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.
“It’s almost a matter of religiosity that the real costs of ranching are paid for by the public,” says Brian Ertz, media director with the Western Watersheds Project. “Democratic and Republican congresspersons alike make their way up through political environments of extreme livestock–culture-dominated political organizations. The statehouses are dominated by livestock interests, and that’s where the federal representatives cut their teeth.”
The Cattlemen spend $2 billion to $3 billion is spent each year in state, federal, and county subsidies to support the survival of ranching on more than 250 million acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and…
70% of the land in Utah is public. And 70% of that land is handed out for grazing. Over 80% of the water used in Utah is for agriculture and most of that is to grow hay for livestock. That is a lot of land and water. Open this chart on the left of the State of Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert Economic Report’s figures on employment by industry as a percent of total employment: Dec. 2011. Where’s agriculture? The subsidized use of all that land and water isn’t producing much, particularly jobs.