In some parts of the West, conversations about land use can be hazardous to your health. This time, you can leave the brass knuckles at home; all you need is a bookmark.

The writers in Home Land aren’t just old-time Westerners; they include a descendant of New York coal miners, a wildlife biologist, and a poet who moved from Wisconsin to Montana to ride broncs. These folks look at Western open space from every viewpoint you can imagine — political, emotional, economical.

But they all agree that ranching isn’t just an outmoded “lifestyle.” Responsible agriculture is our best hope for conserving Western lands that provide wildlife, food, open space, clean air, and more. And half of Western lands are public, open to all Americans. As is the case with most discussions, this one is hard to summarize and confusing in spots, but these writers are willing to negotiate the future because they love the West. Most even still have a sense of humor.

“If I’m going to survive in the twenty-first century,” says Wyoming rancher Tony Malmberg, “I need to be trilingual.” Ranchers, he explains, tell stories; the BLM wants data. And environmentalists prefer poetry.

Former Sierra Club activist Courtney White says he dropped out of the “conflict industry” to build bridges among ranchers, environmentalists, and others with the innovative Quivira Coalition. He lists the lessons that one ordinary ranching family teaches on their Durango ranch:

“Imitating nature is healthy; people like to know the source of their food; ranching with nature is socially responsible; ranching with nature gives the rancher sustainability.”

If you eat, consider this: In 2004, Americans imported more food than we exported, rendering our diet vulnerable to terrorism, among other dangers. Wildlife biologist Rick Knight notes that many Colorado ranchers have cheerfully given up, forever, the “right” to sell their land to the highest bidder — often a developer planning a subdivision — by creating a conservation easement.

Conservation, Home Land asserts, is compatible with ranching and farming; replacing farmland with subdivisions reduces our national self-sufficiency. “We lose otters and places for them to live because our economic system has been either unwilling or unable to create effective markets for these ‘good and services,’ ” says Bob Budd, ranch manager. “If the rancher who grows the hay will continue to grow otters, he should be paid for both.”

All royalties from this book go to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help protect working landscapes.

Home Land: Ranching and a West That Works
Edited by
Laura Pritchett,
Richard L. Knight,
Jeff Lee
217 pages, softcover: $17.
Rocky Mountain Land Library series, with Johnson Books, 2007.