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George Wuerthner

Guest Column: We Ought Not Grow Cows In Dry West

The West is a powerful place. Soaring mountains. Vast plains. Boisterous rivers. Huge spaces.

But one attribute defines the West more than any other—aridity.

Aridity imposes limitations and costs on human enterprises. Nowhere are the limitations and costs of aridity less apparent, yet reaping more degradation and destruction than the failed attempt to create a viable livestock industry in this dry region.

Livestock production–which includes not only the grazing of plants, but everything it takes to raise a cow in the arid West including the dewatering of rivers for irrigation, the killing of predators to make the land safe for cattle, the fragmentation of landscapes with hay fields and other crops grown to feed livestock, combined with the pulverization of riparian areas under cattle hooves, and the displacement of native wildlife–is by far the worse environmental catastrophe to befall the West.

Though the resulting biological impoverishment is less obvious to the average person than say the impacts of logging or a mine, its ecological wounds are greater. No other activity affects more of the West in more ways than livestock production.

If this sounds a bit like hyperbole consider the following. Livestock production occurs on more than 850 million acres of public and private land in the West— one third of the US land area! More importantly this is by far the driest, most fragile third of the country. Given the vast amount of land affected, and the fact that most livestock production is anything but benign, the biological impoverishment caused by the livestock industry is potentially staggering. Although no full accounting of the true cost of livestock production has ever been undertaken, we do know that livestock production is responsible for some superlatives.

It is the single greatest cause of soil erosion in the West. It is the number one source of non-point water pollution. It is the major consumer of scarce western water, and the major factor in the extirpation of many native species from the wolf to the grizzly bear. It is the reason that the West’s wide open spaces are fragmented, fenced, and domesticated. Not surprisingly given all the above, it is also the leading cause of species decline and the major factor in the listing of more western endangered species than any other cause.

Most of these problems are ultimately traced to aridity. Since there is little we as humans can do to effectively change the natural limitations of western geography, any proposals to make ranching somehow less destructive and more benign soon run into these non-negotiable conditions.

Aridity has its cost. Low precipitation and frequent drought accounts for the West’s limited productivity. By comparison in many parts of the moist and humid East one can raise a cow year round on a single acre of ground. In many parts of the arid and rugged West 100-200 acres or more are necessary to sustain a cow. Such vast expanses require more investment in fencing, water developments; more gas in the pick up truck and just time spent gathering stock. Not surprisingly Louisiana produces more beef than Wyoming—the Cowboy State. And despite the fame of Georgia peanuts and fruit, the peach state produces more cattle than Nevada.

The wide open spaces that the West is famous for also means that livestock are far more vulnerable to predators. Most ranchers simply put their animals out on the range and allow them to fend for themselves for weeks or months at a time, giving predators plenty of opportunities for a free lunch. But in the moist East where most livestock are grazed on the back forty, one can readily monitor livestock daily and even put them in a barn or corral each night for protection. In the West, the nearly universal response has been to extirpate the predators.

And while in the moist East the grass two hundred yards from a stream is just as green and lush as along the waterway, in the West, nearly all green lush vegetation is concentrated in the thin green line of riparian vegetation. Here cows congregate and trample streambanks, pollute waterways and destroy the riparian habitat that is essential to the survival of 75-80 percent of the West’s wildlife.

In the moist East where it rains you can grow hay or other water-loving crops for animal feed without irrigation. In the West we destroy rivers by damming them, and draining them to grow hay. And with the destruction of rivers, we place into jeopardy fish as diverse as the Bonneville cutthroat trout to the Sacramento smelt. And so it goes. If you want to grow livestock in the West you can only do it by subsidizing the livestock operation with environmental degradation—and not surprisingly as the many federally funded irrigation projects, predator control, and other state and federally funded projects demonstrate—a great deal of taxpayer money as well.

I am not trying to make a case for raising beef in the East—even in the East livestock production is a very ecologically costly endeavor. Rather I am suggesting that the West is a totally inappropriate place to raise cows. That is not to say there are not better or worse ways to ranch, and some ranchers are more conscientious than others, but all must ultimately face the reality of geography. And aridity results in livestock induced ecological costs and places economic constrains on what ranchers can afford to spend to mitigate the problems created by geography and the use of a water-loving, slow-moving, dim-witted domestic animal for stock. The western livestock industry is built upon a poor foundation—the domestic cow—and like a house built upon a steep eroding hillside, you can not ultimately fix the problem by continuously prompting up the industry.

What will a West freed from the yoke of cows be like?

For starters many species currently at low numbers or restricted distribution will see their populations grow to fill the great spaces of the West. Wolves may again howl beyond the city limits of Boise and Salt Lake. Salmon once again may jam the spawning beds of the Salmon, John Day and Powder rivers. Bison could roam the prairie just beyond the city limits of Casper, Denver and Billings. Rivers will run clear and full.

This rejuvenated West won’t be some throw back to the times of Lewis and Clark—we have crossed too many ecological thresholds and we have too many people for that to be a reality any time soon. But this new livestock-free West will nevertheless almost certainly will be more ecologically productive, more beautiful, and wilder than at present. And that is plenty good enough for me.

EDITOR’S NOTE: George Wuerthner is a writer, activist, biologist and photographer whose pictures can be seen at George Wuerthner Photography.

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34 comments

  1. Bison filled an ecological niche. Not sure how for how long in ecological history or how their biomass compared to todays cows. I have heard some of the ways the impacts are different. Seems like cows-no cows discussion benefits from recognizing that significant presence of this general type of range forage animals is not new, developed naturally. Options for future include status quo, no cows ….or mimicking to some degree the practices/impacts of bison as some alternative range use advocates have been developing.

  2. Good piece — but I missed any mention of free roaming horses and burros, both of which (despite explicit federal legislation meant to protect them) have lately been subjected to a campaign of eradication under the present administration’s oversight, I suspect egged on by the Beef Cattleman’s Assoc.

    Check out http://www.wildhorsepreservation.org for some hard data.

    Also the Land Institute is worth looking at for ideas related to a prairie commons — I think Wes keeps a Buf or two around in support of their return.

  3. That is right, JW. Bison created swallows, which were rounded miniature impoundments in which they cooled and mudded themselves in. These swallows did more that just collect water for Bison. They also encouraged rainwater infiltration into our groundwater resources. The landscape used to be dotted with these simple catchments. Now? We have cattle plunging themselves through muddy destroyed riparian areas.

  4. Fear mongering about cattle is out of date. Oil and gas development, not cattle, is the greatest threat currently faced by public lands. Over the past several years, the BLM and FS have supervised the leasing and development of oil and gas on multi-millions of acres of public land; oil and gas development is now rampant and without supervision for the permanent destruction it causes. The Bush/Cheney administration has quietly and systematically dismantled federal laws and administrative rules meant to provide protection to the immediate environment from the destructive impact caused by seismigraphic activity and development of oil pads and accompanying roads, from methane gas exploration and production, salt-water disposal, by-product production of lethal hydrogen sulfide, millions of miles of pipelines, and so forth. NEPA requirements have been gutted. Categorical exclusions have been implemented wholesale, erasing any opportunity for input into location and siting of pads and roads, restrictions to protect wildlife, sensitive terrain, or air quality. Stop tilting at windmills and tackle the real threat to the West. There’s plenty that needs to be done, but it starts with intelligent, sensible, open minds rather than vague and unfounded diatribes that serve only to polarize.

  5. I would disagree that “Most of these problems are ultimately traced to aridity.” Most of the problems with rangeland agriculture are a result of improper management; too many cows on the range and in the wrong places for too long. Because “we have crossed too many ecological thresholds” even a rejuvenated West would require responsible management. Too many people…now that I agree with. Fix that problem and most other ecological problems will also be remedied.

  6. There are all kinds of industries that do damage to the arid West including just having humans in multiple houses, but it’s hard to go back in time. Raising corn has its upside and downsides, mostly down for me. Corn syrup is making us all into children of the corn. I was struck watching “Planet Earth” last night of the struggles of all animals in this world. We should all be more aware at how easy some of us have it and how hard it is for others to eke out a living. and how hard it is for some animals to even find a decent watering hole. There are responsible people in every occupation and also cheats. There are small ranchers who intensive graze their land like the buffalo or the elephants and other grazers that I watched in the program last night called “The Plains”. Our enemy is not the cow, but agribusiness. Our enemy is not the cow, but other men.

  7. Well George, an interesting read of environmental extremism! What do you propose the American people eat? Or are you now going to tell us what we are allowed to eat too?

    Most cattlemen are also conservationist, not environmental waco terrorist. They care for the land and have done so for many generations. Sure there are some who just don’t care and it is those that need to be dealt with.

    “This rejuvenated West won’t be some throw back to the times of Lewis and Clark…” I strongly disagree. You propose throwing back to the times of the “old West!” We see it in Alaska now, the “Great Last Frontier” where these same Environmental Waco Terrorist want to change the entire State into a National Park and kick all the people out!

    What’s next George? Tearing and burning down Cheyenne and Denver to return it back to its former pristine state?

    The beef that you buy in the store comes from the same cattlemen that you frivolously attack!

  8. George’s article is deceiving. When he states “this is by far the driest, most fragile third of the country” he is wrong. A basic knowledge of disturbance ecology indicates that the dry portions of the West generally evolved with frequent disturbances (particularly fire and grazing) and because of this are in fact *remarkably* resilient rather than fragile. If you give most western ecosystems time to “bounce back” they do. However if you convert the economy from a natural-resource-based one to the modern urban economies that seem to be so rapidly converting our lands to chain-store malls and subdivisions, the land does not have a chance to show it’s resiliance.

    Like so many attacks these days, this one hides behind the veil of environmentalism. What he is attacking is an economy that sustains people naturally at low population densities. To be economically viable each ranching family needs large amounts of relatively undeveloped lands. The vast areas of undeveloped lands that coincide with healthy ranching economies are the same areas that the environmentalist in me loves. The real challenge for environmentalists is keeping these ranches together. I only hope that the ranching business will remain attractive to future generations so that children of ranchers do not leave the business and sell off the ranch, for fear of working themselves to the bone and only being rewarded with poverty. Perhaps if we could label beef in such a way that there was a premium demand for family-owned grass-fed beef…..?

  9. This article is typical of ‘environmental extremists’ I am sure back east primarily or maybe California included who have no idea what public lands are that are managed for multiple-use land management by law. On public lands you blame the livestock but not the managers and agencies. Livestock managed through purposeful management such as rest-rotation grazing can benefit the very resources that you are critical of. Lock it up and throw away the key is the solution of the ‘radical environmentalists’. I am sure you oppose public hunting on public land as well as about every other recreational use including public land access as well.
    All public lands in the west are not national parks. If you really want to see mismanaged public land subject to soil erosion/overgrazing with no livestock visit the Lamar Valley and Mammoth area in Yellowstone National Park. Gross mismanagement by the NPS who you praise. Animals like bison starve to death inch by inch and leave the park to find winter forage that is why they leave. Then there is the wolves the biggest wildlife management blunder in the history of wildlife management.The wolves have devastated the elk population. But of course talking to a ‘radical environmentalists’ is like talking to the door! Look into the Cherry Lake -Cherry Creek fish poisoning venture something important. Why poison native Yellowstone cutthroat trout inside the Lee Metcalf national wilderness area in pristine water in the lake and streams? For west -slope to be brought in artificially that won’t survive? Isn’t that working against nature? Find out who is funding most of it. Ask FWP in Montana for details. Now they plan to put the same poison in ‘natural wetlands’ protected under federal law. Here is something you can write about. Get on this environmentalists!

  10. Let the wild buffalo roam! We should start in Montana, where the buffalo are trying to regain a foothold, but the cattle industry is strangling it. Enough! We need wild buffalo all over this land!

  11. Dream on…Where will the ‘wild buffalo ‘ come from?? All of Turners are ‘domestic livestock’!!!!!!. The buffalo in YNP even started from game farms in Texas and the Flathead valley. Let the ‘domestic buffalo’ roam right through towns, on the highways, in the cities, through peoples yards, can’t have fences they wouldn’t be ‘wild buffalo’ then they have to ‘free roam’! Dream on…. Then we will have something to hunt…. maybe 1000 a year!!!!!!! I would like to hunt wild bison. We can all eat ‘wild buffulo’. What will we eat if we are not all vegetarians like environmentalists? Wonder what a wolf taste like. What’s the weather like back there in New York City? Do you need wild buffalo in NYC,L.A. San Fan? Dream on ….dream on….dream on. FACT IS THERE ARE NO ‘WILD BUFFALO’….HATE TO BE THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS! On the other hand, I really enjoy a good ‘beef’ rib steak ,thick, med well. No I don’t like the ‘wild buffalo dream’…….. I like beef.

  12. Buffalo isn’t bad, kind of like Muskox. Moose is better! 10,000 wolves can’t be wrong! 🙂

  13. Cattle ranching in the west on private land is a mix of good, bad and the ugly. It is a business but the public can require that externalities are dealt with and I think they should be to a higher level than they are in many cases now. The impact of water is one of my biggest concerns Cattle ranching on public land at below market grazing rates and high usage rates that degrades the land’s health and future capacties does deserve an even brighter spotlight to accelerate reforms and selectively reduce leases in spots where it is least suited and leasee usage has shown itself most harmful. Politically reform has proven very tough to pass. But maybe a new President in 2009 will achieve advancements.

  14. Yes, the 2009 election. Well John McCain has my vote. I guess the environmentalists squabble over Hillary and Obama. Can you picture either of them commander in chief? Can you imagine either looking after our public lands? OMG!

  15. Well said J.W., J.T. and Jack.
    Mel, in my opinion there is to much input from people that are ignorant or have ulterior motives about the public lands grazing issue. Grazing the western landscape can be very benificial or not so good. I garantee you most public lands ranchers want to maintain or improve the lanscape. I can tell you that from personel experience. I live in southeastern Arizona. I am surronded by cattle ranches. Ranchers have installed stock tanks.water lines,Fencing and other improvements that benifet the wildlife as much as the cattle. This area is a haven for bird watchers. Partly because of the agriculture in this area. As someone said above the problem isn’t ranching it is ranchers subdividing their land because of the pressures, lawsuits and misinformation put out by anti-grazing organizations.
    People need to know the facts not the rhetoric.

  16. Bill, I can tell you from first hand experience the 1000’s of stock ponds constructed in northcentral Montana in the prairie pothole region has contributed measurably-significantly to waterfowl production and use. There are several thousand stock ponds there now on pvt,BLM and state land.Many in eastern Montana as well. Much research was done on the value,the type of stock pond and modifications such as island construction for geese and ducks. I was directly involved as a wildlife biologist. Also research was done on rest-rotation grazing by cattle and benefits to waterfowl with residual carry- over cover for upland nesting ducks and improved wetland conditions for over the water nesters like redhead and scaup.
    National Ducks Unlimited both in Canada and the U.S., a great organization, has funded many of the same types of projects very compatible with livestock production and use.Many other species of wildlife benefit as well including non game birds and upland game birds.Also big game such as pronghorn antelope.
    The value of cattle grazing outweighs the value of no grazing. Free roaming bison today would devastate the range with continuous grazing. Environmentalists today don’t even both to look into wildlife literature on the subject published in scientific journals. I guess they look at pictures in the Serria Club magazine…very scientific?
    I support cattle grazing and will continue to do so and I am familiar with the literature on the subject. Look at bison grazing..look in YNP and SW Montana shameful management.
    I could post some of the appropriate literature here. To get both sides of the story,fair and balanced reporting, New West should print both sides. Why print a story only for some radical uniformed environmentalist?

  17. Ranchers have the frist hand experience & knowledge and most of the power. and can tap a range of research .. so do it right, do it better. Be the best ranchers/neighbors/earth stewards you can. I’m still saving to buy my spot.

  18. I have to respond to at least a few of the points expressed in the comments. The good birding in Southeast Arizona is largely focused on riparian areas. Places like Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mounains, the Ramsey Canyon Preserve, and the San Pedro River Riparian Area near Sierra Vista and so on. The common element of all these places is the absence of cattle. And I am certain that if cattle were removed from the rest of the riparian areas in Southeast Arizona, we would even better birding opportunities in the region.

    As for ranchers loving the land, and so on, you missing the point of the essay. Even if you love the land, the aridity of the West imposes limits on how much production you can get from any acre. And there are limits to what someone can pay to mitigate the impacts of livestock–for instance if you are going to fence all the seeps, springs, and riparian zones along creeks that costs you a great deal. Furthermore since riparian areas are often the most productive sites in these arid lands, if you fence them to protect them from cows, you reduce the available forage considerably. This reduces your potential profit. If ranchers were to truly eliminate most of their ecological impacts–they could not make a profit in this arid land. That’s the crux of the problem.

  19. Wuerthner gives great play to emotion and not enough work on facts.
    Will New West now give equal ink to factually grounded writers?
    He may be another *drone sent as a front man, to boost public perception that America’s resource providers are bad people who deserve to have TNC take away their land and water.
    Is he one those who’d prefer your being at the mercy of un-friendly nations…for your food, fiber and fuel?
    Terrorists – held anywhere – are treated better than the American farmer. Where’s the outrage for these violations of human rights?
    * Like the bus load of Boulderites who murmured on and on about their personal relationships with wolves while showing a total disconnect from humans.

  20. I agree with what Geo said. But if cattle alone is too sketchy economically and too damaging ecologically what is the choice? Right now the #1 option is subdividng into ranchettes. The various conservation easement options offer a way to avoid ranchettes. Cattle with conservation easements that are well-designed and monitored for success sounds like a good policy tool to me. More funding for that seems like a realistic improvement.

  21. In response to Roni, you need to look at what farmers grow. The majority of all cropland in the US goes into growing crops fed directly to livestock not for direct human consumption. If we need to fed ourselves, we could do so easily. Especially since western public lands are so unproductive. Even a slight increase in production in eastern landscapes where it rains could easily replace the “loss” of western livestock production on public lands.

    And even if you like meat, you could grow more meat by enhancing wildlife numbers and killing an elk or bison than growing cows. Indeed, many studies have shown that collectively wildlife better parse natural habitat than a single species like a cow. I.e. you get more pounds of meat from wildlife than from a single species like a cow. The subsitution of cattle and sheep for native species was a big mistake.

  22. Geo,
    You are correct. Most of the riparian areas are restricted from grazing in this area. But not all of them. It does not mean it is the correct thing to do. Research has proven that most of these areas improve with controlled, timed grazing. My main point is we humans as the dominant species on the planet, have to decide what we want to do with the land. In my opinion we should manage the open spaces both public and private, to enhance the watershed. Everything else is secondary. Water is always the key. We cannot just let mother nature take its course as many people think we should do. That would only lead to more catastrophic events. All of North America was managed by humans long before the Europeans visited these shores. The book “1491” is a laborious but facinating read. I reccommend you try it. This book discribes how the native americans managed the land for their own benfit.
    People like Allan Savory and the The Tiptons have shown how the use of cattle in some cases, may the the ONLY way to reclaim land that has been mismanaged intentionly or not. Try to look at the end result and not the tools we use to accomplish the goal.

  23. I’m very familiar with the literature on cattle grazing. And there is no research that demonstrates grazing riparian areas “improves” things over no grazing of riparian areas–unless of course your measure of “improvement’ is less water infilitration, loss of native vegetation, replacement by exotics, and channel bank destruction, etc.

    You have to be a careful reader of the literature–most of which is produced by range professors who have a vested interest in keeping cows out there. Most do not have any control–i.e. cowfree sites. jFurthermore, what you are measuring affects what you get. Just because some guy says he found no differences between a grazed and ungrazed site, that doesn’t mean there’s no different. It all depends on what you measure.

    As for 1491–I’ve read it. It exaggerates greatly the impact of humans. Humans had impacts–more than some wish to admit–but not across the entire landscape. Humans had the same kinds of issues as wolves today. Wolves do not “destroy” game across the landscape anymore than humans did because of disease, intertribal fighting, etc. The abundance of wildlife that Lewis and Clark found along the MIsosulri River, for instance, was the intersection of tribial territories. These territories shifted over time and so did the influence of humans. When you had to carry a bison back to Camp on your back–how many do you think you would kill 50 miles from your village? Human impacts were significantly less than the authors suggest. Ditto for fire. Most of the West is dominated by stand replacement fire regimes–and these regimes are that way because they don’t burn most of the time–in fact can’t burn in most years. You can use a blow torch to these lands and still not make them burn. Indian fire influenced only the lowest and driest terrain, and again primarily in the neighborhood of their villages–which were widely spread over the landscape except for in Middle America (i.e. Mexico etc.).

  24. George is wrong on so many fronts in this opinion, that it is hard to state them all.

    Water quality: It is not cow poop, but human poop that is raising heck with rivers. Poop from homes, schools, factories, govt buildings. It is all transported with pristine, pure water, an entitlement to pollute, into the rivers and on to the sea. Who ever gave people an entitlement to pure water did not read the small print that notes that a gallon of pure water to town ends up with all the runoff it facilitates in the river as notso water….notso pure. Polluted. In Oregon’s Willamette River, the particular female hormone associated with birth control pills is measureable in the water. Now we have transgender fish wanting special rights. And is it ever hard for them to hide the kipe of their jaws with makeup, jewelry and scarves.

    Urban areas need vast expanses of farmland not growing food crops because they need a place to dispose of biosolids, the gunk from the bottom of the treatment plant. Land use, farm land protection, open areas, all are a smokescreen for the need for land on which to pay farmers to accept the gunk from the bottom on sewage lagoons and treatment plants. And that poop is not cow poop. It is people poop. The predominantly urban West needs lots of acres of poop placement so they are not, you know, in their nest. And it all gets rained on after placement, and incorporation into the soil. Just a little more sophisticated than Afghanistan, but not much more. We just aren’t raising opium poppies on the land.

    Erosion: If you ever get around any construction project in the West, you see the erosion barriers erected by contractors. But none around the streams burned in conflagrations resulting from an intellectually impoverished public lands forest policy. When you remove the organic cover of the soil by fire, gross erosion is the result.
    Grazing: Livestock footprints hold snow and water, and in fact become fertilized germination sites for native plants. Mini bison wallows. Poor grazing practices are not excuseable. Managed grazing is essential to plants, their reproduction and health. No grazing is a worst case scenario, now being repeated across the West. A pasture, once grazed and seasonally used by desert big horn sheep in Arizona was purchased as a bighorn sheep reserve, and not grazed. The plants went woody, and the sheep have not been back. In the middle of a drought event, controlled burning has been ruled out.

    There HAS to be a continuing disruption and removal of plant material to have healthy vegetation. But constant, unrelenting grazing is also bad. It is a management issue, with associated costs. If the costs are too high, the rancher subsidizes the public, and if the costs are too low, the public subsidizes the rancher. Again, consensus and meeting on the middle ground is the best answer to preserving the vast areas of habitat that ranches and grazing provide for myriad species. George is an “aginner”, one of those people who is against everything he cannot personally control. George is a brilliant mind, a sharp wit, but not totally in control or aware of all the biological processes at work.

    I have a problem with people who live in urban areas dictating what happens on rural lands, public or private. No empirical knowledge. The greatest threat to fragile arid lands is not livestock grazing. The greatest threat is human use as urban areas expand, and the pressure on rural lands to provide amusement and meaning to urban folks’ idle time. The McMansion in the meadow, the Megahouse on the horizon, are urban expressions of the desire to have a refuge, a place of security, a bobble and a bangle of success, because they can. And they are the great disruptors of wildlife security, migration, winter food. Kick the cow off, and the land really becomes more barren of wildlife. The elk don’t want to endure barking dogs, fences, and new roads, and quit managing the graze as they drift towards more secure landscapes. We are back to the pruning that grazing molars provide to keep feed succulent and growing. No cows or sheep translates to a diminished food base, and many fewer animals. Add wolf transplants and the grazers are gone, to be further replaced by ill placed residences. Maybe the zoning process should include a biological assessment by government, and a payment to the landowner by govt if the land is not suitable for housing and can’t be used for livestock or other ag. After all, it is a society taking from one member to appease the misguided sensibilities of others.

    To protect re-introduced California big horn sheep, domestic sheep are mostly banned from public land grazing in SE Oregon. The domestic sheep grazed the same things as mule deer, and where there was once a robust mule deer population, today there are very few. And more cattle. So the bighorns graze behind cows in the rims, and antelope are doing just fine. But the deer are a thing of the past. I only wish the biological curiousity and the market economics would put a few bands of sheep back in that country. Just to see if more sagehen leks would show up, just to see if deer would respond. Of course, no cat hunting for 10 years is also in the mix. And they are killing the big horns now, in unsustainable numbers. The urban will, forced upon the rural livelihood and lifestyle, has negative impacts, glossed over by the pounding propaganda of the animal rights people. You insert one mentality into the mix, and the results change, over time, in ways not foreseen nor wanted. George is a fomentor, promoter, and gadfly for change whose results he does not know. Cooler heads should prevail.

    The hope is that vehicles like NEW WEST wil address the communcations gap, and be a part of solutions to problems in the rural areas, and in the urban areas. And urban areas in the West are unique, in that the arid West is the most urban area of the United States. More of the population lives in town in the West than in any other part of the US. We have HUGE urban issues, and when the fall out happens on rural lands, the lack of human numbers translates to a lack of voters in rural areas. The rural experience becomes one of constant defense. You spend an inordinate amount of time protecting your livelihood and lifestyle from urban legislators advancing an urban idea of rural landuse and governance. It is wearying. This week in Oregon, it is legislatively proposed to end ALL burning of woody material on farms. No grass, no brush, no prunings, nothing. And then on to the hearing for a bill to ban the use of all pesticides and farm chemicals within a mile of a school or a half mile of any transportation route to a school. Any pesticide application could not happen without a 14 or 30 notice to the State and to the adjoining landowners. And a neat little clause to let anyone sue you anytime, for any use of farm chemicals. The third issue having hearings was the legislative attempt to overturn a passed initiative to limit grandfathered land use and provide for others. A constant defensive posture to stay in business in ag or managing forests.

    Of course, the next thing on the table is the USFS not fighting fire that leaves their land, allowing many, many more fires to burn, and a public information program based on “Black is Beautiful” in description of burned forests. Hmmmmm…most of the mercury (over 25%) emissions are from forest fires, conflagrations, and the next significant amount is from refining lead, cadmium, and nickel for batteries, so the sponge can be sent from Sudbury, Ontario to China to make the batteries for the Prius, which ends up producing a bigger carbon and environmental footprint than a Hummer…..think about it. And think about what George is proposing. Unintended consequences. Just like our failed, dysfunctional, morally bankrupt public land forests, their management, and the consequences. George has a plan to create a similar plan for grazing. The sad thing is that it will garner urban support, and another round of back breaking, hurtful, mind eroding defense of sustainable natural resource use, by a very rural minority. It is a terrible waste of natural and human resources. Shamefully wasteful. What is needed is education and science, but all we get from town is edenic pipe dreams, oughta be’s, and shiboleths, and all demand time away from tractor or horse to discredit and defeat the poorly thought out proposals, all in defense of an honorable way of life.

  25. Do you people realize if cattle werent on the range the grass by august would always be very tall and during the fire season it would that much more fuel for that raging wildfire? they are hard enough to control already

  26. what a darn fool this George fellow is. He has no understanding and obviously hasn’t touched any of the literature of the subject. read in JRM: McNaugton 1979, Painter and Belsky 1993, Milchunas and Lauenroth 1993 Briske and Richards 1995. sure, grazing has devastated some of our public lands but due to those leases, the surrounding lands are undeveloped.
    Deb is right, oil and gas is a much greater threat and we have only seen the beginnings of it.
    the goal of grazing management is to maintain plant meristems under suitable conditions and then provide conditions for retillering and/or food storage. if managed properly, cattle can stimulate production or at least allow for maintained ecological function of the land.
    maybe a call for better management and knowledge w/in our agencies is in order.
    george, i don’t think that you are stupid, just ignorant to ecology.

  27. Wow! bearbait 4-14-07 you are the MAN! I like your enthusiasm. Many,many, good, valid points.
    I would also like to commend Phil 4-15-07 for his comments. It gives me some hope that common sense and reason does have a place in this debate.

    I have lived in the west most of life. My family moved to Arizona in 1960. I have logged,worked in a saw mill, worked on ranches and hunted all over the Rim Country. I think I have a pretty good perspective on these issues. What Geo. and many think and want is just plailn wrong. Please look at facts not the allegations. It is difficult because if one performs reseach with a predetermined outcome than, obviouly the conclusions are biased.
    Hopefully the truth will prevail.

  28. Could not have said it better than bearbait, rural folks are in the minority, we are being beat up by the majority. Our very existence is being dictated by the majority. I strongly support grazing, it is an available natural resource. Ranchers are very good stewards of the land, they have to be. knoxious weed control can really increase the output of an area with native grasses.

  29. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

    Bearbait, nice rant. But your conclusion is ridiculous. “All we need is education and science”. Oh really? Please give us just a few actual specific examples as to how YOU would approach some of the problems you’ve pointed with education and science. Here, let me help you. First of all, the minority status of rural people. How will a low rural population ever out vote a large urban population? What to do, what to do? The massive human poop problem. Hmm. Where we gonna put it? NIMB. The McMansion in the meadow. How ya gonna stop it? You see, BB, your “Edenic pipe dream” to maintain an anacrhonistic way of life in the face of all the problems associated with population growth seems to be equally quixotic as George’s. And actually, George’s seems much more plausible here in Montana where we still don’t have the tremendous urban growth as they do in Oregon. But again, I would like to hear your proposals, specifically, for managing the problems associated with rampant, inordinate population growth. You sound a lot like Edward Abbey in your tacit denunciation of too many people crowdin’ up our beloved West. Are you actually a closet enviro? (p.s. just to be clear, my roots in the West go back as far as anybody who’s posted here I’m sure)

  30. Mr. Kralj, When buffalo roamed in the west everywhere it was because thats what the human population needed to survive. Now its cows. There are over 100 resourses that the cow provides not including most peoples main food source. Milk also comes from cows and it is used to produce dairy products.If enviromentalists have there way it will cause the destruction of the United States. If there is such a thing as elk and bison herds being too large for habitat to support, there is also such a thing as too many wolves for the habitat to support.Dont even try to tell me that when that happens nature takes its course and thins the population. Thats already happened and its still increasing by over 20% a year.When these wolves start their killing sprees on humans its going to be wreak havoc.

  31. Hello, Environmental Rangers. Got you magic decoder rings on?

    Too many people is a problem that can be solved, is being solved, and in some places, like Japan and Europe, working so well their negative growth rates are creating social problems of their own. It seems part of our problem is unrestrained, illegal immigration, by mostly people from the low end of economic potential, which does not allow for providing order to growth in numbers and environmental demands. 13 million people beyond the natural growth rate has an impact. That is a lot of beds, toilets to flush, gas to burn, schools to staff, all taking money that perhaps was meant to make environmental improvements.

    Of the human reproduction and socio-economic problems, I see bigamy and marrying cousins as two forces that contribute to instability and the resulting lack of earth friendly infrastructure. When young men have no prospect of heading a family because the females of child bearing age are all taken by old men with dough, they have little to live for. Cousins marrying creates a clan relationship system that denies governance, and that, too, impedes earth friendly solutions if only because consensus is not attainable in light of petty family and clan differences. These, of course, are world problems that are not rampant in the West except for small enclaves in southern Utah and northern Arizona, and for some reason, our legal system has yet to address it with vigor. We do have first cousins protected by law, as well as bigamy, but we have looming on the horizon, the end of the current tax system which sunsets in 2010.

    Taxes, especially estate taxes, in the West, have the ability to subdivide great expanses of land into small parcels as land has to be sold to pay the taxman. The arithmetic rise in property values coupled with the death tax, will do more to destroy ecosystems in the West than most any other government action except the current course of burning all the federal lands to their geologic core in some disturbed vision of how “natural” things are supposed to be. In the continuing course of overt genocide our Nation has charted against Native Americans, our denial, at the highest levels of policy making, of their successful 10,000 year tenure of land management and controlled burns makes my butt itch. That is just a personal reaction. And brings me to the education and science part of my thoughts. We have tons of science that gets never to see the light of day because it is not politically popular at this time. I have no idea of how to educate using current science, let alone new science as it comes down.
    The whole issue reminds me of high school—-only the popular garners an audience. Unless, of course, some Ted Kazynski (sp?) or some other deranged mind, does the unthinkable to gain an audience. I do know that most everyone wants to do the right thing. They have to know and buy into what the right thing is. Most large land owners have bought in, and are trying to manage the best ways known. They have a keen land ethic. However, the public land managers are prohibited from doing anything, right or wrong, because there are so many conflicting laws, personalities, administrative rules, and personal consequences. The sludge of bureaucracy has clogged the veins of management to where nothing is getting to the heart of their problems. Perhaps the Environmental Rangers have rode rough shod over them one time too many. I have no idea how environmentalists will address the estate tax issue. The NOG’s of conservation are big winners in the tax avoidance part of the code. Mr. Big Bucks can buy the ranch, and reserve the riparian areas, take out fences, agree to only selective log, reduce the number of cattle, and do any number of things that under tax law reduce the value of this new purchase, and that reduction in turn reduces taxes, which in effect let the public pay for part of the ranch. If the ranch stays intact, the public gains a large area of habitat with limited entry which benefits critters. Mr. Big Bucks has a retreat with tax advantages. That has been the history of the western ranch for over a century. And some ranchers actually have made a fair living at their pursuit of choice. With property values as they now are, they stand to make a ton of money if they sell, which many would prefer not to do unless public policy prevents that, and forces sales due to limited access to summer graze or huge death taxes imposed on heirs.

    The people poop issue is one engineering and biology college folks can solve. Need to solve. There is a better way.

  32. Most the comments here are based on flawed assumptions. One was mentioned above by bearbait. The assumption that ranchers are doing a good job of “managing” their private lands. In fact every survey that compared range condition and trends on public lands with adjacent private lands I have ever seen has found that public lands are on the whole in better ecological shape than private lands. That doesn’t mean the public lands are in good shape–just the privately owned tracts are worse.

    What is even more of an indictment is that private lands tend to be the more productive lands in the West. The lands with better soils, more water and so forth, thus more tolerant of abuse and quicker to heal. Despite this advantage, there are more acres as a percentage of total lands that are in unsatisfactory ecological condition than public lands.

    So do I think ranchers are out to destroy their lands? No way. It only proves the original point of the essay–the West is a lousy place to raise a cow. And even if you want to do a good job, you can’t because when the bottom line is important, you can’t afford to raise cows here and make a profit unless you degrade the landscape. And indeed, by some estimates, the overall productivity of most western rangelands is about half of what it was a century ago, only adding to the problems facing today’s ranchers. They simply can’t run the same number of livestock as their grand pappies did, making it even more difficult to turn a profit.

  33. geo….If all the West is in a much poorer ecological state than it was 100 years ago, what does that say about the hue and cry that resulted in the Taylor Grazing Act, and other changes that stopped unlimited and unfettered use of the Public Domain by graziers, putting them on animal unit limits, and charging for the feed used? Why were the gypsy herds banned from the range? Why are range conditions rated against what they were at the advent of the Grazing Acts? Your historical perspective is out of whack.

    Range tenders in Oregon are finding that junipers invading the range are taking water, and when the junipers are felled, springs come back to being year round water sources. Cows don’t seem to eat juniper seedlings, but sheep might have. No matter, fewer junipers equals more water. The same applies to forests as well. Trees, now in virtual protection brought about by folks who had visions for forests that parallel your designs for range land, are so thick, so stressed for water, that creeks are running dry and snow is no longer able to get to the forest floor, and its moisture sublimates into a gas taken far away by the winds. All the while the trees suffer insect infestation, die from water stress, and become the 200 or more tons of fuel per acres now present on our public land forests. The very plants that make a forest are now destoying them on a magnitude seemingly impossible in this day and age. Conflagration, always a physical possibility, was recognized as anti-human by people millenia ago, and lands were managed for hundreds of centuries by those people to prevent that from happening. Too bad you and your lot are not capable of wrapping your heads around that concept, a concept early explorers and occupants wrote about in journals.

    I once met a fella, Dr. Zybach, who said the historical record seems to point to megafauna being an aboriginal managed livestock source. Protection by custom and culture of valued critters, and directed limits on population of critters not desired. His field was fire on forests and range. I would call that management, and I would call what ranchers do today management, which you seem to need to deride.

    The worst thing about government having land is that it is all used or protected under one regime. Having tens of thousands of ranchers and tree farmers means that there is diversity of goals, practices, and results. No one size fits all because there is no committee designed standards and practices, no mission statements, no rules by an elected majority beholding to their campaign financers.

    So, Geo, my thought is that letting range use and protection fall under the kind of umbrella you propose is worse than any other option imaginiable. We have seen what happened to the forests, and it is butt ugly, getting uglier, and the future is now being spun by the USFS/USPS/USFWS/BLM spin doctors that “Burned Black is Beautiful”, and that pard, is flat out criminal. To purposefully plan to let the resource be destroyed by intent, laziness, sloth, whatever doing nothing is called, by not fighting fires, by legalistic second guessing fire bosses, by telling fire overhead they will be held personally and professionally responsible if some random act of allowed conflagration harms somebody or something, is government gone mad. That mad government, foaming at the mouth, their actions those of some being that has lost mental and motor control, is not acting in the public interest. They are acting in the interests of their NGO handlers from Big Environment who have bought into the old Army strategy in Viet Nam of burning the village to save it.

    These are not the spring fires aboriginals around the world still set to clear debris and renew vegetation. These are not the late fall fires set to drive deer and other animals towards hunters hiding in preserved copses. Those people, with thousands of years of empirical knowledge, used fire to create what Europeans found when they arrived here. This current fire insanity is a knee jerk social response to misled urban sensibilities, and I fear that when the same mind set is in control of grazing land, it will be a much better option to burn it all to mineral soil rather than have it trod upon by an evil cow/calf pair, owned by some capitalist rancher intent on degrading the commons.

    I guess it is a matter of trust. I trust the likes of Geo and his ilk to render grazing lands into nothing useful or valuable, just like their peers in the forest protection business have done to public forests. If “Burned Black is Beautiful” works for forests, then it will work equally as well for rangeland.

    Geo loves the smell of napalm in the morning. That is, you know, what the USFS and other public land management agencies use to start their fires.

  34. I am happy to read all this succes: you deserve it completely. Proud to work with you in Boston, next june. Please, take all the good thoughts streaming from my heart to you…