FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Western Turf Wars

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
 

 

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail