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for people who care about the West

'Such is life'

  Dear HCN,

Your cover story about the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity in the March 30 issue reminded me of a vicarious confrontation I had with a cattle rancher in Arizona.

First some background: I'm retired from the Forest Service and was the regional geneticist for Region 3 (Arizona and New Mexico) from 1978 to 1981. I often visited ranger districts throughout the region, giving technical assistance on reforestation. The silviculturist on the Springerville Ranger District, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, wanted me to visit a plantation he had recently established in a salvage-logged area. It looked like he was going to have over 90 percent survival - an exceptional feat in the arid Southwest.

We drove many dusty miles as he explained all the precautions he had taken to achieve high survival. Then as we came over a rise, we were astonished to see a herd of cattle leisurely grazing throughout the plantation!

I began tossing rocks and sticks at the cattle. They paid little attention and moseyed away, munching vegetation as they went. Most of the seedlings were trampled and some were pulled out of the ground.

The permittee had placed at least two salt blocks in the plantation to entice the cattle.

I grabbed one of the 50-pound salt blocks and threw it in the back of the pickup. At the end of the day, I was going to put the blocks on the range manager's desk with this simple note: "Found these in the middle of a plantation. Please return them to the cowboy and tell him to get his cattle out."

I thought the silviculturist would support this action, but I was wrong; he told me to put the block back. Their forest was beginning to practice team management and this would violate some of the sacred principles recently engraved on his mind.

I later learned that it took over two weeks to get the cattle out of the new planting. The district's management team had to meet a couple of times to determine if there was actually a problem. Once they determined there was one, several letters were written to the file, they drafted adjustments to the grazing allotment, and the range specialist had numerous discussions with the cowboy before he agreed to drive his cattle to another pasture.

By then the cattle had completely destroyed the plantation and the following year the area was replanted. Did the cowboy pay for it? Nope. Nor did he pay for the expensive fence the forest placed around the new plantation.

This and similar events often frustrated me, but after reading the Milagro Beanfield War, I mellowed somewhat. A sage whose family had lived in New Mexico for about 200 years taught me a survival mantra: Asi es la vida (Such is life).

LeRoy C. Johnson

Bishop, California