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Know the West

The Marlboro Man and the Sage Grouse

  Dear HCN,

When one reads the article by Hal Clifford in High Country News regarding cattlemen and sage grouse (HCN, 2/4/02: Last dance for the sage grouse?), it is very obvious that the ranchers in the realm of the sage grouse are in severe denial concerning their impacts on sage grouse. I would put the situation far past mere ignorance, just as I would say that it is far more than ignorance that leads the cigarette industry to say for many years that smoking does not cause cancer. The Marlboro Man lost his lung to cancer and he still kept puffing away. When I read the silly view of that cowboy that cattle must be good for sage grouse because he saw baby grouse eating insects near a cow patty, I was reminded of a joke I heard years ago - "Eat (--it), 10,000,000 flies can't be wrong!"

The cowboy saw young grouse eating flies, but he would have seen a lot more young grouse eating flies if the cows and the cow patties had been long gone and the natural flowering forbs (eaten by the cows) had been left to attract insects as the natural ecosystem intended. So, when we get rid of the denial and face reality, we have to realize that when men put on the big belt buckles and the pointy-toed boots and put cattle on the ground in the entire range of the sage grouse, these men are part of a culture of death.

First, it was death to the American Indian. But range wars also resulted in deaths of many ranchers vying for control of lands and water rights. And the culture of death went on and on, to include death to sagebrush, death to wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, eagles, grizzly bears, jackrabbits, pronghorns, bunchgrasses, and anything that stood in the way of maximum profit to the cowboy. Take out sage, put in crested wheatgrass. Withdraw water from the rivers, put in alfalfa and the fish be damned.

Cowboys, sage grouse extirpations, cigarettes and cancer are all part and parcel of the same way of life, or better put, the same way of death.

Stan Moore
San Geronimo, California