Grazing story ignored radical center

  Dear HCN,

I would like to register a firm objection to the recent cover story, "Healing the Gila" (HCN, 10/22/01: Healing the Gila). I was distressed by its old-fashioned, polemical, "Good Guy vs. Bad Guy" tone, which seems out of character with recent cover stories in HCN. You've done a very good job recently covering progressive and innovative developments around the West. But Tony Davis' story was straight out of the 1980s. It gave readers a choice only between environmental absolutists and overgrazing ranchers, which is no choice at all. And it definitely does not address the burgeoning "Radical Center" in the grazing debate.

There are numerous examples of dramatic riparian recovery coming as a result of simple changes in grazing management (the National Riparian Team has plenty of examples), usually as a result of a switch to dormant season use. Therefore, to let Mr. Davis paint a picture in black and white, as you did, is irresponsible of HCN. That's because, as I told Mr. Davis over the phone, if environmentalists are going to cause economic and emotional pain by their actions, they should do so reluctantly and only with airtight ecology. By allowing Mr. Davis to portray the very complicated issue of riparian recovery in such simplistic terms, you may be facilitating the spread of that pain, when it may not be necessary.

HCN continues to "not get it" when it comes to ranching in the West. On almost every other major environmental topic, from coal mining to salmon fishing to dam decommissioning to progressive forest practices to watershed-scale collaborations to the complicated issues surrounding water, HCN has done an excellent job of digging deep to get the real story.

On every topic, that is, except ranching.

There is a progressive ranching movement afoot, and there are plenty of good stories out there. For example, Bill deBuys' grass bank, located near Santa Fe, is a great model for ecological and economic restoration. There are many progressive ranchers doing great things for wildlife and water on their land, too, including Jim Winder, Virgil Trujillo, Mac Donaldson, Bill McDonald, Roger Bowe, Kathy and Mike McNeil, Bob Budd, David James, and on and on. The West Elk pool, in your backyard, has an important story to tell as well.

Recently, the New York Times and the LA Times profiled some of these ranchers. When will HCN? I think this is a major hole in the otherwise very fine fabric of your newspaper.

Courtney White
Santa Fe, New Mexico

The writer is executive director of the Quivira Coalition.