Western Turf Wars

by JAMIE NEWLIN

For those interested in understanding and maybe influencing the management of public lands, a new and so far under-appreciated resource is making its way onto the bookshelves. It’s Western Turf, Wars: The Politics of Public Lands Ranching, by Mike Hudak.
If you’ve ever suspected that current public lands management isn’t in the best interests of public lands and wildlife, Western Turf Wars will confirm your suspicions. But it will do so in a more personal way than most activist works on the subject. There are no pages of statistics in Western Turf Wars, no maps or charts. There are life stories.

Western Turf Wars is a window into the lives of individuals dedicated to improving public lands management, through the medium of interviews with scientists, activists and public lands agency personnel. 

Although the book focuses on grazing issues, anyone interested in the subject of reformers versus government agencies, or reformers versus the vested interests and traditions that hide behind government agencies, should find interest in reading Western Turf Wars. The interviews provide insight into the relationships between both citizen-activists and concerned government personnel, and the agencies that manage US public lands. Through the interviews, we get a sense of the relationship between the agencies and the resource users that in a de facto sense manage the agency personnel and their bosses. Western Turf Wars shows us paths of influence. It shows why the more agencies change, the more they pin up the green bunting, the more things stay the same. These insights are applicable to the politics of all resources on public lands, -sheep, lumber, gravel, recreational uses, you name it.

The interviews with now-retired agency personnel, -some retired a bit early because of their efforts to manage for the resources instead of for livestock interests, are particularly telling. It should be noted that these commentaries are likely to be relevant and useful for generations to come. The comments of out-going range managers will give new activists a lifetime of experience to draw upon, experience that will be every bit as useful twenty years from now as it was yesterday. Management, at least for the better, changes slowly on public lands.

But Western Turf Wars isn’t just tales from the last of the agency curmudgeons. It also features interviews with citizen activists, who in their turn find out why the agency personnel are so slow and so few to jump on the reform bandwagon. From social and political pressure to PR front groups and in some cases to death threats, established resource users are quick to defend their interests against reformers of either the governmental or citizen stripe.

If you’re going to be idealistic enough to tackle a subject like public lands resource abuse, you need to be cynical enough to know when everything presented to you by both the resource users and the managing agencies is pure cow manure. It can get downright surreal, the layers of denial. Along these lines I was particularly struck by Julian Hatch’s interview. Julian lives in rural Utah. He recounts, rather starkly and unflinchingly, everything from control of local government and federal agencies by livestock interests to the shooting of his dog by a rancher, apparently in revenge for complaining about cattle being let into Hatch’s vegetable patch. This one interview is worth the price of the book, and there are many good interviews.

Perhaps more than most conservation issues, the public lands grazing issue goes in and out of fashion, and then stays out of fashion. It always suffers as an issue in terms of its accessibility to the public, compared to obvious catastrophes like clear-cut forests or the impending extinction of spectacular animals. Thus the industry is easier to protect with PR structures than other resource extraction industries. Yet grazing is the dominant use of the USA’s western public lands, and arguably the dominant influence on the public lands environment in terms of habitat degradation. Roughly 80 percent of federal public land in the west is grazed. Livestock have shaped the western habitat so completely that we now perceive degraded states as natural. Thus Western Turf Wars is a welcome reminder, a window into an issue to which most of us are blind.

It’s a great book to browse. Opening it is like going to a public land management fiesta, of the reformist variety to be sure, and finding everyone you had hoped to talk to all under one roof. The more I look through this book, the more I am grateful that someone took the time to collect this wealth of experience and make it available to all of us. Without Hudak’s efforts, the experience of all the individuals interviewed would surely have been lost.

Efforts to reign in the negative effects of the livestock industry have so far been limited in results. The tide of rangeland improvement may even be running out again in this age of agency-mandated “categorical exclusions” from environmental protections, of congressional trimming of environmental laws, of professional ranching apologists, of rising food prices, and climate change. Too few people turn their attention to this issue.

So far, as activist Steve Johnson put it while being interviewed for Western Turf Wars: “ Progress has been very slow.  So slow, in fact, that we can’t really afford it.”

Read the book, and get inspired to reverse the decline.

JAMIE NEWLIN lives in El Paso, Texas.

 

Your Ad Here

 

 

 


Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire