When to 'git along'

Last week’s “Writers on the Range” by Ben Long was, well, a bit hard to swallow. Kind of like a cowboy dusting off after he/she managed to get bucked off a fairly predictable foal. Really, you didn’t see that coming?

The conservation community has been trying to convince ranching and farming communities for years that restoring apex predators, soils, waterways and grasslands to natural (pre-1900s) conditions is beneficial to all involved including humans despite their political differences. That Mr. Long is now giving some space for bears, wolves and other extirpated apex species some deference in existence is, well, kinda like someone seeing the writing on the wall.

But since Mr. Long likes to use Montana as his go-to example of cooperation, might I interject a quick reminder of who Deanna Robbins is and what she does. Robbins is a cattle rancher who, as part of United Property Owners of Montana, vehemently opposes the American Prairie Reserve. The reserve is an effort to restore a mixed-grass prairie ecosystem with migration corridors and native wildlife (i.e. bison) to central Montana. This refuge is seen as a “liberal” attack on the “conservative” values of pulling-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps lifestyle of the “small rancher” of Montana.

Perhaps, but more than likely, this is an effort by those owners of small ranches from days gone by when land was cheap and timing was everything, to restore some balance to the environment that we ALL are part of, but we ALL do not own.

And when Mr. Long laments that ranchers are seen as “welfare” recipients, well, I clearly remember in 1995 when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt (yes, a radical liberal I suppose) tried to raise the AUM (Animal Unit per Month) public lands grazing fee. It was met with unabashed resistance from the “small rancher.” This is the amount of money that a rancher has to pay for feeding his/her cow on public lands. This is the primary way small ranchers are able to survive grazing livestock in the West.

The current AUM fee for public lands in the West is $1.35. Nah, no subsidy there when you consider the infrastructure costs in public lands for maintaining roads, fire management, waterways, etc. I would challenge Mr. Long to show how many of these small ranchers are subsisting on their own lands and efforts. I suspect that they subsist on the public lands that we all enjoy and depend on. And as such, they should give more quarter to those trying to bring back a more resilient and less monoculture perspective of lands management than that of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, whose mandates were to use the public lands to the maximum extent of the public’s, i.e. humans vs. animals, benefit. It is indeed a time to get along better.

– Tim Thomas, Durango