You want to save the ranch? Save the ranchers

  How refreshing to see a thoughtful, well-researched article about ranching in HCN, as opposed to the usual ritual bashing of cows and trashing of ranchers (HCN, 3/29/04: Who will take over the ranch?). Though HCN Executive Director Paul Larmer suggests that the paramount question is not, "How do we save ranching?" but rather, "How do we save the land?" the answer to the latter question may depend much more on the former than he might prefer to acknowledge. Just as land trusts are not a panacea for ranchers, neither are they, in their ultimately limited financial capabilities, a panacea for "environmental" interests.

While traditional ranching is facing the many challenges of a mature industry under commodity pricing (not to mention a ravaging drought), there has been, in many areas, quite a renaissance under way, from progressive, multivalue resource stewardship to branded beef marketing. By keeping ranchers on the land, by upgrading their skills and knowledge in sustainable, ecologically based production practices, and making available economic incentives for the production of the array of "ecological services" so valued by 21st century society (in addition to the traditional "food and fiber"), much more of the land — and its natural resource values — can indeed be saved.

Jim Thorpe
Newkirk, New Mexico

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