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Tue Mar 5, 2019, 11:06 PM

Free Speech: The Cowboy and His Cow by Edward Abbey

google the above title for a whole lot more.

>"You may have guessed by now that I'm thinking of criticizing the livestock industry. And you are correct. I've been thinking about cows and sheep for many years.
Getting more and more disgusted with the whole business. Western cattlemen are nothing more than welfare parasites.
They've been getting a free ride on the public lands for over a century, and I think it's time we phased it out.
I'm in favor or putting the public lands livestock grazers out of business.

First of all, we don't need the public lands beef industry. Even beef lovers don't need it.
According to most government reports (Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service), only about 2 percent of our beef, our red meat, comes from the public lands
of the eleven Western states. By those eleven I mean Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and California.

Most of our beef, aside from imports, comes from the Midwest and the East, especially the Southeast-Georgia, Alabama, Florida- and from other private lands across
the nation. More beef cattle are raised in the state of Georgia than in the sagebrush empire of Nevada.

And for a very good reason: back East, you can support a cow on maybe half an acre.
Out here, it takes anywhere from twenty-five to fifty acres.
In the red-rock country of Utah, the rule of thumb is one section-a square mile-per cow.

Since such a small percentage of cows are produced on public lands in the West, eliminating that part of the industry should not raise supermarket beef privies
very much.
Furthermore, we'd save money in the taxes we now pay for various subsidies to these public lands cattlemen. Subsidies for things like "range improvement"-tree
chinning, sagebrush clearing, mesquite poisoning, disease control, predator trapping, fencing, wells, stock ponds roads.

Then there are the salaries of those who work for government agencies like the BLM and the Forest Service.
You could probably also count in a big part of the overpaid professors engaged in range-management research at the Western land-grant colleges.

Moreover, the cattle have done, and are doing, intolerable damage to our public lands-our national forests, state lands, BLM-administered lands,
wildlife preserves, even some of our national parks and monuments.
In Utah's Capital Reef National Park, for example, grazings is still allowed.
In fact, it's recently been extended for another ten years, and Utah politicians are trying to make the arrangement permanent.
They probably won't get away with it.
But there we have at least one case where cattle are still tramping about in a national park, transforming soil and grass into dust and weeds.

Overgrazing is much too weak a term.
Most of the public lands in the West, and especially in the Southwest, are what you might call "cowburnt."
Almost anywhere and everywhere you go in the American West you find hordes of these ugly, clumsy, stupid, bawling, stinking, fly-covered, shit-smeared,
disease-spreading brutes.

They are a pest and a plague.
They pollute our springs and streams and rivers.
They infest our canyons, valleys, meadows, and forests.
They graze off the native bluestem and grama and bunch grasses, leaving behind jungles of prickly pear.
They trample down the native forbs and shrubs and cacti.
They spread the exotic cheatgrass, the Russian thistle, and the crested wheat grass. Weeds.

Even when the cattle are not physically present, you'll see the dung and the flies and the mud and the dust and the general destruction. if you don't see it,
you'll smell it. The whole American West stinks of cattle.

Along every flowing stream, around every seep and spring and water hole and well, you'll find acres and acres of what range-management specialists call
"sacrifice areas"-another understatement.
These are places denuded of forage, except for some cactus or a little tumbleweed or maybe a few mutilated trees like mesquite, juniper, or hackberry.

I'm not going to bombard you with graphs and statistics, which don't make much of an impression on intelligent people anyway.
Anyone who goes beyond the city limits of almost any Western town can see for himself that the land is overgrazed.
There are too many cows and horses and sheep out there.

Of course, cattlemen would never publicly confess to overgrazing, any more than Dracula would publicly confess to a fondness for blood.
Cattlemen are interested parties. Many of them will not give reliable testimony.
Some have too much at stake: their Cadillacs and their airplanes, their ranch resale profits and their capital gains.
(I'm talking about the corporation ranchers, the land-and-cattle companies, the investment syndicates.)

Others, those ranchers who have only a small base property, flood the public lands with their cows.
About 8 percent of federal land permittees have cattle that consume approximately 45 percent of the forage on the government range lands.
Beef ranchers like to claim that their cows do not compete with deer. Deer are browsers, cows are grazers.
That's true. But when a range is overgrazed, when the grass is gone (as it often is for seasons at a time), then cattle become browsers too, out of necessity.
In the Southwest, cattle commonly feed on mesquite cliff rose, cactus, acacia or any other shrub or tree they find biodegradable.
To that extent, they compete with deer. And they tend to drive out other and better wildlife. Like elk, or bighorn sheep, or pronghorn antelope.

How much damage have cattle done to the Western range lands? Large scale beef ranching has been going on since the 1870s.
There's plenty of documentation of the effects of this massive cattle grazing on the erosion of the land, the character of the land,
the character of the vegetation.
Streams and rivers that used to flow on the surface all year round are now intermittent, or underground, because of overgrazing and rapid runoff.

Our public lands have been overgrazed for a century. The BLM knows it; the Forest Service knows it. The Government Accounting Office knows it.
And overgrazing means eventual ruin, just like stripmining or clear-cutting or the damming of rivers.
Much of the Southwest already looks like Mexico or southern Italy or North Africa: a cowburnt wasteland.

As we destroy our land, we destroy our agricultural economy and the basis of modern society.
If we keep it up, we'll gradually degrade American life to the status of life in places like Mexico or southern Italy or libya or Egypt.
In 1984 the Bureau of Land Management, which was required by Congress to report on its stewardship of our rangelands-the property of all Americans,
remember-confessed that 31 percent of the land it administered was in "good condition," and 60 percent was in "poor condition."
And it reported that only 18 percent of the range lands were improving, while 68 percent were "stable" and 14 percent were getting worse.
if the BLM said that, we can safely assume that range conditions are actually much worse.

What can we do about this situation? This is the fun part- this is the part I like. It's not easy to argue that we should do away with cattle ranching.
The cowboy myth gets in the way.
But I do have some solutions to overgrazing.

[A yell: "Cowboys do it better!" Answered by another: "Ask any cow!" Coarse laughter]

I'd begin by reducing the number of cattle on public lands. Not that range managers would go along with it, of course.
In their eyes, and in the eyes of the livestock associations they work for, cutting down on the number of cattle is the worst possible solution
-an impossible solution. So they propose all kinds of gimmicks. Portable fencing and perpetual movement of cattle.
More cross-fencing. More wells and ponds so that more land can be exploited. These proposals are basically a maneuver by the Forest Service and the BLM
to appease their critics without offending their real bosses in the beef industry.
But a drastic reduction in cattle number is the only true and honest solution.

I also suggest that we open a hunting season on range cattle. I realize that beef cattle will not make sporting prey at first.
Like all domesticated animals (including most humans), beef cattle are slow, stupid, and awkward. But the breed will improve if hunted regularly.
And as the number of cattle is reduced, other and far more useful, beautiful, and interesting animals will return to the range lands and will increase.

Suppose, by some miracle of Hollywood or inheritance or good luck, I should acquire a respectable-sized working cattle outfit. What would I do with it?
First I'd get rid of the stinking, filthy cattle. Every single animal.
Shoot them all, and stock the place with real animals, real game, real protein: elk, buffalo, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, moose.
And some purely decorative animals, like eagles. We need more eagles. And wolves we need more wolves. Mountain lions and bears.
Especially, of course, grizzly bears. Down in the desert, I would stock every water tank, every water hole, every stockpond, with alligators.

You may not that I have said little about coyotes or deer. Coyotes seem to be doing all right on their own. They're smarter than their enemies.
I've never heard of a coyote as dumb as a sheepman.
As for deer, especially mule deer, they, too, are survivng-maybe even thriving, as some game and fish departments claim, though nobody claims there are
as many deer now as there were before the cattle industry was introduced in the West.
In any case, compared to elk the deer is a second-rate game animal, nothing but a giant rodent-a rat with antlers.

I've suggested that the beef industry's abuse of our Western lands is based on the old mythology of the cowboy as a natural nobleman.
I'd like to conclude this diatribe with a few remarks about this most cherished and fanciful of American fairy tales.
In truth, the cowboy is only a hired hand. A farm boy in leather britches and a comical hat. A herdsman who gets on a horse to do part of his work.
Some ranchers are also cowboys, but most are not. There is a difference.

There are many ranchers out there who are big time farmers of the public lands-our property.
As such, they do not merit any special consideration or special privileges.

There are only about 31,000 ranchers in the whole American West who use the public lands.
That's less than the population of Missoula, Montana.
The rancher (with a few honorable exceptions) is a man who strings barbed wire all over the range; drills wells and bulldozes stockponds; drives off
elk and antelope and bighorn sheep; poisons coyotes and prairie dogs; shoots eagles, bears and cougars on sight; supplants the native grasses with tumbleweed,
snakeweed, povertyweed, cowshit, anthills, mud, dust, and flies.
And then leans back and grins at the TV cameras and talks about how much he loves the American West.

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Reply Free Speech: The Cowboy and His Cow by Edward Abbey (Original post)
OxQQme Mar 5 OP
Glorfindel Mar 5 #1
2naSalit Mar 5 #2
yonder Mar 5 #3
Hermit-The-Prog Mar 6 #4
appal_jack Mar 6 #5

Response to OxQQme (Original post)

Tue Mar 5, 2019, 11:12 PM

1. Well said, OxQQme.

I have had much the same thoughts but hadn't been able to articulate them as you have Thanks!

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Response to OxQQme (Original post)

Tue Mar 5, 2019, 11:17 PM

2. K&R

And don't forget those goddamned Bundys.

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Response to OxQQme (Original post)

Tue Mar 5, 2019, 11:39 PM

3. Thanks for this. Edward Abbey was a gem of western writing. RIP

I think public land grazing fees are still somewhere around $1.40 per AUM (animal unit month) where it has remained virtually unchanged for what seems like forever.

“You can never go wrong cuttin' fence,' repeated Smith, warming to his task. (Pling!) "Always cut fence. That's the law west of the 100th meridian. East of that don't matter none. Back there it's all lost anyhow. But west, we cut fence,' (Plang!)” -Seldom Seen Smith from "The Monkey Wrench Gang"

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Response to OxQQme (Original post)

Wed Mar 6, 2019, 03:57 AM

4. rebuild the buffalo herds

Let the American bison and the prairie dogs return.

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Response to OxQQme (Original post)

Wed Mar 6, 2019, 10:18 AM

5. I love Edward Abbey for all his unvarnished truth-telling!

But there is another option between the extractive cattle ranching Abbey rightfully lambastes, and the total removal of ranchers from the landscape: the Allan Savory model of Holistic Resource Management. Essentially, a deeper understanding of forage plants, weather, the migratory patterns of large herds of ruminants, ungulates, and predators in nature, and humans taking on some of the constructive roles of both predators and managers can allow range production to also be ecological restoration.

See: https://permaculturenews.org/2010/10/07/holistic-management/

for a short video on the topic, and for more depth see:


Savory and HRM have videos, TED talks, articles, and books galore beyond these two intros.


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