Category Archives: Environmental Ethics

Where is best place for a gravel pit?

NIMBY, better yet, nowhere

(originally published in Agenda New West)

Red Rock gateway or “Gravel Pit Point?”

At the Bicknell Bottoms in Wayne County, southbound Utah Highway 24 turns west and passes through the Red Gate of the red rock Velvet Cliffs on the north and a toe of Boulder Mountain on the south. Here it enters the gorgeous Fremont River valley and the gateway communities to Capitol Reef National Park. I was at a gathering of friends and neighbors to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of the good man who built my home in the valley in Torrey. John came down from the city in the late 90’s to build my home, fell in love with the surroundings, and never left. Continue reading

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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.

Exclosures – August 2012

First cup

Kirsten and I went up to the Fish Lake National Forest and camped on Thousand Lake Mountain in southern Utah for a couple of nights this last Thursday through Saturday August 16-18.  This area is just north of Torrey and we like to get up there in the summer just to get out and to do a little volunteer assessment of the management practices on these public lands.

We came away glad to have been out but distressed at how the land is being over used particularly for grazing and logging.  Working with Mary O’Brien of the Grand Canyon Trust we have become aware of how the open spaces of the public lands in the West are in a state of what Mary calls normalized degradation.  I’m afraid she is right.  The national forest above the Wasatch Front is managed for people.  These dry desert mountains in southern Utah have a multiple use directive, but the use in fact is dominated by ranching.  The contrasts are distinct.  Wildflowers are hip deep all summer in the Wasatch.  The southern meadows are grazed every year down to a 4″ stubble height.  That’s the goal, it is usually worse.  Riparian areas in particular take a beating.  Because of pressure by environmentalists some small areas called “exclosures”  have been set aside and somewhat protected from grazing.  The ecological difference in these exclosures is tremendous.  The cowboys obviously still let the cows into these protected spaces but not enough to erase the evidence of what these mountain meadows could be without public land grazing.

I have blogged about it more here and elsewhere, but the reasoning behind public land grazing defies common sense.  It is not economic.  The ranchers/livestock permittees depend heavily on subsidies for water, gates, fences, rangeland “treatments” and pasture control.  Most of them make very little money all the same.  Public land grazing is probably the number one source of public land degradation and yet the public subsidizes it.  It is a story of a very narrow special interest taking advantage of the public’s clueless largesse.  It has long been a problem and one that seems to be intractable.  At $1.35 per AUM (Animal Unit Month – one cow and calf for a month of grazing) ranchers pay the same fee to graze as they did in 1966.  Who gets such treatment today?  One way out, the best one I can see, is to give ranchers a right they do not now have and allow them to accept grazing retirement buyouts.   -Mark Bailey

More public hurt from welfare ranching . . .

What to do about the Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s imperial control over federal land-use policy in the West?

From an essay by Christopher Ketchum in The American Prospect comes some acute observations about the power abuse in the face of common sense and at the expense of the public and the land:

“It’s almost a matter of religiosity that the real costs of ranching are paid for by the public,” says Brian Ertz, media director with the Western Watersheds Project. “Democratic and Republican congresspersons alike make their way up through political environments of extreme livestock–culture-dominated political organizations. The statehouses are dominated by livestock interests, and that’s where the federal representatives cut their teeth.”

The Cattlemen spend $2 billion to $3 billion is spent each year in state, federal, and county subsidies to support the survival of ranching on more than 250 million acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.  With that money they have purchased their own predator extermination government agency, the federally funded wolf-killing unit, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called Wildlife Services.  Between the loss of predators and the damage done by grazing, they are slowly turning the West to dust:

The loss of “apex consumers” from ecosystems, says the report, “may be humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.”

Ranching, by contrast, is considered one of the top causes of desertification, deforestation, and species extinction in the American West. An estimated 80 percent of the streams and riparian ecosystems in the West have been damaged by livestock grazing.

Even under a Democrat President, the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, comes from a family of five generations of ranchers.  The public needs to put up a little more fuss about the management of their land by a destructive, subsidized, narrow special interest.  We hope to provide some leadership at THP.

 

What happened to conservatives conserving?

It seems to me the rabid right in American politics today have lost track of some of their guiding principles, some of the great virtues.  Ted Williams writes in a recent blog, ” we need to grow our web of friends among those who are politically middle-of-the-road or even slightly to the right, and among those in small towns and the hinterlands. Too often we think the only field where we can gather new backers is the progressive/liberal one, but clubs such as Republicans for Environmental Protection, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and Trout Unlimited strongly show that there are more than a few folks caring about wild things who are not progressives, who may even be conservatives.”  Ted thinks that Piety, Prudence, Posterity are principals that conservatives naturally honor, and if they applied them to how they live in place, they would find they should be, in fact and act, conservationists.  . . . >>more

American Drinking Water Gets a D-. Republicans want it to get an F.

“Bipartisan analyses have repeatedly shown that the cost of environmental regulation is exponentially cheaper than the costs of toxic cleanup and medical care.” And yet the fearful shriek that environmental regulation “kills jobs” while the hamstrung EPA can’t even adequately test or develop standards for two-thirds of the pollutants detected in water. Enough already.    . . . more>>

Regulators Taken Hostage by Cows

Me? What?

 

Mary O’Brien of the Grand Canyon Trust says it is like doing a study on obesity and not considering what people eat.  The BLM is spending $40 million of taxpayer stimulus funds to do a “ecoregional assessment study” but ruling out ahead of time the impact of grazing.  The regulators are afraid of upsetting the regulated.  Regulatory capture at it’s worst.  Are we Alice at the Mad Hatter’s table?  Here’s Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman with more.