Hess and Holechek were wrong on grazing

  Dear HCN,

The Esmeralda County Public Lands Advisory Committee is concerned with an article by Karl Hess and Jerry Holechek (HCN, 7/24/95) published in High Country News, because we find that some of your information is exaggerated, misleading or in error. This commission even contacted the BLM and Forest Service with requests to determine from where you received your erroneous information. All replies stated that they were not familiar with your articles and had not communicated with you on a state or local level.

Had your articles not been so inflammatory we would have ignored your misinformation. You are promoting hostility and misunderstanding between your primarily urban readers (who generally have no first-hand information about the subjects) and the people who actually live and work in the rural West. If you feel these charges are unwarranted, please reply with your information sources for such items as the $18,000 subsidy paid to every rancher in Nevada, and how this $18,000 appears in another article as an emergency feed check. (The emergency feed program was in Vale, Colo.) In any event, we feel that Hess and Holechek are deficient as investigative reporters and we request that you make amends by checking your information against official government figures and printing corrections which identify the specific source of your data. Please do not merely cite some other magazine article. Check your information with the primary sources only.

Another item we found amusing is the statement that there are half as many cattle on the range but the cattle are now nearly twice as heavy. Please let us know where we can observe these herds of 2,000-pound cattle. No one around here has any on the range at this time but we would all be interested in purchasing some of this amazing breed stock.

Jack Vogt

Goldfield, Nevada

The writer chairs the Esmeralda County Public Lands Advisory Commission.

The writers reply:

Dear Esmeralda County Public Lands Advisory Commission:

Many things have changed since the turn of the century. Three of them - the result largely of better cattle breeding - are the size of cows, higher weaning weights and larger calf crops. What this means is that on a per cow basis in a cow-calf operation, ranchers are able to grow almost double the poundage of beef that they did in bygone days. When you add in the reduction of cattle numbers on public lands, things zero out. In other words, total grass consumed by cows on public lands has stayed relatively constant since 1935, contributing to what we call chronic overstocking. The original research - with primary references - is found in an article by Dr. Larry Foster titled "Half a Century of Change" in the April 1982 issue of Rangelands.

You are right to be worried about wrong information, but in the matter of emergency feed you are dead wrong. First, the Nevada information you challenge was originally presented in an essay by Hess in the June 1995 issue of Reason and later published by Holechek and Hess in the August 1995 issue of Rangelands. We never wrote, as you claim, that "every rancher in Nevada" receives an $18,000 relief check for emergency feed. Instead, we wrote, "Nevada ranchers, the most vocal of sagebrush rebels and the most intent on kicking Uncle Sam out of the West, receive on average $18,000 per year for every man and woman in the program." In other words, the Nevada ranchers who participate in the program make out like welfare bandits.

Finally, the emergency feed program is Westwide - from Vale, Ore. (not Vale, Colo.) to Las Cruces, N.M. Also, your investigative skills are way off the mark. If you had taken the time to read our writings rather than fume over them, you would have known that the emergency feed program is not part of the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service. It is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program run out of the Farm Service Administration that liberally rewards public-land ranchers. Oh, and the data. You can obtain the raw emergency feed data we used from Richard Pazdalski, USDA-ASCS Budget Division at 202/720-5148. Hope this helps.

Karl Hess Jr. and Jerry L. Holechek

Las Cruces, New Mexico

High Country News Classifieds