There is little doubt that conflict over environmental issues will intensify under the twin pressures of population and aspiration. It also seems likely that much of this conflict will involve public lands - those lonely, semi-arid basins and ranges where the cattle roam.
From Tony and the Cows
by Will Baker



In 1995, journalist and former ranch hand Will Baker ventured to an Earth First! Rendezvous in Northern California, hoping to cover the gathering for a prestigious magazine. He came away with mixed feelings about the radical environmental movement, but he developed a lasting respect for at least one radical environmentalist: Tony Merten, a former Sierra Club activist who lived alone in the southern New Mexico desert. Baker admired Merten's dedication and intelligence, and the two enjoyed a long bull session during the rendezvous. But a few months later, Merten became a suspect in the shooting deaths of 34 cows and calves near his home in New Mexico. When the inquiry gathered speed, Merten shot himself.


The tragedy sent Baker on a long, self-reflective investigation, and several years later he turned his findings into a small volume called Tony and the Cows. Recently reprinted by the University of New Mexico Press, this modern fable is both an epitaph for Merten and a thoughtful critique of the environmental movement. Though Baker doesn't pretend to provide answers, his unusual ability to argue all sides makes for a mind-expanding read.


Tony and the Cows: A True Story from the Range Wars, by Will Baker, University of New Mexico Press, 2001. 121 pages. Softcover: $17.95.