Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ranchers, enviros and officials seek a middle path on public-land grazing in Utah

If you had never heard them talk about one another, you might assume Mary O'Brien and Bill Hopkin were enemies. Hopkin, a sturdy 68-year-old with a shock of white hair, grew up stringing fence and tending cows in conservative, pro-ranching northern Utah. Now the grazing management specialist for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, he says he's still "at my best when I'm talking over the hood of a pickup." Cattle, he fervently believes, can help rangelands thrive. O'Brien, also 68, is elfish and unflinchingly direct, with a big laugh. She grew up in Los Angeles, devouring Willa Cather's books and falling so in love with grasslands that she would later encourage ecology students to honor native plants by thinking of each as a person. Before joining the Grand Canyon Trust, she earned an anti-grazing reputation for arguing against introducing cows to areas formerly grazed by sheep in Hells Canyon, on the Idaho-Oregon border. Last May, at Kanab's Amazing Earthfest, O'Brien's husband mentioned that they had been married for 45 years. "I am so sorry," Hopkin cut in. But instead of spite, his tone revealed affection and respect developed working with O'Brien to improve public-lands grazing in Utah. Though federal managers say reforms in the '60s and '70s helped heal lands damaged by settlement's grazing free-for-all, conditions on southern Utah's three national forests, the Dixie, Fishlake and Manti-La Sal, have since largely plateaued. Ninety-seven percent of their land is grazed, and roughly on the same schedule, regardless of various ecosystems' needs. As a result, biodiversity and water quality have suffered, and environmentalist lawsuits and appeals have piled up. O'Brien and Hopkin were in Kanab to showcase a different approach: A collaboration as unlikely as Earthfest's own celebration of public lands, where yogis rub shoulders with motorheads in a county best known for opposing public-land protection...more


Food for Thought said...

This is a great article. What do you think about this effort Frank?

Frank DuBois said...

My experience has been that if you can get the enviro on the local level, not their DC or San Francisco office, to go out on the land and visit with the rancher, many times they have similar goals. Once trust is built, many times agreement can be reached on how to reach those goals. Its also my experience that its usually the more wealthy ranchers who do this, because they can afford the risk and absorb short term sacrifices that may be necessary. Its much harder for a small cow-calf operator to do this. Also it depends on the open mindedness of the enviro...what works in one place may not work in another because of personalities.