Monday, January 18, 2016
The anti-ranching, misinformed discourse around Malheur
When my editor asked me to comment on the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, I was apprehensive. Response to mainstream coverage of this incident has been so anti-ranching that I wondered if I could set aside my strong reaction to those sentiments in order to consider the core issues...
The current system dates to the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, which split the open range into smaller allotments, each with specific regulations called operating instructions. While this and subsequent environmental policies have codified the land management process in a manner suitable to bureaucratic oversight, approaching the Western landscape like this takes the landscape out of context. Thus, the current system does not support effective management, land health or ranching. Limiting ranch management practices on federal lands to rigid regulations does not allow for the flexibility that healthy ecosystems require. Both commercial ranching in big, arid country and wild ecosystems function best on a large scale. As a result, the allotment system — meant to prevent overgrazinWhen my editor asked me to comment on the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, I was apprehensive. Response to mainstream coverage of this incident has been so anti-ranching that I wondered if I could set aside my strong reaction to those sentiments in order to consider the core issuesg, rein in monopolistic ranching and establish the grazing rights of smaller ranchers — has been a huge source of contention. With smaller scale ranchers now protesting the original basis for jurisdiction and billionaires again putting together huge spreads, environmentalists are unhappy, people are out of work, and the land is suffering. No one is winning.
A landscape management framework that assesses the components of the big picture and how they work together (which a few ranchers and federal agency personnel have been able to implement in spite of bureaucratic obstacles) promotes flexibility among grazing allotments, allowing ranchers to better accommodate seasonal changes, forage growth, and wildlife. This way, when things like wolves, wildfires, and recreational interests collide with ranching, creative solutions can be a reality, not a dream.
Instead of vilifying grazing on federal lands, we should reimagine Western landscapes from a holistic viewpoint that includes insects, backpackers and buckaroos. Ranchers are required to respect federal title to the land, and if the public also recognized and respected the property rights these ranchers own, we might find ourselves at a good place to continue positive, healthy improvement on federal lands.