Richard Spotts worked for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for 15 years as Planning and Environmental Coordinator. Prior to his retirement in 2017, Richard had other professional jobs including environmental attorney, registered lobbyist, watershed project director, and county zoning administrator. He lives in Saint George, Utah where he is an active volunteer on public lands and environmental issues.
An Open Letter to Interior Secretary Haaland: Cliven Bundy’s Chronic Trespass Grazing Must End and How to Do It
Dear Secretary Haaland and other DOI officials:
Cliven Bundy’s more than a quarter century of blatant and destructive trespass livestock grazing on federal lands must come to an end. Enough is enough. Since about 1995, this illegal grazing has continued up to the present in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Gold Butte National Monument, the National Park Service’s (NPS) Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) designated critical habitat for the threatened Mojave desert tortoises in southern Nevada. This prolonged grazing and the associated ongoing construction of unauthorized “range improvements” violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Endangered Species Act, and many other laws and associated regulations. It also violates at least two previous federal court orders.
In spite of hurting both economy and ecology, private livestock grazing on public lands in the U.S. continues unabated for the last century right up to today. Much of the reason can be attributed to the myth of the cowboy.
All the way back in December 1946 in Harper’s magazine, Bernard DeVoto presciently wrote, “. . . the West has chosen to base its myth on the business that was of all Western businesses, most unregardful of public rights and decencies, most exploitive, and most destructive. The Cattle Kingdom did more damage to the West than anything else in all its economy of liquidation. As a mythology, it will do even worse damage hereafter.”
“It’s cultural capture,” says Debra Donahue, a professor of law at the University of Wyoming and author of The Western Range Revisited. “The ranching industry has captured the American imagination. And they have been given a special deal at great cost to the American public.”
Journalist and Torrey House Press author Jonathan Thompson publishes The Land Desk, a superb commentary on the West. You should subscribe. Even though I am familiar with the ongoing, nonsensical destruction of our public lands by private cow, I am still dismayed when I see the facts and the magnitude of this existential farce as Jonathan presents below.
Data Dump: Cows, cows, cows… … on the aridifying public lands
“The vast San Juan ranges, with a plentiful supply of choice feed, were not to remain such for many years. Like everything else that goes uncontrolled or without supervision these ranges were used selfishly with the present only in mind [leaving them] in an almost irreparable condition.”
—Franklin D. Day, “The Cattle Industry of San Juan County, Utah, 1875-1900”
Our recent time with you in the cow trashed wilds has me thinking. All the time. I have tied myself into a knot.
I am working on writing some short pieces on economics and on the cowboy myth for a grazing coalition’s new website. I piled up and reread many of my sources on the subjects, particularly economics, going all the way back to Bernard DeVoto in Harper’s from the 30’s. I have discovered nothing new, but I am feeling paralyzed by the absurdities. Economically, nobody directly involved wins on public lands livestock grazing. Not even the rancher. And economically public lands livestock grazing is utterly unnecessary to the nation. But reading all the material has vividly brought home that despite the absurdity, nothing has changed in 25 years, not even in 75 years. In fact, it is getting worse. The extractors have gained power.
Contributed by Chip Ward, author of Stony Mesa Sagas, Torrey House Press (2017). This essay was originally published on Chip’s personal Facebook page.
Like most American kids in the fifties I grew up with cowboys, not the real ones who limp and spit but the heroes on television. Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, Wild Bill Hicock and other television characters too numerous to name taught me that the world had good guys and bad guys. In my developing childhood brain complexity was dismissed and the binary circuit that divides the world into us and them, the righteous and the damned, was built.
The good guys won with guns. Guns were ubiquitous and although lots of guys got shot there was no blood pooling on the floor or spattered across the wall. Messy agony was also absent. Good guys got shoulder wounds and bad guys died dramatically but without screaming. Bystanders never got hit because collateral damage, after all, might muddy the clear divide between good and evil. Likewise, the inevitable gunfights between cowboys and Indians never involved women and children and the savages always started the fight. And the Indians who showed up on screen were mostly indistinguishable from each other and rode in whooping packs like wolves except for Tonto who had seen the light and became a good guy helper. All of this, of course, was pure bullshit. The themes and worldview of those programs had less to do with actual American history and were more about Cold War fears and ideology. A nation traumatized by a Great Depression and a Second World War was threatened by new unfathomably lethal nuclear weapons and so we retreated into a mythic past that was reassuring and inspiring. Continue reading Growing up with cowboys→
To escape the heat of late July my wife Kirsten and I hopped in the camper and headed for the Swift Creek Campground on the Yellowstone River which flows down the south slope of the Uinta Mountains directly south of Kings Peak. We drove from our home in Salt Lake City up I-80 over Parley’s Summit, past Park City to Highway 40 then over to Kamas and Francis and over the shoulder of the Uintas on UT-35, the road rising up to nearly 10,000 feet elevation.
The dirt road into Swift Creek Campground ends where Swift Creek flows into the Yellowstone River at the border of the High Uintas Wilderness in the Ashley National Forest at just over 8,000 feet altitude.
Except for some background Forest Service Rangers and Conservation Corps crew passing through to work on the hiking trails, we had the camp to ourselves. I had been here over 30 years ago to backpack with my brother up the Yellowstone drainage and back down the Swift Creek side. The place had not changed much and I was surprised and grateful to see it was not much busier.
We are bulldozing our public lands for a few very privileged private ranchers.
Utah’s state symbol might as well be the cowpie. We turn ourselves inside out making sure they are everywhere, all the time. In campgrounds, in national parks and monuments, in the forests, on the steppes, in our streams, all down the roads, and right there, next to your favorite picnic table. Cowpies. One might wonder why.
Officials in San Juan County are conducting a case of political and malicious criminal prosecution against Mark Franklin and Rose Chilcoat. The case, over a year old now and not yet even in the trial phase, is already a blow against Mark and Rose and a black eye for San Juan County. They saw a nefarious way to seek revenge against Rose, who is a successful, effective conservationist, and they are getting it. Mark and Rose have accumulated over $100,000 in related legal bills defending themselves against trumped up charges for an utterly insignificant event. They suffer the stress of being falsely accused of crimes that could incur substantial fines and decades in prison. It is a travesty that court proceedings have been allowed to grind on to this point. There is, alas, more legal grinding yet to go.
Our public lands could be so much better. So easily. But we manage them in an upside down fashion.
Instead of managing the land for its intrinsic value as a natural landscape for the benefit of the vast majority of the public whom owns the land, we manage them for a noisy, tiny, belligerent, special interest group. The majority of us end up financing the degradation of our own lands. It is dumb of us. We don’t need to continue.
The main threat to the health of the land in the West, hard to see although it is everywhere, is public lands ranching. Nothing does more damage to public lands than public lands ranching. Continue reading We are way upside down→