Monday, December 07, 2015

Why being a good neighbor is a good idea (Malpai Borderlands)

For paid subscribers to High Country News there is an interesting article on the Malpai Borderlands Group, neighboring and osotua, which is a system of sharing, mutual support and the pooling of risks. 

The article is Why being a good neighbor is a good idea and the following is an excerpt:

...This shift started two decades ago, when McDonald and many of his fellow ranchers realized they faced more than they could handle on their own: conflict with environmental groups and government agencies; a damaged ecosystem whose management was complicated by a patchwork of private, state and federal land; developers carving out 20-acre ranchettes and subdivisions. In 1994, they formed a land-management coalition called the Malpai Borderlands Group to preserve threatened open space and biological diversity across 800,000 acres. This, they hoped, would enable them to preserve their way of life — an aspiration summed up in the group’s guiding ethic: “The land comes first.”

It sounds idealistic, but it worked. The members have mediated land and water disputes between ranchers and facilitated conservation easements that kept large ranches from being broken up. They have worked with biologists to protect endangered species, including the New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake and the Chiricahua leopard frog, and started a communal grass bank that allows ranchers facing drought to rotate their cattle onto unused land while their own pastures recover.

“You start with something you agree on instead of something you disagree on,” says McDonald, the group’s executive director. He received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 1998 for his work, which he describes as seeking “the radical center.”

The next morning, McDonald heads 10 miles down the dirt road back toward town to the ranch of Warner Glenn, one of his nearest neighbors, for the Malpai group’s quarterly meeting. The ranch’s great room is decorated with cattle skulls, landscape paintings and photographs of mountain lions. About four-dozen mismatched chairs are crowded with an unlikely mix of ranchers, state and federal fish and game officers, Border Patrol agents, conservationists and biologists. For several hours, they update each other on projects and plans. The agenda might be mundane, but the diversity of stakeholders is remarkable. The personal relationships can be as important as anything accomplished at the meetings. Early on, attendees stuck with their own kind — ranchers, law enforcement, scientists clustering together. Now they fall into easy conversation with each other. Peter Warren, who works for The Nature Conservancy in Tucson, sums up the group’s appeal this way: “We deal with these problems better as a group than each of us can individually.”

The Malpai Borderlands Group has formalized a particular Western trait that has long defined daily life around here. “Neighboring,” some call it, a way of giving others their privacy while remaining available in case they need you. The notion captures a kind of frontier ideal, an acceptance of the individual’s autonomy and self-reliance, tempered by recognition of the precarious and occasionally dangerous nature of outdoor work and the environment. This basic cooperation has roots far deeper and wide-reaching than these particular ranchers and their ancestors; in fact, it fueled humanity’s early success and our continued prosperity as a species. And it’s a part of ourselves we would all do well to understand, and even cultivate, as we face an increasingly complicated future.

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