I don't know how many times I've read or heard that the solution to the differences between environmentalists and ranchers is "cooperation." Lovely word, cooperation. Unfortunately, it seems to mean different things to different people. To the rancher, it's "leave us alone to do our thing." To most environmentalists, it means reducing the number of livestock to what the land can support. Most ranchers believe there's nothing wrong with rangelands that wouldn't be solved by more rain. Chronic optimists, they expect those rains to come every year, and "doing their thing" means stocking the ranges in expectation that those rains, which never seem to come in sufficient quantity to satisfy ranchers, will somehow materialize for sure "this year." How is cooperation going to resolve these two contradictory yet firmly held viewpoints?
Jon Christensen's report on the 17th annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering (HCN, 4/23/01: An environmentalist in the heart of cowboy culture) was another paean to cooperation. It failed miserably to present grazing critics' side of the issue. The keynote speaker, a Nevada buckaroo ("cowboy" in all other states!) accused a "small faction of people" for the fact that today there are "40 percent fewer cattle in the Great Basin region than there was in 1984." Not once in Christensen's page-length article is there any mention of overgrazing. In fact, in the 50 years I've lived and worked (33 years with Arizona Game and Fish) never have I known of a rancher admitting there was such a thing as overgrazing. Not, that is, until the elk herd in this state built up and they had an opportunity to accuse the elk of overgrazing. Cooperation will work to the satisfaction of public-land ranchers only if grazing critics throw in the towel (which I'm confident they won't do) and continue to allow the rancher-Forest Service-Bureau of Land Management-Senate coalition to do as they please on our public lands.
Fountain Hills, Arizona
The writer is a retired chief of the Wildlife Management Division, Arizona Game and Fish Department.