Rhetoric vs. reasonableness

  The exchange inspired by Bryce Andrews' "Living Precariously With Wolves and Cattle," has revealed a striking contrast in soul and substance on opposite sides of the divide over management of public rangelands in the American West (HCN, 8/20/07). Andrews' description of killing one wolf and participating, at least indirectly, in the killing of three others to protect the cattle on a ranch on which he worked is deeply personal and full of feeling and humanity. As I read his account I felt I was meeting a person who was reasonable, respectful, honest and sensitive - the kind of person you could get to know and work with to do just about anything, including keep the West as wild as possible in this age of cyberspace and ex-urbanism.

In contrast, the three letters critical of his essay in the last HCN read like they were taken straight from a script of political talking points. They bristle with confrontative rhetoric, cliched villainization, inflated outrage, and phony statistics, some of which make it clear the author has no idea what he is talking about.

The exchange reminded me of why I left the mainstream environmental movement to work directly with ranchers in collaborative groups. I'll take the results I can get working with people like Andrews over what political raging can achieve any day.

Dan Dagget
Santa Barbara, California
Oct 11, 2007 01:44 PM

Great letter, Dan. I thought the same thing when I read those letters.Bryce Andrews’ piece was an honest personal account.  He was not stating a position, he was relating an antidote, a poetic expression of his thoughts related to that experience.  We might not agree with what he did, but we cannot disagree with his feelings and his experience.Sinapu and other letter writers seemed to disagree. They think they can discount this man’s feelings as being “wrong.”  “Shame on him for feeling rage” they say.  Instead of understanding why, they instead choose to turn this piece of writing into a political exercise.  Instead of calling for “permanently retiring federal grazing,” the typical Western Watersheds response, what about putting yourself in Andrew’s shoes for a minute?  Can’t we use the piece to reflect, then to work at a common solution?  But, as you say Dan, since when are many of these environmental organizations open-minded?  Since when is it about common solutions?  It’s not about understanding or enjoying an essay for what it is, it’s about stopping ranching on public land. What a shame and lost opportunity to do some good for wolves and ranchers.


Oct 15, 2007 11:22 AM

Dan Daggett, author of Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, writes that the exchange inspired by Bryce Andrews’ “Living Precariously With Wolves and Cattle” reveals a striking contrast in the divide over the management of public lands in the American West.    He clearly doesn’t much care for those who question public land grazing, characterizing them as confrontational and disingenuous.

As a resident of the so-called New West for over three decades, I hardly need to be reminded of the incongruity of card-carrying environmentalists driving t shiny SUVs, nor the ecological naiveté of many in the animal rights movement.  But in untold number of conversations with men and women working on public lands issues, I have repeatedly met with intelligent and reasonable people, sensitive to the nuances of livestock grazing.  It is ironic that in his call for a more courteous discourse about the issues, Mr. Daggett chooses to demonize many of these good-hearted people.

Meanwhile, those who espouse the merit of collaborative ranching groups should provide some suggestions  to those of us who would like to see viable populations of wolves repatriated on our public lands across the American West.  What are we to make of the ranching communities in southern New Mexico who have repeatedly undermined efforts to bring wolves back into the Gila’s mountains and valleys with their practice of shoot, shovel, and shut-up?  What are we to think of those ranching states in the Northern Rockies that are eagerly poised to wage an aerial hunt upon hundreds of wolves distributed throughout Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho? 

It is proper to honor the legitimate virtues of ranchers and respect their intimacy with the land.  But it is also necessary to acknowledge the impacts that ranching has had on native peoples, plants, and animals across the dry-old- dusty West.  Perhaps when those on both sides of the issue can do both we might truly begin a collaborative effort with soul and substance – an effort that will move us toward restoring wild nature and sustainable rural communities in this land for which we all care.

Tim Hogan

Oct 16, 2007 12:13 PM

Balance was lost long ago when ranching was allowed to take over millions of acres of land for the profit of one industry.  Environmentalists are trying to swing things back a little toward fairness, and ranchers don't like it.  Understandable perhaps, but they haven't earned my sympathy until they acknowledge the damage they've done and give a good chunk of our land back and stop demonizing natural predators.  A sense of entitlement is ugly, no matter what special interest group is waving its banner. 

Oct 22, 2007 11:52 AM

So, the big lesson many readers want to take away from this is that cattle shouldn't be on public lands?


OK, then, hold onto your hats:


ALL of the cattle killed by wolves in Bryce Andrews' story WERE KILLED ON PRIVATE LAND.


Read that several times, slowly.  Contact Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks if you require independent verification.  Maybe even contact Defenders of Wildlife -- their paperwork for compensation should include geographic coordinates.


The wolves were living on private land, and killing cattle on private land.  The allotment Bryce referred to is actually a jointly-managed transboundary allotment, and the ranch could probably get along without the small federal part of it.  (Shame on WOTR for editing out any clarity about that).


Alright then.  Now that this isn't a "public lands ranching issue," can we take a deep breath and try to have a dialogue about ranching with wolves? 

Nov 08, 2007 01:12 PM

In Response:


I support the reintroduction of wolves to the country where they belong.  I hope they will help restore balance and maybe even cull out deer and elk carrying chronic wasting disease.

At the same time, I don't think it is healthy for them to have no fear of humans. They could end up like park bears, a nuisance and an occasional danger, taking the easy pickings offered by people instead of doing their jobs in the wild.  Shooting a wolf or two will not wipe them out, but it will teach them there are no easy meals around humans or their livestock.

We  disrespect the wolf by romanticizing it, and lose track of its place and ours in the web of life. 

One person's opinion


Jon Norstog

Pocatello ID