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Response to RangeNet

By Ed Depaoli, rancher and former area manager, BLM

RangeNet’s agenda can best be shown by their “Declaration” which leaves no doubt about their mission. It raises an unending list of questions and doubts about results if this course is followed and the real reasons behind it. I will address each of their 19 points:

(1) The new century offers us the opportunity to rectify the mistakes of the last
A major correction or restoration process began in the 1950s and ’60s. With new knowledge, technology and a cooperative spirit today our public rangelands are better than at any time in the past century.

(2) The American public prizes its wild, diverse and vast public lands as a common treasure
That excludes those citizens involved in any productive occupation that involves public land. Their vision appears to be that only a select few shall enjoy the “common treasure.” To them the word “common” may mean that existing authorizations–licenses, permits, fees, etc.–are “uncommon uses” and should be eliminated. Special events such as “Burning Man” on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert may become extinct as its use is not “common.”

(3) For decades, awareness of the ongoing loss of wild ecosystems on our continent has been growing
It is true that we have less open space than we did in the 1940s. Nevada had 110,000 people then–one per square mile. By 2001 it has 2,063,998, or 17 per square mile. A growing population simply takes up more room. Livestock numbers grazing Nevada’s public lands have decreased dramatically since the 1940s.

(4) There is also recognition of the power of natural systems to recover when destructive activities cease
They do not define “destructive activities.”

(5) Virtually all western public lands are grazed by livestock
The statement “virtually all” is false and misleading. The amount of public land grazed by livestock has been on a steady decline for decades. This decline has accelerated dramatically in the past few years. Also not documented is the acreage shown on official allotment maps that is either too steep, too far from water, barren playas, etc., that in reality is not grazed at all. Yet, it is part of the total.

(6) Domestic livestock grazing is the single most pervasive and damaging activity on western public lands
Imagine what your yard would look like if you don’t mow the lawn, don’t fertilize, don’t trim the trees or hedge, and don’t pull any weeds. Just let nature take its course. Or, fire that mower up every day, trim those limbs several times right back to the trunk, and bother or harass some living plants every day. Extremes? Yes. Somewhere in between is a balance that can result in an attractive, healthy yard. The statement that livestock grazing is the most “damaging activity on western public lands” ignores or denies all the public land allotments where the best minds and science have hammered out good workable grazing plans; it ignores all the hard work and co-operation required to do this; it ignores that our rangelands have steadily improved.

(7) Livestock grazing on public lands has severely damaged western seeps, springs, creeks, rivers and lakes, the organisms in them and the vegetation around them
There are many examples of improving riparian habitat now in excellent condition where livestock grazing contributed to that improvement. Federal agencies have honored ranchers as “excellent land stewards” many times. A “National Riparian Team” now “works for the creek.” Great strides have been made in understanding riparian habitat and the results are impressive.

(8) Public lands grazing has caused massive losses of western soils
Soil movement is a natural process. It occurs every day with or without livestock grazing, which can either speed it up or slow it down. As long as wind blows, water flows and the earth has gravity, we will have natural soil movement. Grazing is only one cause of soil movement. Livestock cannot begin to compete with giant earth-moving equipment. Yet RangeNet is silent regarding the unending human activities such as road construction, open-pit mining, aggregate pits, etc., which if rehabilitated properly can be more productive after “soil rearrangement” than before.

(9) Public lands grazing promotes the replacement of native plants by invasive exotics and noxious weeds
The replacement of desirable plants by weeds is a serious problem that is finally getting some well-deserved attention. Most of the early undesirables were discovered along the railroad rights-of-way (halogeton is an example), others along highway rights-of-way, some following rivers. Interstate 80 through the Truckee River Canyon has a serious infestation of tall whitetop.

These rights-of-way are fenced and not grazed and any weed is easier to spread due to our vast and expanding transportation network. Yes, livestock are capable of spreading weeds; so are bison, elk, deer, wild horses and birds and any form of mechanical transportation. There are certain methods of livestock grazing that offer some measure of control of certain weeds and is affordable but it is apparent that the RangeNet authors do not have a clue regarding the extent of the weed problem and no realistic attempt at the solution. They choose instead to single out and hammer livestock grazing, a tool we have put to good use to combat weeds. We till the soil for a reason prior to planting. Livestock can do this for us if used in the right way and at the right time. It’s been done and documented.

For RangeNet, dwelling on the negative is the best way to raise funds.

(10) Public lands grazing is the single greatest contributor to loss of biodiversity and the imperilment of threatened and endangered species in the West
Throughout the West are countless exclosures at least 50 years old, offering an opportunity to study the effect of long- term livestock removal. Outside the fence, there is continuous livestock presence. Dr. J. Wayne Burkhardt, associate professor, Range Management at the University of Nevada, Reno, studied several of these exclosures in 1993. His article “How the Desert Blossoms Without Livestock Grazing” in the Spring 1993 issue of RANGE states: “There are virtually no differences in the plant species which occupy the grazed and protected areas at the Desert Creek, Adobe Summit and the Hamlin Valley exclosures. Fifty-six years of protection from larger animal grazing has resulted in identical plant communities.”

(11) Domestic livestock on public lands directly compete with wildlife which is of far greater ecological, aesthetic and economic value
Schmit and Gilbert reported the following wildlife population levels in 1978:
1900 1978
Mule deer 500,000 3,000,000
Elk 41,000 1,000,000
Antelope 12,000 1,000,000
Bighorn 2,000 45,000

Numerous journals document that the first explorers to the West found very little wildlife, often eating their horses to survive. Certain wildlife thrives and prefers grazed ranges over those rested and stagnant. Tender young, green shoots are preferred over decadent material. Federal agencies allocate forage between livestock and wildlife. Grazing plans consider needs of wildlife. RangeNet would like the reader to believe there is harmful competition. There is not.

(12) Public lands grazing involves the killing of large numbers of wild animals every year, disrupting ecologically crucial predator/prey relations
RangeNet needs to define “large.” There is no widespread killing spree running rampant at this time. Predator control for the benefit of livestock has been drastically reduced from the 1950s and 1960s, so much so that nearly all range sheep operators have vanished and cattle numbers continue to decline.

Wildlife Services (formerly known as Animal Damage Control) now receives increasing requests from “semi-urban or ranchette” owners to eliminate coyotes because they are eating domestic pets.

RangeNet is correct when they say the predator/prey relationship is disrupted. The privately financed Peregrine Fund in Idaho was established to increase raptor populations. It has succeeded. The Peregrine falcon has been removed from the endangered species list, with no help from the government or environmental groups. Sage grouse numbers continue on a downward spiral. RangeNet will blame this on the loss of habitat, yet sage grouse also decreased on areas where the habitat has not diminished. The Sheldon and Hart Mountain refuges are examples. There is one common denominator that crosses the line where habitat has diminished and where it has not–predation. Should we protect one species to the point that it diminishes another to the brink of being considered threatened or endangered?

(13) [Federal agencies] too often mismanage public lands to serve the livestock industry
RangeNet does not have the privilege or experience of abiding by a set of federal regulations. It’s too bad they don’t enjoy this experience. The livestock industry has been bombarded with layers upon layers of regulations, especially since former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt’s “Rangeland Reform.” Paperwork now has priority over real resource management. Cooperation is now only a buzzword. Resource users no longer attend meetings to gain something; they only go to try to cut their losses or to keep from losing it all.

Extremists like RangeNet bother, threaten and sue the agencies to the point that they cannot do their jobs. Then they blame the agencies for mismanagement.

(14) There are more and more examples of the recovery of natural systems on lands where domestic livestock have been removed
Some of the examples RangeNet uses are pretty pictures of aspens, meadows and creeks. If livestock caused these areas to be in such bad condition, how did they get so good that fast? Nearly all the purchases and acquisitions by The Nature Conservancy and other preservationist groups are ranches that have a long history of continuous livestock grazing. They call them pristine, “the last best places,” which they are.

What RangeNet does not address is that there are many more examples of deteriorating natural systems where livestock have been removed. When you remove livestock, you remove the caretaker. There is neglect, waste and no attention to detail. Fences are not maintained. Ditches and waterways clog and no longer function. No one controls the weeds. Buildings deteriorate without maintenance. The place falls into ruins and the public no longer respects it; it is vandalized and becomes an eyesore.

(15) Public lands grazing requires massive subsidies from taxpayers
Combined losses for the BLM and Forest Service on revenues versus costs of public lands grazing were reported from 1994 to 1996 to have been $66 million. In the same period, the government reported losses of $355 million on recreation and timber. One reason may be found in the fact that the federal agencies are overweight in administration, requiring 78 employees per million AUMs (animal unit months) compared to 20 employees per million AUMs on state grazing land (from “The West 2000,” a RANGE publication).

(16) Public lands grazing contributes very little to the American economy or food supply
This assertion better fits groups like RangeNet 2000. They contribute zero that is beneficial. They would rather hamstring certain segments of the economy through litigation, agitation and propaganda. They offer nothing constructive. They refuse to compromise. They are not willing to walk the land with others. They do not want to see success on the ground because it defeats their purpose. They have spent a majority of their time with asphalt, rather than rangeland, underfoot. They use scientific studies, pulling items out of context, then apply them to situations where they don’t fit. They then refer to the study as being unquestionably accurate. This has become “believable deception.”

Regarding contributions of public lands grazing, the monetary impact to the overall economy is not the only issue even though about 27,000 ranchers–80 percent of whom take home only $30,000 annually as net income–provide about 20 percent of the calves going into Midwest feedlots. Public lands ranchers are required to own “base property,” the majority of which are private home ranches in the valleys, along streams and creeks, farmland and meadows, once again what The Nature Conservancy calls “the last best places.”

To subtract a critical percentage of grazing time during the year from a ranch makes it unworkable. To pull a six-month public lands grazing permit away from a ranch leads to the sale of that ranch. Then the highest and best use of the property is for home sites, the number and density being controlled by local politics.

RangeNet uses the word “re-wilding.” One can only guess what this means. However, replacing ranches with subdivisions is probably not the best way to get there.

RangeNet also alleges that public lands grazing involves heavy ecological costs. In 1999 and 2000 some of the largest fires in decades burned western rangelands. Almost seven million acres burned last year. The lack of public lands grazing contributed to these massive fires. As grazing is curtailed, fuel loads build.

Blame is often laid on the exotic annual known as cheatgrass. These fires not only burned cheatgrass ranges but also extended into large areas of native vegetation where fire was unwelcome and damaging to wildlife habitat.

As western rangelands lose ranchers they also lose a caretaker on the ground; someone who often sees the lightning strike, reports it or does something about it; someone who informs the land managing agencies about poaching, littering, vandalism, etc. “Re-wilding” evidently calls for none of this. Does it instead support “cleansing” such as the 200 homes burned in Los Alamos, N.M. last summer?

(17) The public lands grazing industry delays the necessary transition to a healthy, sustainable economy in the American West
It’s hard to address this until RangeNet explains their idea of a “healthy, sustainable economy.” Will there first be “occupational cleansing?” No more ranchers, loggers, miners, etc? “Or recreational cleansing?” No more hunting, fishing, horseback riding, off-road vehicle use, etc?

(18) As a resolution they call for “a prompt end to public lands grazing”
Most ranchers would rather ride all day, put up or feed hay, dig postholes, fix fences, tend livestock, irrigate, or any other job rather than go to town to meet with extreme cults like RangeNet 2000.

We, in ranching, are guilty–guilty of staying home working. We’ve got to raise our heads and look around. If burned out on meetings, there are other things we can do.

Doing nothing is not an option!

You can read “Undue Influence” (see ad on page 70) and “Ecology Wars” by Ron Arnold which are excellent sources of information about these “professional environmentalists” and their agenda. RANGE magazine is by far the best source of information regarding the ranchers’ stewardship on our western rangelands.

Write, like I am trying to do. Call politicians, over and over. Bother them. Make sure they get your message. Support those fighting for rural communities like RANGE, Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, the Savory Center for Holistic Management, Paragon Foundation and the Public Lands Council.

(19) We view the cessation of public lands grazing as an essential first step in the restoration and re-wilding of western public lands
I would like to thank RangeNet for clarifying that cleansing the West of public lands grazing is only the first step. RangeNet has selected an underfunded, outnumbered segment of the West as their first target. There are others in the West wondering who is next. It is clear that citizens using public lands for productive purposes that lead to economic gain stand in the way of “re-wilding.”

But the urban population also can’t be allowed to take a drive out on the range just to get away, look around, photograph deer, antelope, birds, flowers and just enjoy the scenery. Taking a break from city pressures and road rage will conflict with RangeNet’s idea of “re-wilding.”

If RangeNet succeeds, our western heritage will have changed from that displayed in the art of Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington to that of vegetarians wearing sandals and shorts.

I don’t think we are ready for that.

Ed Depaoli is on the board of the Range Education Foundation, P. O. Box 639, Carson City, NV 89702. Tax-deductible donations would be appreciated.

Related story links:

And they are really serious...RangeNet 2000 Declaration

Battle Tim Findley

Exploiting Controversy, Q&A with Andy Kerr

Table of Contents | Git Home!

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last page update: 04.03.05