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Git Home!



Civility & a ticket
to the promised land.

By C.J. Hadley

My escape from England’s industrial pollution was a stroke of luck and parents who, during a pub crawl, read a sign with a picture of a handsome, red-coated mountie in the Rocky Mountains. “Canada,” it stated boldly, “is the Land of Opportunity.”

They believed that sign. Within three weeks I was clutching a passport, boarding a vessel named “Carinthia,” and steaming out of Liverpool in a drizzling rain. I was in my teens, and carried a tiny cardboard suitcase with a one-way ticket to the promised land.

I thought the U.S. and Canada were pretty much one big place. What I found was inspiring–both countries with distinct personality, each expansive and magnificent. I saw my first real blue sky. I could see through the river water and catch trout instead of oily river eels. Snowcapped jagged mountains stood in for the rolling, muddy hills of Warwickshire.

I was particularly drawn to the U.S.–because of convertibles, wash-and-wear, plastic kitchen tables, and tall friendly people. (My tastes have changed.) Everyone had a phone and a fridge and I became an instant believer that all folks in America were rich.

After visiting every state and working in many, reality eventually set in. But I liked the rural West best because it was the place I felt at home. I admired the diligence of its people, open spaces, and the ethics of its workforce.

I liked to hear chainsaws and songbirds, and see snowmobilers and cross-country skiers enjoy the back woods. I have gained affection for America’s producers–farmers, ranchers, loggers and miners–and I felt safe in America, comforted by her strength and the enormous wealth of her natural resources.

But America is changing. A short while back, a writer from Truckee, Calif., was wandering in the Sierra Nevada. She found a perfect meadow filled with dew-covered grass and sweetly-scented wild flowers. It was so spectacular that on the following weekend she took a group of friends there for a picnic.

What she discovered was a meadow metamorphosed. No flowers, not much grass. A sheepherder and his flock of a thousand mothers with their lambs had traipsed that ground, then slept, eaten lunch and, between them, relieved themselves several thousand times. Then they moved on. Horrified, that writer vowed to remove sheep from the land.

That outfit had been using those mountains and meadows for more than a century, making a living and assuring plant vigor while preventing decadence in a renewable resource. Even so, within a short time, that writer helped steal the rights of a hard-working family because livestock momentarily spoiled her personal pleasures. Had she come back another spring, she would have found another perfect meadow, because of nature and the action of those hooved and gentle, soft-mouthed sheep.

Most permittees in the Sierra Nevada are being systematically removed, denied access, their grazing rights revoked or limited by federal employees and environmentalists who are far removed from agriculture. They use the Endangered Species Act to eliminate livestock. They form coalitions of like-minded souls who want their mountains, forests and deserts without cows and sheep. (See Battle Cry by Tim Findley.)

These lands have been shared for generations. What the zealots deny is that the meadow was perfect, not before sheep and cows, but often because of them.... In late January a young rep from North Dakota Farm Bureau named Tom Bodine squired me around part of that state. We covered more than 800 miles, talking to groups in Bismarck, Bowman, Medora, Dickinson, Watford City and Minot. North Dakota is beautiful and it piqued my interest. And that’s tough because the intermountain West, particularly Nevada, definitely has my heart. As we eased our way out of the capital in a gentle fog, cottonwoods covered with hoar frost stood sentinel at perfect and isolated farms and ranches. The land started to roll. Love of land was apparent.

This is open prairie, badlands, natural grasslands and cropland, home to millions of pheasant, mule deer and white tails. In winter, the north wind is cruel.

“It’s pretty warm today,” said Tom, checking the thermometer at 2 degrees. “Should get to the 20s by lunch.”

There are an abundance of ear flaps and overalls in the Dakotas. A matter of survival. Pickups are often left outside country stores with engines running. If an engine block isn’t plugged into a heat source at night or kept indoors, that truck is not going to start.

Dakota ranchers–like Sierra shepherds–don’t have life easy but they are being hit by much worse than weather. The Forest Service, Sierra Club and other groups, using misinformation and intimidation, want cattle off the National Grasslands to be replaced with birds, prairie dogs and tourists. “It’s funny,” one rancher remarked, “if we hadn’t taken such good care of this place for generations, why would they want to take it from us?”

President George W. Bush cares about Americans and natural resources. In his inaugural speech last January 20, he talked about civility, courage, compassion, and character. Ranchers and farmers have all of those qualities. Now the president should encourage the rest of us to develop the same.

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last page update: 04.03.05