How are grazing and smoking similar? Both kill

  Dear HCN,

Tom Knudson's story on the Trout Creek working group in Oregon lacked some important factual information that would have cast the "success' of this BLM propaganda project in a less favorable light (HCN, 3/1/99). The article implies that the Trout Creeks can serve as a model solution for public-lands grazing disputes across the West to create "healthy habitat for fish and wildlife." I almost had to look to see if I wasn't reading a piece in Range Magazine, a livestock industry advocacy publication.

Ironically, the main focus of the story is on the 126,000-acre Whitehorse Butte allotment, far and away the largest public grazing permit in the Trout Creeks. This ranch operation is owned by Ted Naftzger, a millionaire who lives most of the year in Beverly Hills, Calif. It wouldn't play so well if people knew that the main "ranching" interest in the Trout Creek controversy was an absentee landowner who runs a "trophy" ranch subsidized at taxpayer expense.

Naftzger's ranch manager and "suspicious of strangers' want-to-be cowboy, Britt Lay, who Knudson described as a "classic cowboy," also hails from back East. Doc and Connie Hatfield, featured participants of the Trout Creek working group, also grew up elsewhere and didn't start ranching in eastern Oregon until the mid-1970s. I'm not suggesting that one has to be born into ranching or in the region to be an authentic player, but certainly the writer did nothing to dissuade readers of this implied long-term residency of key players.

Knudson describes how Whitehorse Butte ranch owner Naftzger voluntarily removed his cattle from the allotment for three years to provide some much-needed rest from his four-footed locusts, but fails to point out that this isn't really an option for many ranchers, nor a significant financial burden to millionaire Naftzger. Nor does he mention that the lands on the South Fork of Creeked River in central Oregon leased by Naftzger had not been grazed for years and were hammered by his cattle.

Knudson also doesn't discuss the ongoing impact of these cattle on other native plants and animals, from cryptogramic crusts to the loss of forage and cover for native species as a consequence of continued grazing by exotic animals.

He writes glowingly about some limited improvement of riparian vegetation along some waterways with grazing. This is somewhat of a deception because what has occurred is that grazing has been curtailed. Cows spend less time in riparian areas now than in the past because they are beating up the uplands instead. This begs the question how much greater improvement would result if there were no cows.

The writer uncritically accepts the BLM-led range tour as representative of the entire area, not even acknowledging that what he and others view on such tours may not be representative of the overall condition of these lands. If you get out and walk the allotments in these mountains as I and others have, you still find plenty of evidence for cow-beat lands in the Trout Creeks that the BLM tour routes avoid.

Nowhere does the writer even question whether the public interest is best served by pipelines, fences, water developments, roads, cattle guards, cow pies, and all the rest of the development and impacts done on its public lands so that a few individuals can continue to practice a "death style" that is responsible for the extinction or near extinction of hundreds of species and degradation of the majority of the West's landscape. This question is never asked and certainly isn't answered in most accounts that tell about "range success stories."

Claiming the Trout Creeks are being "worked back to health" is like an ad from tobacco companies asserting that the health of former chain smokers improved after cutting their consumption from three to two packs of cigarettes a day. Smoking even two packs a day is still killing you, even if you "feel" and "look" better. It's just killing you slower. Ditto for the arid West's cow-battered rangelands.

George Wuerthner

Livingston, Montana
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