'Romantic piece of fluff'

  Dear HCN,

Your romantic piece of fluff about ranching in the San Luis Valley (HCN, 12/6/99) does a disservice to all of us who are trying to envision a positive future for the West. I have come to expect a much higher standard of journalism from you.

We must, I repeat MUST, move away from cowboy mythology. My family was uncomfortable when tourists put us on the cowboy pedestal when I was growing up on a ranch in the San Luis Valley; twenty years later, feminism taught me why. It demeans anyone to be mythologized and stereotyped, whether they are a woman, a Native American, or a rancher.

Yes, humans have a strong need to work out-of-doors with animals. Let's create jobs where people can do that without having to slaughter the animals and degrade the environment.

The San Luis Valley is not a sagebrush flat because of a lack of rainfall, as your heroine suggested. Buffalo were grazing there on waist-high grass when European settlers arrived. What happened? People plowed under the grass, planted wheat, and irrigated the soil. For a while that seemed successful. A hundred years ago, the area around Moffat produced a lot of wheat. Then the irrigation water pulled alkali salt out of the soil. Unknowingly, the settlers had turned the valley into a desert.

My parents had to sell out 25 years ago. Now the ranch I grew up on provides tax write-offs for the present owners. Is that a "higher purpose'?

Let's acknowledge that trying to raise livestock west of the rainfall line is a bust. Let's take the life support system off the dying industry, sell all the cattle and sheep one last time, have a huge feast, and then let wildlife flourish across the West again.

A West teeming with wildlife would make everyone happy, especially the people who want a job out-of-doors with animals. We could grow crops for wildlife, and veterinarians could treat their ailments. We could study them and photograph them and advertise them and protect them and hunt them and recreate among them. Who knows how many lucrative job niches they would provide?

I sure prefer that future to the pinched, defensive prospects of today's livestock ranchers.

Tori Woodard

Escalante, Utah

The writer was born and raised on the Woodard Land and Livestock Co. ranch near Saguache, Colorado.
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