I am the founder and board member of Torrey House Press, a book publisher promoting conservation through literature and proprietor of the Torrey House - Alpenglow Observatory. I am also a director at Western Watersheds Project.
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→
Utah is 90 percent urban. Much of the West is the same. Yet it is run politically as though it is mostly rural and agricultural. Most Utahns live along the urban Wasatch Front from Ogden to Provo. The Wasatch Mountains bordering the Front are in the U.S. Wasatch National Forest. Even though the Wasatch forests receive traffic like a major national park with millions of visitors per year, these forests are in the best shape of any of the national forests in the state. The reason? No cows. No sheep. No barbed wire. The public would never stand for it.
The rest of the state is a different matter. A majority of the land in Utah is public and most public land is run for and by ranchers, used up and abused by their private livestock. As a result these open lands are in sorry shape, continually overgrazed, constantly mismanaged. The land could be so much more beautiful. Instead, it is hammered, more than we know. And there is no good reason for it. Certainly not an economic one. Only a lack of public awareness allows this travesty to persist. Continue reading The Single Best Idea for America’s Best Idea→
My wife, Kirsten Allen, and I spent the last weekend in January in the San Rafael Swell, BLM managed land in central Utah. Anywhere else in the country and this area would be a national park. But in the lineup of spectacular landscapes in Utah the Swell has not made the cut. Yet.
We drove in from Castle Dale, a Mormon hamlet northwest of the Swell. The road in is all but paved. Granted it was January, but we were still a bit surprised to have the place all to ourselves. And surprised to see a visitor center and Old Spanish Trail installation on the way in to Buckhorn Wash.
One of the reasons the Swell is not a park is the resistance to public lands by rural county commissioners. Of course, Utah’s fundamentally zealous elected federal officials, all who are Mormon, are furiously working to grab public lands for their own devices as well, but the movement starts with the counties. And most of the county commissioners are ranchers or have an affinity to ranching.
Agriculture makes up less than one percent of Utah’s gross domestic product. Ranching is just a fraction of agriculture. And yet most of the state is grazed. Nothing is harder on the arid public lands of the West than private livestock grazing. Most of the land is used for grazing, the economics are minimal, the ecological costs are high, and grazing fee has once again been lowered for 2018 to $1.41 per cow/calf pair per month. The price to camp, right on the river, in the heart of the Swell, is only $6.00 per night ($180/month, were you allowed to stay that long). But you would not want to camp in this otherwise gorgeous, federally developed campground. It is full of cows and ankle deep in cowpies.
Apparently the BLM is letting the local grazing permittee use the campground as a stockyard.
The federally developed facilities in the Swell are excellent. The local treatment of the resource is abhorrent. Why do we go to the taxpayer expense to create a top notch visitor experience for the public and then foul it with some private rancher’s “hooved locusts?”
Here in the West it is cowboys and Indians again. Or still. Time is finally running out for the cowboys.
Cliven Bundy and his deadbeat cowboy clan remain free, still owing the United States over $1 million in federal conviction fines and grazing fees, and still illegally trespassing his cows on desiccated public land. Trump came to Utah in December and signed away some two million acres of national monuments, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history. Utah has lost the lucrative Outdoor Retailer convention. As our politicians disgracefully cheer, Gallup reports that 61% of Mormons approved of Trump in 2017.