This Saturday is "Public Lands Day" in the US!
September 26, 2002 7:11 AM   Subscribe

This Saturday is "Public Lands Day" in the US! You can volunteer to help clean up some of the 262 million acres of land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management! While cleaning streams and repairing livestock fencing, you can ponder how come in the 21st century the BLM still leases over 163 million of those acres to private ranchers for a pittance! This antiquated, marginal, money-losing institution has damaged 80% of the waterways west of the Mississippi, threatening entire species and ecosystems. A new book, Welfare Ranching, lists and illustrates the many problems with federal livestock grazing, and there's now a campaign to buy out ranchers' permits and turn the "wild" west back over to nature.
posted by soyjoy (12 comments total)
You've piqued my interest, Soyjoy--Thanks. I'll check out the book and campaign. I'm all about giving it back to the animals.
posted by Shane at 8:04 AM on September 26, 2002

I'm with you, but it's going to be dang hard to uproot the cowboy myth from our national consciousness, destructive as it is. Once again, Ed Abbey said it best:

The rancher (with a few honorable exceptions) is a man who strings barbed wire all over the range; drills wells and bulldozes stockponds; drives off elk and antelope and bighorn sheep; poisons coyotes and prairie dogs; shoots eagles, bears and cougars on sight; supplants the native grasses with tumbleweed, snakeweed, povertyweed, cowshit, anthills, mud, dust, and flies. And then leans back and grins at the TV cameras and talks about how much he loves the American West . . . A rancher, after all, is only a farmer, cropping the public range lands with his four-legged lawnmowers, stashing our grass into his bank account. A cowboy is a hired hand trying to make an honest living. Nothing special. . . I love the legend too - but keep your sacred cows and your dead horses out of my elk pastures. [University of Montana, 1985]
posted by gottabefunky at 9:00 AM on September 26, 2002

Yeah, that Abbey speech (I think it's the same one) is included in the Welfare Ranching book I mentioned. It's a big book filled with (in addition to essays and stats) color photos of affected areas, before and after, etc. A real eye-opener. I recommend it to anyone who's interested in this general subject.
posted by soyjoy at 9:28 AM on September 26, 2002

Cattle ranching is no more a "welfare" industry than is newpaper delivery because the paper boys ride their bikes on public roads.

City-dwelling MeFi types may not know but land, particularly grazing land, is dirt cheap in the West. Land costs (even for private lands) are a trivial portion of the total production costs in agriculture of any kind in the West, and no more so than in ranching. Ranchers make signifcant investment in stock (either through costly breeding and calving programs, or purchasing calves at auction) and tremendous investments in medication, feed lot finishing, fuel, marketing costs to sell steers at auction, insurance, etc. Grass fed cattle (not finished at feed lots) require lots of expensive attention to adequate pasturage, which basic grazing land doesn't supply.

Ideologues like Abbey aside, BLM lands aren't parks or preserves, they are economic resources to managed for the public good. Vegetarians aside, ranching is an economically valuable and vital industry for the country, and the very minor subsidy consisting of BLM subsidies is less than that afforded to many other agricultural products, to say the least of almost every other industry, which gets its big subsidies and discounts somewhere up and down its production and distribution chain.
posted by MattD at 9:59 AM on September 26, 2002

Yep, those darned Indian Cowboys taking water from some endangered minnows that normally would be thriving except that they live in a dry wash that wouldn't be dry if all the people would just leave and provide the minnows with water pumps to fill the dry wash. So the feds confiscate their cattle (see Nevada news, about 5 days ago.)

Does anyone who quotes Edward Abbey realize that he thought that *your* death would be good for the ecosystem, too? He hated people, because people aren't natural and they go out in nature and leave footy-prints all over HIS sand! And yes, he was about as reasonable as Yosemite Sam. Especially when he was dying and insisted on the best high-tech medicine that someone else would pay for!

Living out west, as I do, I frequently see the oppression that people who have absolutely no clue about geography will still inflict from a distance based upon what they see on television. Like some idiot at the EPA suggesting that Arizona should reduce its dust pollution problem by watering down the desert!

I also see morons who demand that we use toilets that don't work and mist shower heads "to help save water", though residential use in my state is less than 1% of the total! No mention of agriculture or industry conserving water, no sir.

And my state is one of the lucky ones. Over 1/3rd is Indian Reservation. If it wasn't, it would have been confiscated by the feds long ago, to keep empty desert empty. The poor Alaskans are about ready to scream. With the biggest State in the union, the feds even want to confiscate the little bit they have left.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The environment is for everybody, NOT just environmentalists.
posted by kablam at 10:03 AM on September 26, 2002

ranching is an economically valuable and vital industry for the country

Not according to these guys: Public lands grazing provides less than one percent of total employment and income in the eleven western states, and less than three percent of the national beef supply.

The environment is for everybody, NOT just environmentalists.

And not just ranchers, who use a huge portion of it, rented at ridiculously low subsidized prices, for their oudated, unnecessary, environmentally destructive private use.

I sympathize with ranchers who work themselves to the bone, just scrape by, and see their way of life fading fast. But really, ranching never made much economic or ecological sense in the West - most of which is desert - in the first place.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:15 AM on September 26, 2002

land, particularly grazing land, is dirt cheap in the West.
Great, in that case why do ranchers need to get it at less than 25% of its private-land value?

Cattle ranching is no more a "welfare" industry than is newpaper delivery because the paper boys ride their bikes on public roads.
Er, no. If public roads were closed to everybody but paperboys, whose use destroyed the roads for good, then the analogy would be apt.

kablam, I hear your outrage about easterners' myopia. But what I don't hear is anything that contradicts the data being disseminated by the "take back the land" folks, who say this practice is ecologically damaging, economically irrational, and fiscally imprudent. When they say that, they back it up with official data. Is there - and this is not a rhetorical question - data that makes the case that we should continue doing this?
posted by soyjoy at 11:12 AM on September 26, 2002

subsidies is less than that afforded to many other agricultural products

Defending ranching by pointing to commercial agriculture is no defense at all. Crop farming may not take place on public land, but it is farming the government nonetheless.

It's a mistake to think that the only criticism of ranching and agribusiness in general is coming from city-dwelling environmentalists. Family farms have also been shafted in the worst way, and there is plenty of criticism coming from those still surviving on the land. Acres USA is a great magazine representing family farms. It's founder, Charles Walters, a lifelong farmer, has been promoting farm-based economics for decades:

Basically, parity is a measuring device that puts the value of raw commodities at a level that equals all the costs, including labor costs and capital costs. The idea was that the basic storage commodities—wheat, corn, soybeans, rye, oats, grain sorghum and a couple of others—should go into trade channels at a parity price, that the farmer’s sale of his commodity should be an equal exchange.
More Here
posted by BinGregory at 12:19 PM on September 26, 2002

Well, the knee-pad business folks certainly came out in force with their usual propaganda. As Abbey once said, these folks can hear the sound of dollar bills falling on hotel lobby carpeting, while thunderstorms rage outside.

Cattle ranching is no more a "welfare" industry than is newpaper delivery because the paper boys ride their bikes on public roads.

Bullshit (and that's part of the problem). Do paper boys eat asphalt from the public roads? Do their bicycles tear up the roads? Do they remove vegetation and topsoil, turn pasture into dust, stream into mudhole? Do paper boys leave their own stinking, fly-ridden waste all over the roadways?

City-dwelling MeFi types may not know but land, particularly grazing land, is dirt cheap in the West.

Well, that's pretty hilarious coming from someone whose profile indicates residence in New York City. But as noted above, perhaps your acquaintance with bullproducts gives you some expertise on the cattle industry?

If land is so goddammed cheap...have your welfare rancher buddies buy some of it...and keep their hooved locusts off our public lands.

Does anyone who quotes Edward Abbey realize that he thought that *your* death would be good for the ecosystem, too?

The death of any animal supports the ecosystem. Ed Abbey said "I owe the earth a body...mine." He was talking about recycling.

He hated people, because people aren't natural and they go out in nature and leave footy-prints all over HIS sand!

You spout lies:

Turn that motor off. Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs!. You sir, squinting at the map with your radiator boiling over and your fuel pump vapor-locked, crawl out of that shiny hunk of GM junk and take a walk -- yes, leave the old lady and those squawling brats behind for a while, turn your back on them and take a long quiet walk straight into the canyons, get lost for a while, come back when you damn well feel like it, it'll do you and her and them a world of good. Give the kids a break too, let them out of the car, let them go scrambling over the rocks hunting for rattlesnakes and scorpions and anthills -- yes sir, let them out, turn them loose; how dare you imprison little children in your goddamned upholstered horseless hearse? Yes sir, yes madam, I entreat you, get out of those motorized wheelcharis, get off your foam rubber backsides, stand up straight like men! like women! like human beings! and walk -- walk-- WALK upon our sweet and blessed land!

Ed Abbey -- Desert Solitaire

Now I can do no more than offer one final prayer to the young, to the bold, to the angry, to the questing, to the lost. Beyond the wall of the unreal city, beyond the security fences topped with barbed wire and razor wire, beyond the asphalt belting of the superhighways, beyond the cemented banksides of our temporarily stopped and mutilated rivers, beyond the rage of lies that poisons the air, there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it. And then---

May your trails be dim, lonesome, stony, narrow, winding and only slightly uphill. May the wind bring rain for the slickrock potholes fourteen miles on the other side of yonder blue ridge. May God's dog serenade your campfire, may the rattlesnake and the screech owl amuse your reverie, may the Great Sun dazzle your eyes by day and the Great Bear watch over you by night.

Ed Abbey -- Beyond The Wall

....Civilization...precious and fragile, drawn through history by the finest threads of art and idea...the conscious forefront of evolution, the brotherhood of great souls and the comradeship of intellect, a corpus mysticum. The Invisible Republic open to all who wish to participate, a democratic aristocracy based not on power or institutions but on isolated men -- Lao-Tse, Chuang-Tse, Guatama, Diogenes, Euripides, Socrates, Jesus, Wat Tyler and Jack Cade, Paine and Jefferson, Blake and Burns and Beethoven, John Brown and Henry Thoreau, Whitman, Tolstoy, Emerson, Mark Twain, Rablais and Villon, Spinoza, Voltair, Spartacus, Nietzsche and Thomas Mann, Lucretius and Pope John XXII, and ten thousand other poets, revolutionaries and independent spirits, both famous and forgotten, alive and dead, whose heroism gives to human life on earth its adventure, glory, and significance.

Ed Abbey -- Desert Solitaire

Yeah, that sure sounds like someone who "hated humans." Of course, Abbey did hate: he hated sycophants to the powerful....those who lie to support their own greed.

And yes, he was about as reasonable as Yosemite Sam. Especially when he was dying and insisted on the best high-tech medicine that someone else would pay for!

More lies. Going into a hospital when ill is unreasonable? And Ed Abbey left the hospital when he was dying, refusing any further medical treatment whatsoever. You profane the memory of a brave dead, and unable to defend himself:

Marooned in a Tucson hospital for emergency treatment in March, Abbey decided he had had enough. With the help of friends, he disconnected himself from the wires and tubes, hoping that if the time had come to die, it would be in the desert, far from the wintry confines of modern hospitals. He was to die in his writing cabin on the outskirst of Tucson with Clarke, his beloved wife, his two small children, Ben and Becky, and a few friends close by.

The afternoon before he died, Clarke and several friends drove Abbey to a remote locale near Tucson where, when evening came, it might be clear enough for him to see two of his favorite stars, Spica and Regulus; there he lay by a fire, to wait for the last burst of blood, and his last breath.

To everyone's amazement, Cactus Ed awoke later that evening, feeling somewhat better. He was driven home and stretched out on a mattress in his writing cabin, where he said his farewells. He was gone the next morning.

James Bishop Jr -- Epitath for a Desert Anarchist

Former Vietnam combat medic Doug Peacock sat with Ed through that long last night and said that his old friend's passing was the bravest dying he'd ever witnessed.

David Petersen -- Confessions of a Barbarian

Find a free range bull and stick your lies about Abbey up the bull's ass...there to join your understanding about environmentalism and the West.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:26 PM on September 26, 2002

foldy: amen to that. Just glad you're on our team.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:27 PM on September 26, 2002

Yeah, good to have you on the team, foldy, but Jesus - I thought this was supposed to be Coulterfilter, not Abbeyfilter...

Oh yeah, and for the record I'm against the practice of sticking lies or anything else up bull's asses. Unless of course they ask you.
posted by soyjoy at 1:39 PM on September 26, 2002

As someone who actually lives in areas affected by the ranching issues raised here, I'm trying very hard not to bait Mr and Ms California, or Mr and Ms New York into an argument about the real people that any of these proposed common land use changes effect. I'll simply ask, what plans do any of you have for the foothills at the base of Trapper peak? When is the next time any of you have a picnic planned for the area just west of Broadus?

Two things: I'm not defending ranching. One of my very best friends is a riparian biologist and I'm well aware of the damaging effects of cattle. I just find it amusing that there are those who, in the public's name, are willing to tyrannize real people, for the sake of public lands they never will see, or be in any way affected by. You're talking about people having to sacrifice a life style, for the greater good of all. But it comes with a lot of real pain. Have some sympathy, will you, before we are blithely divided into "teams".

Two: Lets not mythologise Ed Abbey. He had a lot to teach us, but he's dead. We have to deal with these things now, and creating fantasies about his power isn't going to help. I was there when he spoke in Missoula (as referenced above). Though he made good points about Western Cowboy Mythology, he seemed to be deliberately inciting the crowd. I guess Fame is a harsh mistress, but not so much when you are deliberately dissing many people's reason for being. And I call bullshit on the gunfire in the parking lot. Never happened.
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:50 PM on September 26, 2002

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