History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon? – Dan Brown
Recently I have seen comments on blogs expressing horror at the prospects of sheep grazing on public lands. Comments about little wooly range maggots, ripping up plants by the roots and trampling the range to dust. These well-meaning folks get their information from tainted sources.
There really was a war between the cattlemen and sheep raisers in the very late 19th and early 20th century. It was social, political and too frequently violent. The violence most often perpetrated by team bovine. The sheep raisers lost, the cattlemen won and went onto write the history which was later popularized in our love affair with the Hollywood western movie genre.
Welcome class. In this course you will learn the basics of rangeland management:
1. Rangelands are defined as largely native landscapes that are not timber producing and not used for farming. Their chief value is for the raising of livestock, producing food and fiber for human consumption. Like western water law, only uses directly benefiting humans and putting money in a pocket are valuable. Ecological services and things we merely like such as scenery, clean water, wildlife, fisheries, endangered species are not really values.
2. Ecological habitat types have an innate ecological productivity. This is the amount of vegetation they will grow in a year, typically expressed in pounds/acre/year on typical western landscapes. In more productive habitats the metric is more like tons/acre/year. Nature produces more vegetation than is needed to maintain healthy plants. This excess production is a harvestable surplus of vegetation that can be utilized by wildlife and livestock as forage.
3. Livestock and native plant eaters are divided into grazers and browsers. Grazers prefer herbaceous vegetation like grasses and forbs while browsers prefer shrub species. This may vary seasonally, but deer and sheep are generally browsers and cattle are primarily grazers.
4. There are two kinds of grazing animals. Nonselective grazers tend to eat whatever vegetation is in front of them, they are not particular about the species of plants they eat. Selective grazers show strong preferences for certain species of grass and forbs and will eat those selectively until they are gone before moving onto less desired species. American bison is an example of a nonselective grazer. Cattle are highly selective grazers. The cattle’s most preferred plants are the first to show grazing impact and the first to decline in abundance or disappear from the plant community entirely. Continue reading A Primer on Rangeland Management→
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.
The No Bull Sheet is delighted to welcome wildlife biologist and author Laura Cunningham as editor and contributor. Thank you for this piece on Point Reyes, Laura.
Special interest lobbies have been hard at work convincing Congress to loosen environmental protections and advance extractive industry profits, and in return, the legislature has increasingly been using its review and amendment powers to attack bedrock environmental laws ranging from public participation requirements to the protection of imperiled plants and animals. I’ve been working to try to stop this from happening on Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin County, California, where efforts are underway to amend the enabling legislation that founded those parks. Continue reading Acts of Congress, Ecological History, and Point Reyes National Seashore→
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.