Category Archives: Special Interests, Cronyism, Big Oil

Why a robust response to Bundys at Malheur is important

Equal justice under law

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U.S. Supreme Court

The immense damage I see to public lands in southern Utah caused by private livestock grazing motivated me to start Torrey House Press. The public would not put up with current land management practices if they knew about them and I want to get the word out in literature.  The land practices are absurd, and I will get to that, but what concerns me even more about the Bundys taking siege to the public buildings at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is how it makes a mockery of the American principle of equal justice under law. Continue reading

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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 like 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.

Don’t photograph that cow!

I’ve been reading quite a bit about the history and current practice of grazing on public lands.  My question has always been how so few people could have such huge political clout.  The answer is complex and fascinating.  Much of the answer revolves around the power of the cowboy myth in the mind of the American and particularly in the mind of the American congressperson.  I think I will blog a bit about some current examples of both regulatory and political capture and about the harm that public land grazing does.  Here’s a current example of where the reactionary Utah congress is working on a law to make it illegal to take a picture of a cow. (HB187)  >>>more

Ed Firmage lets the good old boys have it.

Welfare Rancher?

In response to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune announcing that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones OK’d the use of Green River water to cool a proposed nuclear reactor, Ed Firmage Jr. posted a polished reply.  Water management in Utah is an area much in need of watch dogging.  Mike Noel makes a living by exercising a powerful conflict of interest in the government positions he holds.  It’s how welfare ranching works and just like Bernard DeVoto called it 65 years ago: “Give me the money, now get out of here.”  Berate the federal government while taking finagled federal hand outs.  Not much has changed.  Noel has a seat on the Utah State Legislature and is the executive director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, both government jobs.  Now he is concocting a boondoggle to sell Kane County water rights to a nuclear reactor which he will use his position as state legislator to support.    Here’s Ed’s response:

Let me see if I got this right:

A former two-bit Viagra salesman, Aaron Tilton, who was GIVEN (not elected) to a term in the state senate and who promptly lost his first attempt to be ELECTED to office (even Utah voters have standards), teams up with former legislative buddy, welfare rancher, and general good old boy Mike Noel, who makes his living railing against federal subsidies (except his own), and they concoct a plan for a federally subsidized nuclear reactor (all nuclear reactors are federally subsidized) in the middle of the howling Utah desert with water from an oversubscribed and climate-threatened river–in other words, using water for speculative gain, a practice prohibited by Utah law–and this Rube Goldberg scheme is OKd by the only representative of the Utah public who will have a say in this decision, Utah’s water “engineer,” Kent Jones, who opines, in either ignorance or denial of Wall St., that building a nuclear power plant, and that in a desert, isn’t a speculative venture and a therefore illegal use of Utah water.

I guess I must be in Utah, for by comparison, the story of the golden plates sounds perfectly plausible.

Ed’s last sentence is regrettably uncivil, but his calling the crony good old boys on their crap is a civil service.  Go Ed.

Failure of Land Use Socialism

There is nothing more harmful to the arid lands of the American West today than public land grazing.  It is ironic that the Cato Institute, the leading libertarian, conservative think tank calls the results of over a century of grazing on public lands, ” . . . a testimony to the failure of land-use socialism.”  Ouch.  70% of the over 300 million acres of public land in the West is grazed, producing less than 3% of the nation’s beef.  Agriculture is less than 1% of the western economies but uses nearly 80% of the water, much of that used to grow hay for to feed livestock.  Ranching is a tiny little special interest.  A rancher pays $1.35 per month to graze a cow and its calf.  How much do you suppose it costs to feed a gerbil for a month?  Yet the BLM, with $40 million of taxpayer stimulus money, wants to ignore the impact of grazing in their Rapid Ecoregional Assessments project to map ecological trends throughout the West.  See more here . . . >>

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.