SciSun: Graze a Little, Graze a Lot   Leave a comment

The United States Bureau of Land Management – BLM – is responsible for managing more land and mineral resources than any other government agency, state, or organization in the US, almost 250 million surface acres and 700 million acres of sub-surface (mining and mineral) land. Managing being the key word; because the BLM (nor any other agency of the Department of the Interior) doesn’t own all this land – it’s been set aside for the benefit of the American people; not just one individual, nor one family, nor one group to claim the land, but for the use and benefit of all. In fact, the official mission of the BLM is “to manage and conserve the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations under our mandate of multiple-use and sustained yield.” While that means the National Forests and National Parks and Wilderness Areas are for use by all, it doesn’t mean we can cut down the trees or deface a monument or destroy trails and streams, just because it’s ‘ours’. Some of the responsibility belongs to us, also, to use the resources wisely and practice responsible stewardship of the land for others to enjoy.

But in this time of severe drought and continued human growth and development and ever-increasing demands on scarce resources, sometimes it’s hard to know what constitutes best use of the land; and who makes the decisions that mean some benefit, while others suffer. From the 1940’s, the BLM has encouraged local ranchers to graze livestock on BLM land, and charged grazing fees for the use of the land, maintaining fences and roads, and other land management costs. (A herd of hungry cows will knock down a fence without a second thought. Probably without a first thought. Yet they won’t cross a line painted on the road). These fees have traditionally been far lower than the costs of transporting hay and feed to the animals; or of moving the animals to private lands that are large and productive enough to feed hundreds of cattle or sheep for many months. Ranchers have come to depend on this inexpensive, convenient partnership with the BLM (plus grazing livestock often eat unwanted weeds and invasive plants, helping to keep a balanced ecosystem), and for decades it’s been, generally, a win-win for most everyone. (Unless the livestock find an area that’s particularly appealing, and decide to vacation there for an extended period. Then they trample native plants and turn water sources muddy and can easily destroy wildlife habitat. No one ever said cows were thoughtful neighbors).

Once again, the sound of an approaching ice cream truck turns out to be only wishful thinking.

Once again, the sound of an approaching ice cream truck turns out to be only wishful thinking.

Today, due to a combination of factors – drought; concerns over the protection of endangered species; overgrazed lands that aren’t as rich as they once were often leading to dry, weedy conditions and wildfires that are more severe and widespread; and generally, not enough resources for everyone demanding those resources, the BLM is starting to inform ranchers that grazing in areas that were taken for granted just a few years ago is now limited; fees are higher; or the lands are off limits to anything but native species, including protected and endangered species like the Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and Desert Tortoise (Gopherus sp.) . Some say the land can no longer support both grazing livestock and native species, which could place everyone in the system, from ranchers to cattle to wildlife to governmental agencies, off balance and result in higher costs for ranches and ultimately the public; loss of an entire way of life as the traditional ranch and cowboy is forced to change generations of practices that are unique to the West; and could even harm, rather than help, natural ecosystems and threatened species which, some state, have become adapted to grazing livestock helping control weeds and underbrush (which lowers fire danger); the water provided to livestock by ranchers; and the annual patterns of livestock roaming and roundup.

While some state and local governments are starting to take actions to demonstrate they can make ‘better’ use of the land than the US Government (often backed by businesses and investors who know it can be easier to deal with local officials than the US Government), under some very complex and often confusing and contradictory historical actions, much of the land in the Western US can’t be owned by state governments unless new laws are passed and jumbles of past agreements and contracts and deals are untangled. So, both literally and figuratively, there are stand-offs in the West of today, just as there were 150 years ago. But now, instead of the local sheriff facing a band of outlaws, it’s US Government officials who are acting to preserve and protect public resources for future generations, facing families and ranch owners who have invested generations of work and hardship into the land. So in an argument where both sides are convinced they’re right, in the end everyone could lose.


Michonne Says: The ground can’t be just for some, it’s for everyone. Marmots and bears and draggings and beetlebugs and even birds, even though they like to fly and usually just come and go. But get close to a squirrel tree and they’ll bark and jump around and run in circles so you’d think the tree really does belong to them. But I think some men act like that, too.

Posted August 17, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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