Category Archives: Environment

Cut it all down and plow it all under?

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great WestNature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I was more into the Midwest I might have given this title yet another star. Even so, the perspective of the mid to late 19th century conversion of the Midwest from natural landscape to a completely extracted farm was enlightening. Excruciating, but enlightening. The prairies were plowed under on farms made possible by converting the great northern forests to lumber. Chicago markets and finance made it all possible.

The voraciousness of markets and the shortsighted lure of immediate profits spell doom and destruction for natural and wild landscapes. The 19th century mindset held no conception that the natural world was a limited resource. And one that is necessary to the maintenance of life.

How does the culture get changed to become aware and develop some reverence for the natural world? Books like this help.

View all my reviews

Review: Environmentalists: An Eyewitness Account from the Heart of America

Environmentalists: An Eyewitness Account from the Heart of America
Environmentalists: An Eyewitness Account from the Heart of America by Steven D. Paulson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Round about 2007-2008 my son had graduated from Prescott College with a degree in environmental studies and was searching for his place in the workforce. Judging by the magazine covers on my coffee table at the time, I thought Nick might be catching a wave. Going “green” was all the rage. Then the Great Recession hit, the smartphone came out, and the culture wars erupted, knocking the nascent environmental movement off the front page and on to the back of the bus, perhaps under the bus. “Environmentalist” weirdly even became a negative, dismissive epithet.

Which is absurd. Continue reading

Review: Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness

Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness
Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness by Michael Branch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael Branch completely had me at “Bug.” I too have a vivacious, curious, energetic daughter I raised in the Great Basin and that I nicknamed “Bug.” Although mine was raised not in the wild but in the suburbs of Salt Lake City on the east edge of the Basin with only frequent trips to the Wasatch Mountains and to a remote second home high in the center of the Colorado Plateau. That and she is 32 years old already. Continue reading

Butler Fork

Butler Fork

Butler Fork

Note to self – get out more. I have never gone out less than since we started an environment oriented publishing company. We did manage to get out this week for a short hike. These shots are up Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains in early June. The trail moves quickly into the Mt. Olympus Wilderness Area, one of Utah’s first wilderness areas. Signs remind you that logging and grazing have been eliminated for 100 years and the place is riotous with spring life and growth. There is nothing like this in the southern Utah national forests where logging and grazing still run rampant.

P1020046Darlene Avery hiked with us. She was in town from Colorado Springs to prep for Kirsten’s daughter’s wedding. I will have to formulate my thoughts to express more but we spent  some good time talking about loss, being, becoming, and beauty. Some of the time was with a camera. These are shots with my brother’s point and shoot.

I hope to go back up and shoot more of the abundance and compare with the forests in southern Utah.

This weekend is a three day river trip on the San Juan River.

The Publishing (ad)Venture

WTorrey House Press Websitee started Torrey House Press in 2010 with the tag line “Love of the Land” and with an objective to promote more grass on the mountains and water in the streams in the West and to do so via literature. We set out to get on the front lines of the very idea of literature and the environment. We are a publisher with a cause, to conserve the fragile environment for its own sake and upon which we depend.

Successful conservation is a challenge.  Compared to the 1960’s and 70’s there is less public interest in conservation. Driven primarily by the intense lobbying of the energy industry, it has now become a belligerent Republican policy plank to do whatever possible to undermine the environment and, sadly, this month the Republican’s overran the U.S. Senate.  What was already difficult, protecting the environment, has become more so. Energy industry money has succeeded in making conservation equate to being anti-people. Quite strange.

Like conservation, successful publishing is a challenge. Like conservation, the obstacles to success are mounting. Amazon’s growing monopsony means an ever larger slice of the revenue pie goes to them. And although Amazon makes millions of titles available, they are best at herding readers to the best sellers so that more than ever winner takes all. The growing internet produces infinite reading for free. Since the iPhone came out during the Great Recession readers are ever less available to something as demanding as a book. Smart phones and apps like FaceBook help readers find out what each other are reading which also amplifies the effect of winner takes all. People want to do what other people are doing and it is possible today to know where the buzz is in an instant. And with digital technology there is an ever increasing number of new titles per year, millions if self-published titles are included in the count, making any new title amount to a snowflake in a blizzard.

Four years in at Torrey House Press we have yet to figure out how to make our publishing venture sustainable and viable. We have learned more about the financial mechanics of publishing and what it will take to become profitable enough to continue. We see, for instance, that producing titles that sell less than 5,000 copies will never get us there. Our average copies sold per title is well less than that. We are considering our options. Help from conservation organizations might make sense. Going nonprofit might be necessary. Adding more nonfiction titles that address a specific market might help. Attracting mid-list authors with a substantial following helps. We are going to poke around at exploring all of these options and try to hold our eyes and minds open to other solutions at the same time.

A regular (ad)venture.

The Elephant in the Room is a Cow — Grazing Impacts on So. Utah Forests

 

Bull in the china closet

Bull in the china closet

My wife and I are both sixth generation Utahns. We own homes in both Salt Lake and Wayne counties. We were married in the Capitol Reef National Park outdoor amphitheater in 2010. Together we cherish the natural landscape of Utah, our pretty, great state. Except for one thing. We have become sensitized to the damage done by livestock grazing on public lands. Our pioneer ancestors worked hard to survive in the arid country they were charged with settling, and we admire the determination and pluck it required. But public lands ranching doesn’t make sense anymore, and the more we learn about what our forests could be, the more we see the degradation–and absence–of plant communities and wildlife habitat. There is hardly anywhere we can go outside of the wilderness areas of the Wasatch where we don’t see it. This bothers us so much we started a publishing company in part to shed more light on public land mismanagement. We also volunteered with Mary O’Brien and the Grand Canyon Trust to do grazing damage assessment and now serve on the board of directors of Wild Utah Project with Allison Jones.

I borrowed the elephant part of the title to this blog piece from our neighbor in Torrey, Chip Ward, from something he said in a recent Tom’s Dispatch post about beaver habitat destruction by ranchers. Kirsten and I feel that if there is one simple, single thing that would most improve the natural landscape of Utah it would be the cessation of public land livestock grazing. It is everywhere yet its economic benefits are miniscule and for only a very few. Currently, 97% of the Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal National Forests in southern Utah are actively grazed by livestock. But only one percent of Utah’s gross domestic product, or economic output, is agriculture, and only a small sliver of that is from public land grazing. Yet that one percent of economic production uses 82 percent of Utah’s water and almost all of the public land. Predators such as wolves, key to ecologic balance, have been eliminated. Others like coyotes, and now even crows, are hunted down by the state. Beavers have been virtually outlawed in Garfield County, just south of Wayne. Aspen, willow, and cottonwood growth have been stunted by livestock browsing.  The problem is conceptually easy to fix, but it goes largely ignored. When it isn’t ignored, reform is blocked by tiny but powerful special interest groups. In the West, the iconic cowboy and his cow remain mythical and sacred. Like the king with no clothes, the public land is exposed and much the worse for it.

Over the last four or five years we have gathered photos illustrating both the damage from livestock grazing and what the forests could be when protected from grazing. Clicking any of the photos in the gallery below will take you to a slide show where more detailed captions are available. Perhaps many of the pictures need no caption to tell the story. We often photograph “exclosures,” areas fenced off to keep livestock out in order to assess grazing impacts. Virtually all of the exclosures we find are routinely violated by the ranchers — which makes sense since it makes them look bad. Cows are also supposed to be herded away from riparian areas, but in all our forest travels we have only seen the one cowboy pictured below.

The Southern Utah Forest Service is instituting a grazing assessment and inviting comments (send emails to “grazingassessment@fs.fed.us”) and concerns. We hope they take this chance to begin to run the forests as other than a subsidized ranch.

The (unequal justice) Code of the West

c stewart

Cowboy Chris

Cowboy anarchist Cliven Bundy and Utah San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman remain free. I have been writing to Utah 2nd District Congressman Chris Stewart expressing my alarm at the situation. My point to Stewart is that if conservationist Tim DeChristopher goes straight to federal prison for violating BLM law, and is given a stiff two year sentence precisely because he is exercising his First Amendment right of free speech, then certainly these cowboys need some jail time for doing the same thing. Stewart, ever the right wing politician, doesn’t get it.

Stewart’s response:

I grew up on a dairy farm. My wife’s family still ranches in Northern Utah and Southern Idaho. I understand the importance of obeying the law, including paying grazing fees. Notwithstanding this, I was shocked as the situation played out in Nevada to see the show of force by the BLM and the National Park Service agents. I had no idea that these agencies had special tactical teams that appear more like paramilitary groups than park rangers.

It is true that America loves the cowboy. I increasingly do not. The fact that Stewart likes to wear his cowboy hat does not impress me. His sentence on the importance of obeying the law is his only acknowledgement of the issue in a full one page letter. The rest is about the citizens not respecting the federal government because it can’t be trusted. He has his facts all wrong. The BLM does not have paramilitary force. That level of force that showed up at Bunkerville was the Las Vegas Sheriff Department SWAT team. Ironically, Stewart is pressing the point in his letter to me that law enforcement ought to be local. He is ignoring the fact that it was. And the law was still outgunned by the cowboy militia and had to back off to avoid a blood bath. Overwhelming force, Stewart?

Rural cowboy militia

Rural cowboy militia

Subsequently, on May 10, Utah’s San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman led a heavily armed vigilante gang on ATV’s into Recapture Canyon, a sacred Navajo site in San Juan County that the BLM has closed to motorized vehicles. In part Lyman chose the anniversary date to publicly object to white, Mormon, San Juan County citizens not being allowed to continue to rob Navajo graves unmolested by the law.  Sheriffs from five rural Utah counties showed up to make sure the heavily armed ATV riders were able to perform federal trespass without interference. They need not have worried. The unarmed conservation community was in reasonable fear for their lives and prudently did not show up. And, I sadly point out to you Chris Stewart, neither did the BLM.

Stewart is worried about an undue show of force.  By whom, Chris?

In the West we do not practice equal justice under the law. Around Utah, if you are white, Republican, Mormon, wear a cowboy hat and are heavily armed you can break the law with impunity. You can even have the local sheriff, on horse and with hat, make way for you. On the contrary, if you interrupt the BLM in the name of conservation, without a hat and without a weapon, you go straight to prison with a maximum sentence. Such is the case today.

Happily there is a petition going around by the more sober citizens at Alliance for a Better Utah to hold the trespassers accountable.   I am gratified to see I am not the only one alarmed at the cowboy behavior going unanswered by the law.

Cliven Bundy Opens the Anarchy Door

EqualJusticeUnderLaw The BLM has got its tit in a wringer. From an environmental standpoint the BLM is a classic captured agency run locally both by and for ranchers. The agency has long overlooked grazing permit infractions of all sorts. Often outside nongovernmental organizations have to sue to win enforcement of  standing laws and regulations.  The BLM’s action of enforcement has been so lax that when they do try to enforce a decades old egregious and blatant defiance of U.S. law and multiple court orders, like the unanswered defiance by Cliven Bundy, they are unable to do so.  Which opens more than one door in a good news – bad news sort of way.

That bad news is that the government is inviting anarchy.  If one guy, like Cliven Bundy with his delusions of grandeur, can defy the government by going loud with right wing media and inviting a bunch of gun toting friends to gather around, why can’t everyone start making up their own laws?  Already Utah San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman  is rallying a group to flout federal law and ride their ATV’s into a closed canyon next month.  Presumably they will take notes from Bundy and bring their guns.  Mike Noel, a Utah legislator, did the same in Paria Canyon in 2012 with no repercussions. Yet when environmental activist Tim DeChristopher practiced civil disobedience by waving a bid paddle at what turned out to be an energy auction held illegally by the BLM, he was promptly sentenced to two years in federal prison.  Utah’s federal judge Dee Benson did not allow DeChristopher’s motives to be discussed in court, only whether or not he technically broke the law.  “Equal Justice Under Law” is engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building.  When special interest groups like livestock and energy producers or rural county commissioners on ATVs can crony up with the federal courts and agencies to manage legal outcomes, we are knocking on the door of fascism.

The good news for the BLM’s tit is that Cliven Bundy appears to be a lunatic to the vast majority of rational Americans.  All the media attention on public land grazing abuse will shine some light on BLM practices and might encourage the agency to toe the line and regularly enforce existing regulations.  This attention can open the door to a little public awareness to the otherwise boring issue of public land management, particularly the damage done by livestock grazing and the irony that this grazing would largely come to and end if it were not subsidized and/or if ranchers were permitted to sell and thereby retire their permits.

It will be up to non-governmental organizations and writers alike to go through the good news door.  I’ll see what we can do at Torrey House Press with some appropriate Green Shorts.

Beaver and Goats

Kirsten's twin nehpews at Calf Creek Falls

Kirsten’s twin nephews at Calf Creek Falls

Spring is here and my wife, Kirsten, and I are poking our heads out more and looking into environmental issues. In fact, it has felt like March in Utah since early February and it is good to get out. In addition my son, Nick, has been interning for Wild Utah Project and WildEarth Guardians, both environmental agencies.  Kirsten hiked the Calf Creek Falls trail on Monday with her sister and two nephews strapped to their backs.  Nick made a run down to Moab a couple of weeks ago to visit with the Forest Service, Wild Utah Project and the Grand Canyon Trust about exotic mountain goats recently plunked down on the La Sals.

Kirsten was impressed at the amount of beaver activity in the stream along her hike.  Beaver are, of course, the original and best stream managers.  For years the folks at Grand Canyon Trust have been trying to get beaver re-introduced on Boulder Mountain and the surrounding forests.  But ranchers think beavers somehow steal water and the Garfield County Commissioners, all ranchers, wrote a letter of protest to the Forest Service vehemently protesting any beaver re-intoduction in their county.  County commissioners have amazing amount of political clout and the Forest Service folks deny them at risk of their jobs.  So Kirsten was surprised to see so much beaver activity.  She described dam after dam, wide and open and lush riparian areas big enough that migrating ducks were landing.  Our guess is that the BLM, the land managers in this case, have too much pressure from the national public at this popular spot to allow the commissioners to have their way.  Much like the forests around the Wasatch Front do not allow livestock grazing because the public would never put up with the damage.

Nick went down to Moab to visit with the Forest Service about the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ (DWR) introduction of mountain goats on to the La Sal Mountains last fall.  There were no mountain goats in Utah when the pioneers arrived, and all current populations in the state were transplanted from other places.  The La Sal’s have special wilderness zones established for scientists, like those at Wild Utah Project, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Forest Service, to study the effects of climate change.  Goats, as we know, eat everything and the scientists are duly concerned.  DWR is often accused of “trophy farming” and put the goats up on the mountain in defiance of current memorandums of understanding with other existing land management agencies, such as the Forest Service, in a unilateral decision to please hunters, their primary special interest constituency.

More on captured agencies and these issues as the year unfolds.

Cowpie National Monument

Beautiful, fragile, poorly managed.

Beautiful, fragile, poorly managed.

Grand Staircase Escalanate National Monument, Burr Trail (GSENM), May 20, 2013 

It doesn’t make sense to subsidize environmental degradation on public lands.  Kirsten and I went out for a couple of nights camping to the Deer Creek campground off the Burr Trail in the GSENM.  After a hike down Deer Creek for less than a mile we turned around, sad and disgusted, and came back a day early.

The campground is an oasis in the high desert red rock country.  Deer Creek runs off of Boulder Mountain toward the Escalante River and on to Lake Powell.  Along its banks are cottonwood trees, coyote willow, aspen and spring wildflowers.  That is, if the delicate area is protected from cows.  The campground is cattle guarded for the most part and was a delight.  Out of the gate, across the road and down the stream was another matter.

Leaving camp we came across the first ominous signs.  Inside the campground the spring grasses were knee high and robust.

Cattle guard and fence at campground.  Cows hang out at viewer's right.

Cattle guard and fence at campground. Cows hang out at viewer’s right.

On the other side of the fence the grass was already overgrazed and gone.  Ranchers and their apologists such as the responsible BLM agents call this a “sacrifice zone” saying that cattle will congregate along fences making things worse there than  in general elsewhere.  But in general cows are to be kept out of riparian zones.  In fact, that is where they primarily hang out.  We crossed the road and signed in at the trail head register.  Behind the first row of willows it smelled and looked like we had walked into a stock yard.  The trampled stream was at our feet and the cows were there strip mining away.

It costs a rancher $1.35 per month for a permit to graze a cow and her calf on public land.  It is the same price they paid in 1962 and 1/10 to 1/20 the going market rate and less than it costs for you to feed your gerbil.  It costs the taxpayer more to manage the ranching/permittees than the ranchers make doing it.  It’s the reason for the pejorative “welfare rancher.”  These folks couldn’t afford to keep doing it with out subsidy.

The grass, wildflowers and willows should be hip high in this riparian area.

The grass, wildflowers and willows should be hip high in this riparian area.

In addition to paying for gates and fences, the taxpayer also pays to exterminate wildlife that might threaten the cows like wolves and coyotes and even beaver (beaver are virtually outlawed by the county commissioners in Garfield County where much of the Monument is).

This whole area should be hip high in grass, wildflowers and willows.

Cow burnt.

It is wolves and other predators that keep ungulates on the move in riparian areas allowing the supporting undergrowth like the grasses, wildflowers, and the cottonwoods, aspen and willows to prosper.  That bugs ranchers so even federal agencies like the so called “Wildlife Resources” spend millions making creeksides like this one a virtual private ranch where, as if they are the only concern, there is no need to monitor and manage the cows.  A half a dozen of the hooved locusts were munching nearby.

The ranchers answer that this is their way of life.  But who gets that?  Torrey House Press is losing money, and it is my way of life, but I am not asking for subsidies.  I have to make it work or get out of the business.  The commissioners ask who I am going to put out of a job.  Great rhetoric but the wrong question.  I am not qualified to say who should have a job and who shouldn’t and the government certainly isn’t.  Ask the Soviet Union about that practice.  The market could be allowed to work it out and there are market solutions.  The conservation community is standing by ready to buyout grazing permits but only if the permits can be retired.  By current law permit retirement on BLM land literally requires an act of congress.

P1010267Cows made sense for a little while in the arid Intermountain West and the Colorado Plateau but with the advent of the railroad and easy transportation, such things as grazing need to be done on private land where it rains.  There is plenty of it east of the 100th meridian.  It is nuts to keep hammering our public treasures this way.