'Jon Marvel is the wing nut'

  • Brad Little

    Stephen Stuebner photo

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Based in Emmett, Idaho, Brad Little is a third-generation sheep and cattle rancher. He has been active in range-reform efforts for more than a decade; this year, he joined the board of directors of High Country News. Recently, he talked about his neighbor Jon Marvel:

BRAD LITTLE: "Jon Marvel's objective isn't just to get ranchers off public lands. At the last Malheur Desert Conference (in Oregon) I asked him specifically about private-land ranching in the West, private-land ranching elsewhere in the United States, and in Brazil, Argentina and New Zealand. He said it was inconceivable that you could produce red meat off any land anywhere. That does give some purity to his vision, I guess.

"What do I think of him? Better Jon than someone more personable. Jon is going to irritate people so much, people may gravitate to our side.

"Michael Jackson of the Quincy Library Group says it's the wing nuts on each side - the right wing and the left wing - that create the center. In 1978 and 1979, it was the Sagebrush Rebellion; in the 1990s, Jon Marvel is the wing nut.

"Most people I'm around, they think livestock grazing has a place out there. They just want to take care of the bad stuff. In a way, Jon may help. There may be some medium operators that may start doing more documentation and more monitoring to defend themselves, so their long-term longevity may be enhanced by Jon's presence.

"I know it makes it easier for me to go out and spend the days I do monitoring if I know that I'm going to have an awful good defense if I get into court on the issues. Jon is a pretty good incentive from that standpoint. But he's driving up the cost of administering public-land permits, and he's accelerating what's already happening: There's people going out of business every day on public lands.

"Should Jon be able to bid on state lands? Oh, yeah. Leases should be reclassified so there's a watershed lease or a recreation lease. Jon doesn't want a grazing lease. Jon likes to find a state lease right in the middle of a grazing operation and cherry pick. Let's give him some (leases) and see how smart he is. He's got to maintain the fences, control the weeds; this isn't a freebie.

"I have heard that he's called a "family-farm terrorist." Here's a guy whose income comes from development in Sun Valley, where people don't want any more development, and he's going around picking on what should be sustainable agriculture.

"I think in the long run, livestock still is the highest and best use for a lot of these lands in the West. Maybe at lower levels; maybe at different times; maybe different species.

"Ten years from now, people will say we had a pretty good deal with (people buying into) rangeland reform. But we had to give up some of the good stuff because Jon Marvel abused the system."

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