned for timber, but Plum Creek is spending megabucks trying to rezone it for development. So much for protecting land from development by keeping it as a “working forest.” It’s all economics.

    The only way to ensure that land will be permanently protected is for it to be under public ownership and classified as a national park or wilderness area. Land trust ownership, conservation easements, and no-development zoning can be effective, but these strategies cannot be counted on to be permanent. That’s why support is growing for a Maine Woods National Park, which will protect the forest both from logging and from development — permanently.

  6. Rose Mary says:

    THANK YOU, GORGEOUS GEORGE: for clarifying your preferences so we now know that you HATE cows just a tiny tad more than you HATE mankind.

    So now there is just nothing left for a LAND OWNER to question or to say other than to ask you to publish your mailing address ASAP so we can send you the deed to every acre we own ~ FREE of charge.

    Should we just use your VERMONT address? Send by Carrier pigeons? ~ or do you HATE them too?

    HEY, ELIZABETH: I’ve already made arrangements for all my kids and grandkids to have abortions so they can abide by your “sustainable growth” theory ~ so don’t you worry your pretty head about that. Now all you have to do is tell me where to drop-ship 100 head of the world’s most magnificent horses so you can put into practice those “more-than-human values (that you have) in mind.”. They eagerly await!

    I’ll check back later to get those address from the both of you so I can get EVERYTHING rolling in your direction ASAP!

    Obviously neither of you believed James Bovard when he said, “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”

    Of course, since to sounds like both of you agree with Michael Kellett the subject of democracy is definitely a not-to-worry!

  7. Cindy Kessler says:

    Rose Mary—why are you so darn mad? You seem too too interested in where others live—Why do you hide behind your first name (If it is even your first name)—you were so pleased to announce to the world that I live in Socorro and that I support DraftGore.com—and here you are again trying to give out personal information about those you disagree with–like Vermont for George—and what does abortion have to do with anything Elizabeth wrote???
    As for Michael Kellett–he at least had something to offer to the conversation—remember Rose Mary this is a conversation not a right wing hate mongers web site—we are the west and we are diverse–we don’t lock step to the cliff and you know–fall off.
    I like cows and I think if you have some ideas about how we can survive together in this new deal that our Mother Earth is dealing –share it –don’t just rant–George has some good points.

  8. Marion says:

    I am amazed, not a single one of you moaning about agriculture or homes ruining the world has volunteered to quit eating or move out of you house and into the brush.
    We must have agriculture or we don’t eat. The ranchers and farmers OWN the land, and they are NOT going to give it to you and go live in a cave so as not to bother you with their presence.
    Micheal Kellett, I guess you do not own your home do you? You do realize that there is a belief that supports the idea of the government owning everything don’t you? It is called communism and it has never worked. Our own great country the United States of America has fought against communism on all kinds of fronts, surely you cannot convince the majority to turn that way.

  9. Michael Kellett says:

    Marion, I think you misunderstood my point. I’m fine with sustainable agriculture and family farms and ranches (as opposed to industrial agribusiness) on private lands. And I’m not advocating taking away anyone’s land if they want to keep farming or ranching on it.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that private land use is going to be determined by economics — that’s capitalism. When that doesn’t work in the public interest — like Plum Creek corporation developing 20,000 acres of Maine wildlands — it makes sense for the public to buy the land — for a fair price from willing sellers. People sell land all the time. That’s the American way.

    National parks and public lands are also the American way. In fact, Americans invented the national park when we designated Yellowstone in 1872. I don’t think too many people would support decomissioning Yellowstone or our other national parks. If that’s communism, I guess most Americans are communists.

    By the way, I have a mortgage on my home. The Communist Party doesn’t own it — the bank owns it, and I make monthly payments.

  10. Rose Mary says:

    You have it backwards, Cindy. I could care less where anyone else lives. I am not attempting to tell you or anyone else what to do with what YOU own. Would you consider yourself to be a “right wing hate monger” if you objected to someone coming into your home and taking it away from you after you’d worked 30 or 40 years to pay for it? ~ how about your bank account and your retirement fund being robbed from YOU?

    It is George and the likes of him that wish to do just exactly that with MY home, MY land. Do you think that is okay/fine because it IS mine and it is NOT yours? Just what is it that YOU own that he covets and YOU are willing to donate to his cause?

    For that matter, just what is it that HE owns that HE is donating to his cause?

    Which IS, of course, why I tell you all that he is NOT in or from The West much less does he OWN what he wishes to control. If he can control the USE of land, why should he wish to spend his money to own it? He started out an notorious chapter of his “career” trying to wipe out people, not cows, and many of his coharts in crime then did finally end up where they belonged but not before a very large number of those PEOPLE animals bit the dust ~ with great suffering by an enormous numbers of families. So, yep … I am just delighted to know he now has decided to HATE cows more than he HATES mankind. God bless the children.

    You may not have noticed but his commentary is NOT limited to his opinions about publically owned land. If it were then he would have a very legitimate right to try to impose his desires and opinions upon it, just like you have and I have and every other citizen of this Great Nation has.

    Re-read his article if you doubt what I say. He is not referencing PUBLIC Land with comments saying he wishes to control land with tools “… like zoning, like conservation easements …”.

    When you say “we are the west and we are diverse” that is something I recognize and totally accept without anger of any kind. Such IS this thing called Life. But George is NOT The West, diverse or otherwise. And I certainly am offended by those who live in The East thinking they are far superior and more qualified to plan the future of our land ~ MY land in particular, of course ~ than those of us who have invested our lives, our souls and our resources in The West.

    Do you think you are more qualfied to tell your neighbor what color to paint their living room than they are? I could care less what color you paint your living room. If you do not OWN it then your landlord might object, but I do not. It is your habitat, is it not? So why is it that YOU or George think you have the right to plan my life or my land? But he does and many of you do. And because you do I will not sit on my fist and lean back on my thumb until you all have a chance to group together and out-vote those of us who own land … BECAUSE OF YOU and the large numbers of voters who just might be able to change the laws so that you can TAKE my land it will no longer be the magnificent refuse for domestic and wild animals that it has been for hundreds of years. I deeply resent that the likes of you and George are forcing me to make that decision.

    Will the likes of you and gorgeous George have won the battle? Yep. To a more or less extent this is true. There are more of “you” than there are of “us” and there are MANY more publications such as this one that are actively and agressively lobbying for “you” votes while “us” voters are out here trying to care for the land and maintain our lives and our economic credibility on it. I read and comment on New West for only one reason: to try to get a feel for myself just HOW BAD it has all become while I still have options, and can see to it that whether or not I like those options or they were my long-range plan for the land I OWN and love: those “you” votes will NOT win the WAR in my backyard leaving me and my family on the curb when you do. I will pour the curb and profit from it. I can not afford to do otherwise ~ but I do resent the need to do so just to keep it out of the hands of the “Georges” so they do not do the profitting from my labors of love as they intend.

    So, yes ~ you ARE right when you say I am mad. George and likes of him ~ and you, apparently! ~ covet total control over MY land.

    Why don’t you give him everything YOU own?

    If you are not willing to do that with a smile on your face then do not waste your time making self-righteous comments aimed at me or other land OWNERS.

    Put YOUR money where your mouth is.

    Abortion has everything to do with what Elizabeth wrote!!! China is the ONLY nation who found the answer to “sustainable growth of human communities”!!! Why don’t you take the time to Google that subject and then you will know just exactly what abortion has to do with her heart-felt desires along those lines! The reproduction of the human animal is the SINGLE cause for “growth”! NIMBYs single goal has to do with “I’ve got mine so to hell with the rest of the folks.” That attitude does NOT limit population growth or the need for housing to accommodate that population growth. Whada think we should do? Hang ‘em all on trees in a forest full of wolves? Nope! That might bother the wolves!

    And, yes, you are right: Michael Kellett sure does have something to offer to the conversation and it walks hand-in-hand with what gorgeous George desires, without a doubt: “The only way to ensure that land will be permanently protected is for it to be under public ownership …”. Go do a Google on Socialism and Communism ~ and don’t stop with just the definitions of them. Keep right on reading until you discover the HISTORY of those nations who tried it and the LACK of life’s joys those governmental structures have produced for the citizens of the nations. They also thought that was one helluva good idea ~ before they had to pay the dues. How about Russia? Would you rather live there? Be a quick fix if you want “… to ensure that land will be permanently protected … under public ownership …”.

    A GREAT deal of today’s so-called “environmental movement” that is being promoted by gorgeous George and his *comrades* in crime have MORE to do with our national SOCIETY than it has to do with our “environment”.

    If that pleases YOU that is your decision to make. It does NOT please me as the future state of being for myself, my children or my grandchildren ~ or for any of their descendants ~ so YES: that TOO I will fight until my last dying breath. Win, loose or draw.

    I care that much, Cindy. I am sorry that you do not. What they become capable of doing TO me and my land today they can also do TO you tomorrow. It might be wise to remember that.

    I do not consider myself to be either a so-called “conservative” OR a so-called “liberal” … but Ronald Reagan did have a point when he referenced those of you who are died-in-the-wool saying:

    “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant. It’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

    Ignorance is never bliss, Cindy. Don’t buy into what you obviously do not know.

    Take the time to learn the truth and “the rest of the story”. You owe that to you, not to me.

  11. Mike says:

    Elizabeth, why don’t you give me a break? George clearly states his preference for condos and Mcmansions over agriculture. Here’s the quote:

    “And if we must choose between either condos or cows/clearcuts, ridding the West of marginal livestock and logging operations would have greater ecological and economic benefits.”

    In fact, he deemed this so important that he finished his article with it. And I will say it again – anyone who would choose condos and Mcmansions over wide open ranching has never seen what development can do to our environment.

    A recent study concluded that 14% of the lands surrounding our national forests are made up of rural sprawl. Grizzly bears don’t do so well in those kinds of environments.

    Also, George pointed out this information:

    “Yet according to the latest census data, approximately 87% of Montana has 6 people per square mile or less. For all intents and purposes the majority of Montana is uninhabited—in other words there’s a lot of open space. So why can’t these Montana species thrive in a place that’s practically deserted? If “open space” were synonymous with good wildlife habitat, there would be few endangered species in Montana. In Montana, as in most of the West, animal agriculture is the single largest factor in species decline. ”

    The truth is, Montana has the last best population of all the rare species in the lower 48, completely refuting the very point he is trying to make.Compared to the rest of the lower 48, the animals ARE thriving due to low human population and suitable habitat. You can still trap wolverine in Montana. There are still breeding lynx populations. Montana has more grizzly bears than any state in the lower 48. Montana has fisher, pine marten and solid cougar populations. Montana has the nations best big horn herds, a healthy elk herd, native mountain goats and a thriving moose population. There are places in Montana that have the highest rare predator densitires outside of Alaska *period*. This is because it has the habitat. This is because it isn’t developed. Wolverine, grizzly and wolves can mix with agriculture. You know what they can’t mix with? Condos.

    This argument really is quite poor. This is what George is going by (to quote his comment):

    “Don’t take my word for it. Get up in an airplane anyplace in the Interior West and stare out the window (or check out Google Earth). I guarantee that once you leave the immediate surroundings of a major urban area, what you will see is not subdivisions, malls, or anything else we call sprawl. Instead what you will see for mile after mile are lands used for ranching—either grazed lands and/or hay fields and other crops planted to sustain cattle or, in more forested areas, used for timber production. ”

    All George is doing here is refuting his own point about ag. The reason Montana still has rare species and rare species habitat is because the state has not been overun with development. Just because subdivisons don’t exist in some places doesn’t mean they can’t exist in the future. anyone who has ever visited a state with more than 900,000 people knows how rural sprawl works. It doesn’t know any boundaries. Greed will buy and own local planning boards. County park land gets sold for business parks. There is no limit, no boundary.

    Furthermore, judging the effects of sprawl from a quick flyover means very little. I can fly over parts of Northern Wisconsin and it looks like a remote wilderness. But on the ground, driving around,signs of rural development and sprawl are everywhere, changing the nature of the area forever.

    Cow damage can be repaired. Logging into roadless areas? Not so easy. Subdivisions? Impossible.

    Open space may not be the best habitat, but it *is* habitat. Subdivisions are not, save for rabbits and deer. Open space is a precious and rare commodity, something I think that is taken for granted by westerners. Sure, it may be chewed up by cows, and the stream may be damaged, but irt can be fixed. At least it’s not northern Illinois.

    Ranchland may not be the best habitat, but it’s open space. I’d much rather have that than Wilderness-lite surrounded by Mcmansions and log cabin conservationist subdivisions, scarring the areas bordering national forests for generations.

  12. Mike Lommler says:

    It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Ranching does not prevent sprawl. The reason Montana has maintained decent wildlife populations is not because ranching has prevented development–it’s because there weren’t a lot of people in Montana, and not a lot of people looking to join those few. This meant that land was cheap, and cheap land allowed a ranching and forestry economy to develop. Now Montana land is desirable, and that ranching economy has done little to nothing to forestall development. It’s not hard to see–check out the Gallatin Valley, for a start. The Paradise Valley would be an excellent next stop. If Idaho is more to your taste, I recommend the Teton Basin, around Driggs and Victor. Pretty soon the only ranches around there will be hobby farms–with a giant log home at the center. The view of the Grand Teton is really quite nice, save for all the other giant log homes.

    Again, the choice between condos and cows is a false choice. Do I prefer looking at a ranch to looking at a huge 2nd home? Sure. But the presence of the ranch is not going to forestall development, so long as people have money and the desire to live somewhere beautiful and relatively uncrowded–and someone willing to sell them that dream.

  13. George says:

    Mike (not Mike Lommier):

    I am not going to get a debate with you about which is worse–cows or condos. You’re missing my main point. The problem is that cows, timber companies, etc. don’t preclude development.

    If Montanans and residents of other western states don’t do something to start restricting development so the remaining habitat is protected from both development.

    There’s a lesson to be learned from other places–and Montanans and other states would be well to pay attention. Leaving development to the whims of developers will eventually mean less wildlife–just like happened from New Jersey to California. Can’t people learn from the lessons of elsewhere or are we destined to repeat over and over again the same foolish mistakes?

  14. George says:

    Another comment to Mike (not Mike Lommier)

    One more point Mike. You’re right that cow bombed streams and clearcut hillsides do provide some habitat, albeit in many cases very poor habitat. That’s not the argument.

    You are missing two points.

    The first is geographical footprint. Acre for acre a subdivision might be worse (and it is not always) than a cow bombed pasture. But there are so many more cow bombed acres than urbanized that this comparison is pointless. It’s like saying that heroin is worse than alcohol–well maybe it is, but the fact remains that far more people are addicted to alcohol and alcohol causes far more social problems than heroin addiction. And I am not saying to ignore subdivisions at all any more than I am saying the US should ignore heroin addiction.

    The striking thing to me as an ecologist is how many species that are in decline such as the Columbia sharptail grouse, grizzly bear, wolf, swift fox, prairie dog, bull trout, black footed ferret, and many others are not habitat specialists. They are species that once had wide distribution and in many cases existed in huge numbers. Today they are found in very restricted areas and small numbers–not due to subdivisions–but due to the on-going habitat degradation from livestock production and logging.

    When the USDA created a list of endangered species and the causes of their endangerment, AG both livestock grazing and crop production- was the major cause of endangerment for nearly two thirds of all western species. Next was logging. Urbanization, etc. was far down on the list.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Mike–not Mike Lommler,

    A couple of quick, but important points:
    You say “Open space may not be the best habitat, but it *is* habitat.” Habitat for what? Very few species can thrive on open degraded habitat trashed by cattle. There’s nothing precious about land that has little to offer wildlife species in the way of food, shelter, and safety. And there’s a whole heck of lot more US land that is already highly degraded by livestock than will ever, ever be built on for condos, strip malls or any other human built purposes. And while some restoration amelioration can be accomplished via herculean efforts, your point is worthless because most all livestock-trashed acres and logged out land will never see that effort. Ranchers will continue to run their cows scrounging for sustenance, as logged over lands will never be as biodiverse as they were.

  16. Marion says:

    Guys get your heads out of where ever you keep them. Take a look at the elk and deer numbers in the west. The wolves are taking over 3000 head of elk per month in the GYE, yet thousands of hunting licenses are filled every year, granted less and less as the predators increase and increase. Drive past any ranchers place and you will see all kinds of wildlife in his pasture, especially in winter when high country feed is covered by snow.
    What you really are crying about is not enough hippy habitat free to you, paid for by others.

    Micheal Kellett, I consider this statement to be a desire to take land away from citizens and have it managed by “the government”, and we all know how great that is. I’m quite sure you do not want your house to be among that taken, whether the goverment would pay off the mortgage as part of the deal or not.

    “The only way to ensure that land will be permanently protected is for it to be under public ownership and classified as a national park or wilderness area. Land trust ownership, conservation easements, and no-development zoning can be effective, but these strategies cannot be counted on to be permanent.”
    those are your words and I consider them to be very dangerous to our way of life.

  17. Mike says:

    ++I am not going to get a debate with you about which is worse–cows or condos. You’re missing my main point. The problem is that cows, timber companies, etc. don’t preclude development. ++

    You concluded your article with the strong point that you would choose condos over wide open spaces, so I can’t but help but stick to that point.

    I can tell you that large parcels of private land do in fact prevent development. They stop preventing development when they are sold off to developers.

    “There’s a lesson to be learned from other places–and Montanans and other states would be well to pay attention. Leaving development to the whims of developers will eventually mean less wildlife–just like happened from New Jersey to California. Can’t people learn from the lessons of elsewhere or are we destined to repeat over and over again the same foolish mistakes? ”

    I agree with this. Does ag help wildlife? No. It’s a false choice. But in your article, you *did* make a choice, and I am simply responding to that.

    ++One more point Mike. You’re right that cow bombed streams and clearcut hillsides do provide some habitat, albeit in many cases very poor habitat. That’s not the argument. ++

    That’s definintely part of the argument.

    “”The first is geographical footprint. Acre for acre a subdivision might be worse (and it is not always) than a cow bombed pasture. But there are so many more cow bombed acres than urbanized that this comparison is pointless. It’s like saying that heroin is worse than alcohol–well maybe it is, but the fact remains that far more people are addicted to alcohol and alcohol causes far more social problems than heroin addiction. And I am not saying to ignore subdivisions at all any more than I am saying the US should ignore heroin addiction. “”

    Sprawl is a huge problem and is dominating our landscape. 14% of lands bordering national forest is becoming developed.

    Yes, cow bombed land is a bad thing. But it *can* be repaired. A subdivisions is a permanent END to that habitat. That you would make light of and diminish the effects of a subdivision is astonishing.

    “”The striking thing to me as an ecologist is how many species that are in decline such as the Columbia sharptail grouse, grizzly bear, wolf, swift fox, prairie dog, bull trout, black footed ferret, and many others are not habitat specialists. They are species that once had wide distribution and in many cases existed in huge numbers. Today they are found in very restricted areas and small numbers–not due to subdivisions–but due to the on-going habitat degradation from livestock production and logging. “”

    No doubt the effects of AG have really hurt many species. But make no mistake, sudivisions are aslo hurting them. And while AG gnaws away at their habitat, subdivisions creep in and put and end to it on the fringes. To grizzlies and bull trout, logging and roadbuilding is the worst culprit. In fact, to all wildlands, roadbuilding is the worst. But the truth is that Montana still has bull trout and grizzly bears. Why? Because their travel corridors have not been destroyed by subdivisions. And because subdivisions don’t block bull trout restoration efforts, or increase road density.

    A grizzly can still use a trampled, chewed up cow field to get to another mountain range.

    A subdivision ends that.

    “When the USDA created a list of endangered species and the causes of their endangerment, AG both livestock grazing and crop production- was the major cause of endangerment for nearly two thirds of all western species. Next was logging. Urbanization, etc. was far down on the list. ”

    But those species do still exist. Put subdivisions where the AG is and they will be gone.

  18. George says:

    Mike

    Again you’re missing the point. You seem to have a myopic focus. Can you get beyond whether cows are worse or not–and answer how we can keep those private lands from developers? What I’m suggesting is that championing logging, ranching or farming doesn’t preclude development. If that is your goal–which obviously you want to do–than how do you accomplish it. If we take your own statistics to heart–why hasn’t ranching, logging, etc. worked to prevent all those subdivisions adjacent to the national forest?

    I’m saying that unfocused, passive approaches do not work. IF you want to guide where and when development occurs, and you additionally want to protect important or critical lands than you have to identify those key parcels, target them for acquisition, conservation easement or zoning. Those are the only tools that do work.

  19. Mike says:

    “”Again you’re missing the point. You seem to have a myopic focus. Can you get beyond whether cows are worse or not–and answer how we can keep those private lands from developers?””

    George, you ended your column by choosing cows over condos. If you didn’t want that to be your main point, why did you end the column with it?

    “” What I’m suggesting is that championing logging, ranching or farming doesn’t preclude development. If that is your goal–which obviously you want to do–than how do you accomplish it. If we take your own statistics to heart–why hasn’t ranching, logging, etc. worked to prevent all those subdivisions adjacent to the national forest? “”

    It has. There would be far more development if it wasn’t for the AG bordering the national forest. Far more. The ultimate goal for rare predators is good chunks of habitat and travel corridors. Subdivisions are not good travel corridors. AG lands are superior.

    “”I’m saying that unfocused, passive approaches do not work. IF you want to guide where and when development occurs, and you additionally want to protect important or critical lands than you have to identify those key parcels, target them for acquisition, conservation easement or zoning. Those are the only tools that do work. “”

    I’m not disagreeing with this. But AG lands do stall subdivisions. If this was open land on the market, it would be subdivided and dotted with cabins in no time. Some ofthe best drainages in the west would fill up.

  20. George says:

    Mike

    I ended my column with cows over condos because my research and observations convinces me that when a full accounting of all ecological costs are included, ranching has greater ecological impacts across the West than all the condos, subdivisions, towns, and malls combined. I have studied this issue for decades, and I believe I have an informed and educated opinion on this topic. You are free to disagree.

    But that is irrelevant because it doesn’t change the major conclusion that I am trying to get across that ranching (nor logging or farming) haven’t prevented development. If these activities did, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Furthermore, relying on such activities to preserve open space is not a long term solution. At some point almost everyone except perhaps billionaires like Ted Turner will get an offer they can’t refuse. If not this owner, maybe the next one will sell. If you want to protect open space–even degraded open space–you have to be pro active.

    I guarantee you that if you don’t put in place zoning, conservation easements or outright fee purchase of lands, the degraded open spaces you love will gradually be diminished and lost.

    So stop arguing with me about whether cows are worse or not. That doesn’t matter. Start lobbying your community for zoning laws. Start voting to buy land and purchase of development rights through conservation easements.

  21. Rose Mary says:

    George, you are now and have continually represented yourself as an “ecologist”.

    Yet, the ESA (Ecological Society of America) has no record of your existence.

    Nor have you ever been kind enough to share with us just what your educational background is or how it might relate to meeting the minimum requirements to be a member of the ESA.

    The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of SCIENTISTS founded in 1915 to recognize and promote ecological SCIENCE.

    Their certification program recognizes professional ecologists who have met certain standards in EDUCATION, experience, and ETHICS, and helps identify these standards to the general public.

    Most reputable and acknowledged ecologists are SCIENTISTS with educational backgrounds in chemistry, environmental science, geology, biology, climatology, statistics and, in many cases, economics. According to most outstanding academic institutions who educate ecologists, a master’s degree in a science or ecology itself is becoming more and more common as the minimum requirement.

    Soooooooo, George:

    * If you wish to claim the label of “ecologist” and wish to represent yourself as an expert conducting ecological scientific research as you repeatedly and continually to do; and,

    * Since you are NOT thus recognized as being such an expert by your peers who have met those standards of EDUCATION, experience, and ETHICS who are members of the Ecological Society of America; then,

    * Perhaps you should define your credentials to and for all these nice people you wish to influence to such a great degree.

    We shall all anxiously await your disclosures.

  22. John Carter says:

    As usual, George has it right. The damage by agriculture can be subtle or not so subtle. Barren lands and gullied streams are not subtle – these can result from both logging and livestock grazing. What is subtle to the uninitiated is the loss of topsoil and loss of ground water recharge from logging and livestock grazing our watersheds. So, when one flies across the landscape and sees forests or grasslands they may not realize how out of balance these are today, how they are losing their ability to produce, to support biodiversity and to continue doing so. This is the reality in the West, and yes, “condos” or subdivisions going up in farmland is a ghastly sight, but as George says, this is a zoning issue and those concerned about condos could do great things by banding together and buying up the development rights. I have done this on nearly 900 acres in Idaho to prevent development and preserve the wildlife habitat.

    In a recent book, Alan Weisman, discusses the life of things like condos. When you realize that little is left of prehistoric home sites except for things like the pyramids or Tecal, the stick framed subdivisions of today will last a few decades or centuries. The soil loss by logging and livestock grazing will take thousands of years for nature to repair.

  23. Al says:

    George and Elizabeth,

    In my mind, the government probably ought to round up both of you and sentence you to 10 years hard labor on progressive cattle ranches. After that perhaps you could be promoted to work gangs practicing the restoration forestry of Dr. Thomas Bonnickson on our National Forests. Then perhaps if you kept your eyes and ears open you would understand how valuable resources can be sensibly used and managed.

    George has put out the fallacy that grizzly bears and wolves are declining. Their prey species are definitely in trouble in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas. Also he has not mentioned that cows are not present on many bull trout streams. Poor fish management has caused problems for bull trout in Flathead Lake and for cutthroat trout in Yellowstone National Park.

    I am a native of Montana and have far more time on livestock ranches, also accomplishing wildlife management and wildlife research, and forest and range management than George could ever hope for. For over four decades I have used my common sense and excellent education to work with and make a living from natural resources. I don’t publish picture books which attract developers and rich people wanting second and third homes in excellent Montana and other states wildlife habitat.

    Perhaps we should ban such books as they use a lot of valuable paper which could be better used for livestock, wildlife, forest and range text books.

    Al

  24. Mike says:

    “”So, when one flies across the landscape and sees forests or grasslands they may not realize how out of balance these are today, how they are losing their ability to produce, to support biodiversity and to continue doing so. This is the reality in the West, and yes, “condos” or subdivisions going up in farmland is a ghastly sight, but as George says, this is a zoning issue and those concerned about condos could do great things by banding together and buying up the development rights. I have done this on nearly 900 acres in Idaho to prevent development and preserve the wildlife habitat.””

    So you agree that condos are the worst possible outcome.

    “”In a recent book, Alan Weisman, discusses the life of things like condos. When you realize that little is left of prehistoric home sites except for things like the pyramids or Tecal, the stick framed subdivisions of today will last a few decades or centuries. The soil loss by logging and livestock grazing will take thousands of years for nature to repair. “”

    A condo subdivision will only last decades? I highly doubt that.

  25. Mike Lommler says:

    Can we put in some zoning to protect these open working landscapes from development and then argue about cows later? It seems to me that we all at least have in common that we don’t want to see the landscape developed.

  26. Rose Mary says:

    God Bless you, Al …
    … you’ve MADE MY DAY!
    Had no idea ’twas ONE to say
    A single thing
    To verify
    That COMMON SENSE ain’t gone to die!

    I’d come to think
    Montana folk
    Could ONLY tell a *scary* joke!
    Which made me count
    My blessings here
    In my own state that I hold dear.

    Congratulations! …
    … for YOU know
    That education WILL now show
    To you and others
    With a brain
    Who knows their stuff and who’s insane.

    There for an hour
    Of each day
    I’d known FOR SURE “Montana way”
    Was doomed forever
    To go down
    With Georgie prancin’ ’round the town.

    But NOW I know
    There’s at least ONE
    Who might speak up and spoil his fun!
    Hang in there Al!!!
    PLEASE persevere!!!
    Montana’s death NOT good to hear!

  27. Marion says:

    This is truly an amazing thread. Several of you are arguing about what YOU want to do with land OWNED by Other people! Mr. Stalin must be proud.
    Just where do you folks think food comes from, or have you quit eating?
    I have news for you, zoning is done on a local basis, and except for a few idiots in California, no local administrator is going to try to force the large taxpayers and employers off the tax rolls. Besides there is a little thing called grandfathering.
    I don’t know what you guys are smoking, sniffing, or swallowing, but wildlife is alive and well and doing extremely well on private ranch land coupled with public land. If you take away private land and try to manage like the forests with your save the pine beetle policies there will be no habitat for wildlife, livestock, or humans.
    Condos are not what big developers like I believe the NewWest conference is going to be are about. They are planning BIG houses, I believe, and not necessarily energy efficient either. Since housing cannot be done on public land, I suspect they have still other plans for what other people own.

  28. Marion says:

    Jamie, you said we need to quit concentrating on good or bad, but your post was mostly about what you consider bad about the production of food.
    I haven’t seen the movie, but doubt it is really related to the reality of the constitutional right to own one’s own family, not subject to confiscation to make another place for folks to play. Most land owners I know are much better stewards of the land simply because they have essentially everything they own and usually entire lifetimes invested in that property. Those who want the government to take it away and disgnate it for the use of certain people under certain circumstances at taxpayer expense, do not have any incentive because they have nothing whatsoever invested.
    We need to concentrate on what we ourselves are doing for the enviroment, not on what we can make others do for us.

  29. Jamie says:

    Marion-
    Very interesting point of view on my comments. I did not want to come across as negative. I see the negativity, but that is why i focus my time on sustainable agriculture. I have seen way to many small ranches and farms sold to cooperate businesses. I have seen ranches and farms lose everything they have because of government funded big business. Nothing is left anymore for the little guys. We have stripped them long ago of what keeps them afloat. Ranchers and farmers are our biggest supporters to the best ecosystem management we have. Many want to try new things, go into natural foods, or organic produce, maybe even a Co-op. But sometimes our biggest strength becomes or worst enemy. I have seen more times than not, that these small agricultural communities are only thinking of themselves (and rightly so with the desire to keep their heads from sinking) that they abuse the land they use. But having spent my entire 4 years in college in agriculture and working in it now, I feel that the idea of condo’s over cattle is a stupid battle. I think that the problem lies within the government. Maybe I am wrong, I am still learning alot here, but I feel we need to stop blaming the product and start looking at the source.

  30. Rose Mary says:

    Jamie, the current fires in CA have nothing to do with urban sprawl other than many persons in those homes have become victims.

    Forests ~ unkempt over the last century by gov.org ~ were set aflame by arching power lines and arsonists, fueled by seasonal Santa Ana winds that are customary to the region, according to the last published reports. For the record: urban sprawl does NOT cause Santa Ana winds.

    Human-caused catastrophic fires happen in the forests on public land, both intentionally and unintentionally. You can check the court records to see the “Guess-Who” individuals and organizations that continue to curtail prudent management of our forests and you can check frequent/current published photos of what remains after such catastrophic fires to make your own decision as to whether prudent logging or any other commercial activity on that public land could have conceivably ever have caused as much eradication of our forests for anywhere near as long a period of time. There are things much worse than capitalism, believe it or not. Gov.org and “Guess-Who” are two of them.

    Why you think urban sprawl caused those fires is beyond my comprehension. For all I know every one of those arsonists came to CA from Vermont.

    And, as usual, I continue to be both fascinated and appalled by those persons who LIVE in a previous development on private land that was previously a farm or a ranch and then like to voice the threat of the one next door ~ which is, of course, who the NIMBYs are by definition.

    Marion’s comments are accurate. If after your “…entire 4 years in college in agriculture and working in it now …” you “… have worked for years with ranchers and farmers to make them more sustainable …”, each and every one of them has my deepest compassion after reading your comments.

    With help like that what more could the poor souls want? A corner bed in a homeless shelter?

  31. George says:

    Rosemary

    Sprawl has everything to do with these fires and their consequences. A recent US Forest Service study found that 2/3 of all new home construction in the past decade in southern CA was in fire prone areas.

    The other factors is wind. Wind is the major reason for all large unstoppable fires. For every ten mph increase in wind, you get a 100 times greater fire spread. Santa Annas were blowing up to 70 mph. Throw in some low humidity (4% in recent days), high temperatures (80s or more) and drought (9 inches less precipitation this past year) and you have the ingredients for a major unstoppable fire. All you need to add is a source of ignition.

  32. Marion says:

    First of all define what you mean by sprawl. Those houses look pretty close together from what I could see on tv. Now are they idiots for building right up against the forest…you bet. Are tehy idiots to have all of the dry vegetation I saw in news clips, you bet. None the less the fires did not start because they were there, they spred easier because of that dry vegetation, but the know it all enviros demand that it be kept that way. The wind and the warm temps are a part of that area period.
    All you need is a source of ignition anywhere you have the conditions that exist naturally in that area, especially if the “guess who” folks have been dictating management of the public lands surrounding it. And of course they got rid of the cows that kept some of that grass trimmed down and provided natural fertilizer in the porcess.

  33. Rose Mary says:

    There you go again, George … telling people things that are untrue or simply woven into your words to imply things that *factually* a farce.

    Does your ability to do that and the so-called-“knowledge” that you share come from your credentials as an “ecologist” as recognized by the those standards of EDUCATION, experience, and ETHICS who are members of the Ecological Society of America?

    Or is “trust me” adequate background and credentials to and for all these nice people you wish to influence to such a great degree?

    Whether or not even one home has ever been built in the past century in a place that can reasonably be identified as a fire PRONE area has nothing to do with any of them being the CAUSE of this CA fire or any other catastrophic fire anywhere in the West or elsewhere.

    According to all those good folks who are ON THE SCENE fighting this fire ~ and those who have continued to fight these catastrophic fires in the recent past ~ this fire was NOT CAUSED nor did it start in ANY “urban sprawl” area.

    It was CAUSED by arching power lines and arsonists and it was FUELED by those unkempt forests that YOU and your comrades in crime have spent years in court doing all you could to see to it that each and every one of our publicly owned forests had no proper management that could have easily reduced the EXTREME fire hazards within those forests that exist today.

    As I previously stated, CA fires *BECOME* large unstoppable fires ” … fueled by seasonal Santa Ana winds that are customary to the region …” but those winds are not the CAUSE of fire.

    And, for the record, maybe you ought to consult your “ecologist” text books to determine the truth of my statement that “… urban sprawl does NOT cause Santa Ana winds.”

    I certainly agree that “All you need to add is a source of ignition.”

    But that “source of ignition” did NOT originate in any urban sprawl area or because of it.

    According to authorities NOW ON THE SCENE that “source of ignition” has been further identified:

    “In the middle of the arc of fire, the Santiago Fire in Orange County had burned nearly 20,000 acres and destroyed nine homes. Only 50 percent contained, it is a suspected ARSON fire. (emphasis added)

    “Agents from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were sent to help investigate. Authorities said a smaller, more recent fire in Riverside County also is linked to ARSON. (emphasis added)

    “Police shot and killed a man who fled Tuesday night when officers approached to see if he might be trying to set a fire in the city of San Bernardino. The man, whose name was not released, had led police on a chase then backed his car into a police cruiser, San Bernardino police said. ”

    Where a home is built and whether or not a person owning that home takes the time to clear areas around it in order to further protect their home in case of any fire has to do with the PERSONAL RISK a homeowner might have ~ but even that is certainly no guarantee their home will not burn in such a catastrophic fire as this one in CA and/or those that have been happening in recent years throughout the West.

    But “urban sprawl” or urban development of any kind does not CAUSE those fires and are low on the list of the magnitude of them when compared to the current condition of our national public forests.

    You do remember those forests, do you not, George?

    They are the same ones that YOU and your comrades in crime have done everything you know to do ~ including past and current court/legal battles ~ in order to prohibit the proper management of them. The result of your “environmental contributions” is that our public forests are NOW nothing short of a TINDERBOX welcoming arsonists and electrical faults and lightning strikes … and/and/and … with open arms.

    But you just stay on your soapbox, George. As your funding to operate can sure confirm, there IS another fool born every minute of every day who will BUY your rhetoric.

    Only when their own PERSONAL dues become too high to pay will they “consider the source” and decide to research and think for themselves. Or maybe if/when they visit one of those no-longer-existing forests destroyed by these catastrophic fires ~ thanks to that total lack of prudent forest management that you *continue* to sue in order to assure remains that way in the future ~ they will “all of a sudden” come to realize that prudent logging and other commercial ventures within those forests might have been our GOOD news? One can only hope for such sanity … before the forests within the West are nothing BUT ash, rock and empty land that will take centuries to restore.

    In the meantime, George, I repeat my request since your silence has been deafening to date:

    * If you wish to claim the label of “ecologist” and wish to represent yourself as an expert conducting ecological scientific research as you repeatedly and continually to do; and,

    * Since you are NOT thus recognized as being such an expert by your peers who have met those standards of EDUCATION, experience, and ETHICS who are members of the Ecological Society of America; then,

    * Perhaps you should define your credentials to and for all these nice people you wish to influence to such a great degree.

    We are all STILL anxiously awaiting your disclosures.

  34. Dave Skinner says:

    I didn’t think this one was going to torch. But it did.
    Bottom line is George thinks cows bad, people bad, so tax the tar out of the bad people and kick them off, as well as their cows.
    Never MIND that the landscape we live in is pretty much an anthropological artifact, shaped in both terms of vegetation and animal distributions by human influence, not just “nature.”
    All those oaks in the Willamette? Indians. All that grass in Ohio. Indians. The only places where Indians didn’t have much of an effect on the composition of the, um, er, BIOTA, was where they perceived no practical or rational reason for doing so.
    Et cetera, all across the continent.
    And I’d like to back up Rose Mary’s point, George. What IS your degree? I mean, Tim Ingalsbee the fire “expert” makes much of his PhD from OU, but almost never mentions it is in sociology. I only have a humble “twin” bachelors’ in business management and marketing, and since then have not had the luxury of, say, designing my own post-grad major at boutique U’s like Prescott College….
    I have a better plan. Let’s have cowboys and Indians. Turn the Indians loose in the wilderness areas with their torches, and in certain places outside wilderness, let the Indians burn in cooperation with the cowboys and their cows. Might make both groups prosperous to the point where there won’t be any desire to sell for condos. And I guarantee the hunting will be awesome.

  35. George says:

    Here’s some good maps, graphics, etc. on sprawl-fire–plus a definition that someone asked for. This is just one of many places you can get information about how sprawl contributes to greater fire fighting costs, risks to fire fighters, and of course loss of homes and lives of those living in fire prone areas.

    http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/projects/WUI_Main.asp

  36. George says:

    Here’s a response to the notion that fire suppression created the fire situation in southern California. Chaparrel is naturally a stand replacement fire regime. Here’s a few quotes from USGS scientists.

    A study by Jon Keeley of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center in Sacramento found that since the start of record keeping in 1878, there has been no increase in the average size of wildfires in southern California.

    “In contrast to coniferous forests, where fire suppression has indeed led to hazardous accumulation of fuel, and the potential for unnatural catastrophic fires, fire suppression in the brush lands of southern and central-coastal California has not altered the natural fire cycle,” Keeley said in the study. “In fact, large high-intensity wildfires are a natural feature of the chaparral landscape, and there is no evidence they are an artifact of modern fire suppression practices.”

  37. George says:

    Here is a quote from Tom Swetnam one of the leaders in fire research at U of Arizona. Swetnam used to be a proponent of the fire suppression has caused big fires school of thought. He has recently changed his mind. Here’s an excerpt from an article.

    Swetnam was initially skeptical that climate was driving recent large-scale changes in fire frequency. Doing this research changed his mind.

    “I had thought it was primarily fuel load. These results suggest that for most western U.S. forests, climate is a primary driver and fuel is secondary.”

  38. George says:

    From the Washington Post

    The move into the hills is for homes that are more affordable, but they are also more vulnerable. An inventory by University of Wisconsin researchers found that about two-thirds of new building in Southern California over the past decade was on land susceptible to wildfires, said Mike Davis, a historian at the University of California at Irvine and author of a social history of Los Angeles.

    “It gives you some parameters for understanding the current situation,” Davis said. “Another way to look at it is you simply drive out the San Gorgonio Pass, where the winds blow over 50 mph over a hundred days a year and you have new houses standing next to 50-year-old chaparral.

    “You might as well be building next to leaking gasoline cans.”

  39. George says:

    A recent study found that the main way to reduce home loss isn’t by logging on federal lands, but by increasing the ability of homes to survive fires through simple means such as replacing flammable roofs with metal or some other non-burnable material. The main responsibility for reducing home loss resides with homeowners–not the government agencies. Much of this work has been done by Jack Cohen at the Missoula fire lab. Here’s a quote from one of his papers.

    “Home ignitability, rather than wildland fuels, is the principal cause of home losses during wildland/urban interface fires. Given nonflammable roofs, Stanford Research Institute found that 95 percent of homes survived where vegetation clearance of 10 to 18 meters was maintained around the homes.”

  40. Rose Mary says:

    So does that mean, George, that you DO or do NOT want all The People of The West to build ” … next to leaking gasoline cans.” ???

    We do know, do we not, that those forests without proper management that you have been lobbying to create throughout your notorious lifetime have filled those cans with that gas, do we not?

    You have yet to direct us to a single word saying that so-called-“urban sprawl” is the CAUSE of fires. If you find one let us know.

    Where a home is built is a PERSONAL RISK every homeowner in the USA volunteers to take.

    What has happened to our public forests is NOT. Most of us did not get a vote on all those contributing court cases nor did we raise the funds to file them, George.

    I would think the depth and width of your HATRED for ALL mankind (second only to your HATRED of their cows) would make you want to encourage homes built in the face of any disaster … whether that is next door to the inferno of a MISMANAGED FOREST you’ve helped to create or on a New Orleans waterway near the coast.

    Of course if you have your way, bolstered by all your fans who wish to take away ANY option for ANY of that voluntary personal choice OR their private property rights of any kind, there will be NO personal risk in the USA …… or will there? Suppose that risk might increase to life-consuming levels far away and beyond “just” what now exists for all of us?

    You might suggest that Jack Cohen watch some of the TV coverage of the current CA fires and see if he can catch the pictures and the interviews regarding the home with shake shingles and NO clearance of vegetation that remains standing today … while every other home in the immediate neighborhood that DID have nonflammable roofs (mostly tile) and DID have vegetation clearance of 10 to 18 meters that WAS maintained around them are ASHES today.

    Those options to try to reduce the odds and the PERSONAL RISK of home ignitability that can cause home losses that Jack Cohen mentions are certainly valid and should always remain a FREE CHOICE consideration for homeowners everywhere.

    HOWEVER: That IS and should remain THEIR OPTION as it is THEIR PERSONAL RISK.

    And here we remain, George … all STILL anxiously awaiting your personal disclosures.

  41. Elizabeth says:

    Rose Mary,

    I am getting pretty tired of your attacks of George and claims of his hatred of humanity. I suggest you look in the mirror to see evidence of some pretty serious hatred expressed. It is not becoming. George owes you nothing in the way of personal disclosures. if you really have something to contribute to the conversation, like George, have some class, treat people with respect, and and bring some knowledge to the table. All your all-caps typing that implies yelling at us will not make us buy what you are saying any more than a spoiled child yelling into the wind. If you just want to rant, do it on your own blog, on your own holier-than-thou high horse. It gets very tiring! I learn nothing from you.

  42. Rose Mary says:

    As Al already suggested to you and George, Elizabeth:

    “… the government probably ought to round up both of you and sentence you to 10 years hard labor on progressive cattle ranches. After that perhaps you could be promoted to work gangs practicing the restoration forestry of Dr. Thomas Bonnickson on our National Forests. Then perhaps if you kept your eyes and ears open you would understand how valuable resources can be sensibly used and managed.”

    Al is definitely an optimist to think there might even be a “perhaps” with your name on it. It is more than a tiny bit probable that you will “learn nothing” ever.

    If you’re looking for someone who cares what you’re “pretty tired of”, Elizabeth, I’d be happy to send you a quarter to call someone who cares.

  43. Marion says:

    Elizabeth, I’m sure you are tired of property owners daring to speak out. But when george et al start debating what they want to do with someone else’s property, it is very, very scary. Those of you who want to turn your own homes into wilderness are free to do so, but this is the United States of America, and you do not have the right to take our property and make a play toy out of it! You may be able to shut the general working tax payers out of public land, but we will fight for our own property, when you try to take that for your selves.

  44. Jeff says:

    Excellect article, George! You make a great case for the destructive nature of cattle grazing without overstating it. Moreover, you suggest practical solutions to aleviate the pervasive, heavily subsidized damage of our western landscape.

    Cows vs. condos is a false choice. And you lay out the facts very clearly for those not familiar with the issue.

    I was hoping you would make the case for supporting the pending legislation for the voluntary buyout of grazing permitees as supported by Western Watersheds Project; among others. With the pending Whitehouse regime change and Senators Craig and Domenici (two of the worst Senators for pandering to the livestock industries) retiring soon, I’m hoping this legislation can gain some real traction after 2008.

    Any thoughts on that legislation, George?

    Jeff
    Boise, ID

  45. George says:

    Jeff:

    I’m very famiiar with the proposed buyout legislation and believe it is a practical solution that could work well. Perhaps in a future column I’ll describe it in more detail, but for those who are unfamiliar with the proposal, let me describe it. Basically the legislation would pay ranchers a one time fee to relinquish their grazing permit which would be permanently retired. Right now other retirement programs are not permanent. So even if a permit is surrendered in exchange for money (as is being done in the Greater Yellowstone area) there is no guarantee that at some future date it might be reopened to grazing.