Conservationists organize to end grazing on federal land
RENO, Nev. – About 100 conservationists gathered Tuesday to organize support for an idea once advocated by only the most radical environmentalists – an end to all livestock grazing on federal land.
”We are not radicals,” insisted Bob Witzeman, 72, a retired physician from Phoenix who is active in the National Audubon Society. ”I think you’ll see an end to public livestock grazing in our lifetime.”
RangeNet 2000, a loose network of environmentalists, opened the two-day conference Tuesday targeting the more than 20,000 livestock producers who have permits to graze their cattle and sheep on 170 million acres of federal rangeland in 13 states.
Critics say subsidized grazing costs taxpayers too much money and causes too much environmental degradation – primarily erosion of soils and damage to streams.
One of the conference organizers is a former range conservationist for the Bureau of Land Management, landlord of most U.S. public grazing land.
”Five to 10 years ago, the thought of removing livestock from public lands was unthinkable,” said Larry Walker, of Beaverton, Ore., who worked for the BLM for 26 years. ”Now, not only are we thinking about it, we are speaking out about it.”
Andy Kerr, an environmental consultant from Oregon, saw a similar evolution while fighting logging of national forests in the Pacific Northwest for much of the past decade.
”Just because an idea is radical does not mean it is not rational or that over time it cannot become reasonable,” Kerr said. ”It was a very radical statement 15 years ago to say we should end all commercial logging of ancient forests.”
The conference caught the attention of the Nevada Rangeland Resources Commission, a state panel the Nevada Legislature created a year ago to promote livestock grazing on public lands.
The commission mailed information to local media warning about the conference’s shortcomings.
”When they come right into your backyard and have a symposium like this, it certainly gets your attention,” said Deloyd Satterthwaite, the commission chairman and longtime rancher from Tuscarora, Nev.
The mailing said ”a review of the proposed agenda indicates that the presentations and dialogue that will take place at the symposium will be one-sided and biased toward the elimination of public land grazing.”
It included a number of articles and publications, one by the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, that defends public grazing and challenges the claims of environmental harm.
”Our range conditions are much better off than they were in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Benny Romero of Wellington, Nev., the commission’s vice chairman.
The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association named Romero one of its two outstanding ranchers of the year earlier this month, citing his work to link profitable ranch practices to enhancement of public land resources.
Romero said the real enemy is subdivision and development of rangeland.
”To beat on the drums and get all excited about specific issues – trying to get livestock off public lands or trying to keep livestock on public lands – is not the real issue,” Romero said. ”The issue is to recognize that we’ve got to work together. Unless ranchers are allowed to stay somewhat viable, we aren’t going to have any open spaces left.”
Speakers at the conference include Jon Marvel, the head of the Idaho Watersheds Project, which has worked to buy grazing leases, and University of Wyoming law professor Debra Donahue, who wrote a book proposing removal of cattle from some public lands.
Donahue’s book released last December prompted Wyoming Senate President Jim Twiford to ask for legislation to eliminate the University of Wyoming College of Law. In addition, some university contributors said they halted donations to the school because of the book.
Organizers of the Reno conference say it is the first of its kind since the National Wildlife Federation sponsored an informational gathering on livestock grazing in Park City, Utah in 1998.
”This group here has had it,” said Mark Salvo, of the American Lands Sage Grouse Conservation Project, based in Portland, Ore. ”We’re not just talking about the damage that is being done, we are prepared to do something about it.”
”If you want to raise cattle for beef, there are way better places to do it,” said George Wuerthner, a biologist from Eugene, Ore. ”You can’t raise elk in the middle of Missouri or trophy trout in southern Georgia or grizzly bears and wolves in New Jersey, but you can grow cows in all those places.”
On the Net:
RangeNet 2000: http://rangenet.org/
Nevada Cattlemen’s Association: http://www.nevadacattlemen.org/
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User