Monday, February 9, 2015

Public Lands Grazing: It is Just a Flesh Wound

By Bob Ferris

There are times when my mind gravitates to the silly—like that iconic scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail' where the black knight loses an arm and more yet claims it is just a flesh wound.  This scene has made me laugh for years.  I think about that scene today after reading yet another piece about drought-impacted public lands ranchers in the West and the associated calamities (this one in the LA Times).  The ranching “knights” are in similar state of denial about their situation on so many different levels, but mostly in regards to underestimating grazing’s ecological impacts (1,2,3) and overestimating its net economic importance (1,2).

Sheep gazing in the Snake River Valley (see attribution below)
And then you look at the ranchers' Congressional allies and the story gets an even more tragicomic air.  At the same time scientists and these ecosystems themselves are saying "enough is enough," some elected officials such as Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming are trying to extend federal grazing lease periods or sidestep environmental reviews.  You cannot—in the context of the above video—help but see these lawmakers and others of similar leanings as thinking that filling the dance cards of their arm-less and single-legged knights is much more important than applying a few well-placed tourniquets.  It is sad on so many levels to watch.

The nice thing about this graphic analogy is that it can be applied to the 1872 Mining Act as easily as the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act.  In fact, it works well on most forms of serious denial or where something is left standing long past its logical conclusion.

But then there is the knight in white, King Arthur, who  eventually rides on around the still protesting and belligerent black knight.  My sense is that most understand that figure to be the embodiment of "progress" ready to pass by that which has proven itself no longer viable or relevant.  Right now we have a Congress too full of black nights holding us to a dated and damaging past and not led by the knights in white travelling on to newer and brighter adventures.  Hopefully the process of changing that is happening now.

(Sheep Photo Attribution: By Qfl247 (talk) (Transferred by Citypeek/Original uploaded by Qfl247) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Bob, must you do this? It's just a flesh wound, but your links lead to links that could keep one commenting for weeks, instead of getting real work done, e.g. commenting on bad bills in Congress and the Legislatures.

    Try this, for example "Historically, the presence of livestock and ranchers on the range has accompanied a marked increase in sagegrouse and other wildlife species. According to their journals, Lewis and Clark found sage-grouse and other game to be scarce when the expeditioners made their trek across the vast, arid West. The two may have had an easier time catching their suppers 70 years later, once ranchers had begun improving the range and controlling predators. Also pointing to a direct positive relationship between grazing and sagegrouse populations, the decline in livestock numbers on public lands over the past half-century has been paralleled by a decline in sage-grouse populations."

    Apparently when one correlates fewer cattle with fewer sage grouse, it proves cattle protect sage grouse. The correlation between record warmth and record storms proves Al Gore will do anything to make money.

    From the Times article you referenced "They could reduce their herds, losing valuable genetics and other breeding characteristics...." No irony there, as the ranchers argue that a few wolves, cougars, and bears are more than enough to perpetuate their species, but loosing 500 head from 30 Million will destroy the robust genetics of Cliven-hoofed animals.

    "I knew it was coming"--so, climate change is real? Then why didn't you speak up to reduce herds and their methane emissions a while back? Oh, because your Way of Life is more important than the ecosystem's way.

    Do you see Bob, you've thrown me in a predator's pit?

  2. I am not sure how it works on your planet, but on the one the rest of us live on that looks at science, the relationship is between herbaceous understory and grouse success. The cattle eat this understory so that is a problem.