'I think we can work with ranchers'

  • Herb Meyr

    Stephen Stuebner photo
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

A fisherman and a hunter, Herb Meyr is a retired Air Force pilot in Mountain Home, Idaho, who spends a lot of his time working as a volunteer with groups such as the Idaho Wildlife Council, the Idaho chapter of Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, and the Henrys Fork Foundation.

HERB MEYR: "Since Jon Marvel has come along, I've seen a big change just in the Owyhee country. Everyone is treated like the Watersheds Project. All of the environmental groups, and even the conservation groups, are treated almost like we're the enemy. There is a lot of suspicion. The ranchers are very cautious, and they do paint everybody with the same brush until they get to know you personally.

"But I think we can work with ranchers on a one-to-one basis. You have to go out in the field with them. If you can work something out as some kind of solution, where you can move the grazing or move the water someplace else, we can have ranching and a good environment.

"In Owyhee County, there's a lot of pressure on the BLM and the ranchers to fence off areas to protect wildlife and streams. We had a meeting out there recently, and the BLM said, "Oh, we can't do anything here because it's a wilderness study area." I suggested we put up a temporary solar electric fence, and that's what they did. The ranchers actually helped put up the fence.

"I think the biggest threat in the West to wildlife is the loss of the big ranches, by dividing them up and turning them into subdivisions. That's the worst thing that can happen. The other problem I see is the smaller ranchers going out of business, and the large operations buying them out. Large corporations are there for the bottom dollar, and you know they might not be as responsive to the environment as a family operation.

"It would be helpful if ranchers realized that to stay in business, they have to take good care of the land. They can't have these bad examples out there for everyone to see. Unfortunately, the main management in a lot of places is you let the cows out in the spring and you collect them in the fall. And they only stay on 10 percent of the allotment, and that's in the streambeds.

"Jon has shown that the management of state lands isn't fair, though it's a shame that everything has to go through the courts. On federal lands, he's identified that the BLM has so many rules and regulations they're bogged down. They can't manage the land without reorganizing themselves. It turns out we have a whole bunch of grazing allotments coming up to be renewed throughout the West - probably over 1,000 of them. The BLM has only done maybe 30 percent, so they're really behind.

"But when it comes back to the ranchers, when you look at the damage on public lands, you know, we're talking about something that occurred over 100 years. It's true that a lot of these places need to be rested. But some of these people are third or fourth generation. This is their life; this is their job. This is their family. And anytime you attack the ranchers personally, you're attacking all their relatives and their kids and everyone else. You're unifying everyone against you. So then it's hard to work with them at all."