Impacts to Ranchers, Oil and Gas Workers and Their Communities in Times of Covid

For whatever reason, there are two activities/businesses that seem to attract an outsize amount of what feels like hate, especially in federal lands discussions.

In many states, though, these same activities- ranching and oil and gas production also occur entirely on private land. In the Denver Post business section over the past few weeks, there have been articles on the impacts of Coronavirus to these two activities, their employees, and others who benefit from what they produce/ their taxes/ and contributions to communities.  Two are about ranchers and challenges they face (and also opportunities to decentralize).  What I like about these is that the reporters (Judith Kohler and John Aguilar) interviewed the people impacted, so we get a much closer to the ground view of these communities and the challenges they (and others who depend on them) face today. They also put a face on the folks working in and around the “oil and gas industry” (many industries with different interests) and the “meat industry” (also different groups of people with different interests).  Since most media today is generated from the Coasts, these are voices we might not otherwise hear. It’s harder to engage in “othering” when people are sitting across the table, and when you can hear their voices.

There are also people responding to the challenges as in this piece  also in the Denver Post by Josie Sexton about local grocery stores, prices, processors, and ranchers.

We do try to be competitive and fair, but it has to be fair throughout the supply chain,” Marczyk says. “Not just fair to my customer, it has to be fair to my producer.”

Brunson agrees. He pays his farmer $2.50 per pound of beef as opposed to the commodity rate of 82 cents, he said. And what he’s getting is the difference between a “BMW or a Pinto” — all Colorado grass-fed, Black Angus beef.

Marczyk says people go to the grocery store and ask for any 80% ground beef, “and (those meats) are just not all created equal. They’re just not,” Marczyk said. “The average consumer out there, they have no idea.”

Marzcyk and Brunson think that consumers will come out of this period with a better appreciation for their food, and especially their meat — where it came from, what’s in it and who got sick while processing it along the way.

“A supply chain based on monoculture is very, very dangerous,” Marczyk said. “There’s all this economy in consolidation, but there’s risk in consolidation.”

Formerly an investment banker, Marczyk puts it this way: “We talk about diversity all the time… and then we do just the opposite in our food system. Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate. Bigger, bigger, bigger.”

Meanwhile, River Bear this year will expand its Denver facility by another 3,500 square feet. And Marczyk says the outpouring of support for his small grocery stores and their workers has been humbling.

The next step now, and something that’s close to both of their hearts, could be the creation of more regional and local USDA slaughter facilities, so that the same bottleneck in the system doesn’t happen again. But each processing plant can cost somewhere between $3 million to $8 million to build.

“So it’s a huge hurdle for small family farms to do that, but if we start thinking like a community…” Brunson said.

And until then, “We think we can keep our prices stable,” according to Marczyk. “If the (farmers’) costs of production increase, of course we’re going to have to charge more, but if they don’t, we’re going to hold that line.”

Here are the other three pieces.

Farm-to-table operations now taking an online farm-to-public approach in the age of coronavirus

Coronavirus-linked problems in meat supply chain could mean shortages, trouble for ranchers

This one is about oil and gas declines in Weld County with associated impacts to other businesses, taxes, and charities.

Colorado’s oil and gas country – and its people – suffer from twin hits to industry

13 thoughts on “Impacts to Ranchers, Oil and Gas Workers and Their Communities in Times of Covid”

  1. Re. diversifying the supply chain for getting meat onto family tables, the Montana Constitution states that the opportunity to harvest wild game shall be forever preserved for the people. But the opportunity continues to decline with population growth and development. Our wildlife management agency could do more to enhance opportunities to hunt big game, including restoration of public, wild bison on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, where hunting of big game is allowed.

  2. Here’s a piece about impacts to communities from the oil and gas industry and the Trump administration in times of Covid. This piece has a direct tie-in to the NEPA and federal public land management, which is the purpose of this blog.

    Interior must put Chaco planning on hold
    By J. Michael Chavarria

    The 20 Pueblo nations of New Mexico and Texas have joined nationwide and statewide COVID-19 response efforts. At the direction of leadership, Pueblo governments continue prioritizing and maximizing staffing capacity toward critical community health and safety measures in coordination with a host of state and federal agencies, the New Mexico congressional delegation and many other local and national organizations.

    Yet despite the ongoing crisis, the Department of Interior is continuing land planning processes across the West, including the sacred cultural landscape of the Greater Chaco Region. On Feb. 28, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management Farmington Field Office and Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Regional Office released a draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and draft Environmental Impact Statement, triggering a 90-day public comment period ending May 28.

    Recently, the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the New Mexico congressional delegation sent letters to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging extension and reassessment of the Department of Interior’s May 28 deadline by at least 120 days. A strong local and united voice of environmental, archaeological and conservation groups have also joined the effort, calling for suspension of the planning process and deadline extension.

    In our request, the council of governors asked Interior officials to acknowledge the detrimental impact the health emergency is having on pueblos’ and other tribes’ ability to meaningfully engage in tribal consultations as part of federal requirements in the Greater Chaco Region planning process. The growing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the ability of the the council, its member pueblos, other tribes and other stakeholders to fully engage in the planning process and ensure protection for the ancestral Pueblo landscape across Greater Chaco.

    The governors also noted the health emergency’s impact on public involvement opportunities at resource management plan meetings, including limits caused by state and federal implementation of mitigation strategies such as social distancing.

    In addressing the current crisis, many pueblos and tribes have closed nonessential tribal government operations and redirected time and resources to providing urgent emergency and community services. For many, this means staff directly working on federal administrative land planning processes, including Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and environmental department staff, are unavailable.

    Despite the growing health emergency, the Department of Interior has thus far not formally responded to requests to extend the planning process deadlines and has continued to hold scheduled calls associated with its Resource Management Plan Amendment process. In lieu of in-person meetings, BLM and BIA officials have scheduled conference calls and “virtual” meetings to continue the planning process.

    Bluntly put, these long-distance substitutions are not adequate and do not fulfill meaningful consultation as required by multiple federal statutes, directives and the federal trust responsibility to our tribal nations. The trust relationship between the U.S. government and tribes requires face-to-face contact and ongoing communication.

    Additionally, the National Environmental Policy Act mandates public meetings as part of Interior’s planning processes for both the resources management plan and the Environmental Impact Statement.

    The National Environmental Policy Act also requires adequate notice prior to the scheduling of public meetings. At this point, then, it seems unlikely that the required public meetings can be scheduled and held prior to the May 28 deadline. It is clear to us as Pueblo leaders that the responsible decision is to suspend the current planning processes and extend the May 28 deadline until at least Sept. 28.

    J. Michael Chavarria is the current governor of Santa Clara Pueblo and chairman for the All Pueblo Council of Governors.

    • Yes, Broomfield and Weld County have very different attitudes toward oil and gas development, as the history shows.

  3. Or we could stop pretending that beef is necessary for people to survive. Even a move to fish and poultry is dramatically better for people and the environment. We don’t use the federal government to prop up manufacturers of rotary phones or CD players so why do we insist on clinging to the past with the beef industry when there are so many better alternatives? I think it comes from America’s deference to how cool we think cowboy hats look.

    • Eric, I think you’re making my point. You are mixing “get them off federal lands” with “they are all unnecessary and bad for the environment.”

      No one is saying that beef is necessary for people to survive, and concentrated production of any kind has environmental impacts (as does catching fish in the wild at commercial levels).

      The federal government is propping up all kinds of businesses as we speak; Congressman Perlmutter is asking for some for the marijuana industry, not to pick on them, but no one has ever said they don’t have environmental and health impacts. As I’ve pointed out before, the government also props up federal recreation, that produces all kinds of emissions from people driving to our favorite spots. It’s hard to imagine anything that’s not supported by the feds in some way, and doesn’t have environmental impacts.

      • Yes, I see what you’re saying, there is always likely to be support in some way from the government and of course every activity has impacts, environmentally and on our federal budget. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise, and would point out that not all impacts are equal. I also agree, as this blog has pointed out before, that an “objective truth” is elusive or impossible to find, and everyone has their biases — I value that skepticism! But as for good, and true, information, we could do a lot better.

        In a perfect world, what we support at the federal level would reflect our values as all Americans. And environmental impacts of our activities could be compared apples-to-apples. But instead the values often reflected by the government are only those of an exceedingly small few, who are also determined to sow doubt as to the environmental impacts of their actions. There are impacts of recreation and of beef. Nobody needs either one, they just like mountain biking or burgers or whatever it may be. And yes — both sectors are always actively lobbying to make their lives easier/better/richer. It’s the power of extractive sectors, in particular ranching, that makes this so unequal it’s basically unjust.

        In Idaho where I live 7 of 70 house members are ranchers (10%), 5 of 35 senators are ranchers (14%), and the Governor is a rancher–not to mention the dramatic majority of lawmakers who do everything and anything the Idaho Cattleman’s Association or the Farm Bureau tell them to. Despite being only a small portion of our state’s GDP, the cowboy hats wield enormous if not total control over decisions. And, with federal leadership absent on good days and catering directly toward extractive industries on bad days, this imbalance goes even further.

        What’s more, despite popular belief in places like Challis or Grangeville, federal public lands belong to every. single. American. Not just locals who happened to cash-out most directly from the genocide of the American Indians via the homestead act or some other sentimental but ultimately made-up claim to “heritage.”

        If and when there’s a graph or report showing the true cost/benefit comparison, environmentally and economically, of all of these multiple uses, I will gladly read it cover to cover. I’m not suggesting that one use of public lands get preference over another, but that the information about who benefits and who looses out (taxpayers, the environment) be communicated without interference from industry. Americans should be able to know the actual cost of a grazing allotment to their wallet and to the environment, and same for the life-cycle of gear, travel impact, and ecological footprint of recreation. Of course, this is a pipe dream for now.

        Thanks for reading and for the post.

        • Thanks for explaining. I think this illustrates how each State is different. For example, in Colorado, beef is the #1 ag export, and most of it is not on public lands, nor are our neighbors in Kansas and Oklahoma. Our Governor got in a kerfufle about promoting non-meat alternatives- a problem for many because our country does not grow soybeans, coconuts, etc. I think Polis meant well (we should be open to all new businesses and not get left behind by new trends) but we can only grow what it’s possible to grow with little water and warmth… traditional areas where grazing has been the livelihood of human beings.

          • Huh? Our country doesn’t grow soybeans, Sharon?

            Soy is the second-biggest crop in the US, just after corn. The USA grows $40 billion worth of soybeans every year. A whopping 98 percent of domestic soybean production goes to animal feed. Honestly, I find it shocking that you don’t believe our country grows soybeans.

            I also have serious doubts about Sharon’s claim that “most of” cattle grazing is “not on public land in Colorado.”

            According to the BLM, they authorize “livestock grazing on 7.8 million acres within Colorado. These lands support livestock management on about 2,400 separate grazing allotments by more than 1,000 ranching operations.”

            I don’t have time right now to dig into how many acres of USFS in Colorado are open to livestock grazing, but in the USFS Rocky Mountain Region over 17 million acres is open to livestock grazing, with a sizable chunk of that 17 million acres open to livestock grazing in Colorado.

            Heck, 27% of ALL Wilderness acres in Colorado on BLM and USFS lands are open to livestock grazing, with about 1,000,000 acres actively grazed by over 70,000 non-native cows and sheep and a total of 1,628,000 acres of Wilderness in Colorado allotted to grazing.

            Then, there is state land in Colorado. According to Outdoor life: In Colorado, the Land Board controls about 2.8 million acres scattered around the state, a total area larger than Yellowstone National Park. About 95 percent of that acreage is leased for livestock grazing or crops. About 80 percent of that total is closed to public access for recreation.

            Finally, there are county-controlled and even city-controlled public lands in Colorado that are open to livestock grazing. The notion that not much public lands grazing takes place in Colorado is ridiculous.

            • I was talking about Colorado. The kerfufle involved the Governor of Colorado, talking about Colorado agriculture.

              It could be that most federal lands are open for grazing, and, at the same time, most cattle are not grazed on public lands leases, in Colorado.

              And indeed, some local open spaces allow cattle grazing, even in Douglas County, an urbanized area.

              • FWIW: You wrote: “our country does not grow soybeans.”

                Also, on those millions and millions of acres of America’s federal public lands open to livestock grazing in Colorado, private ranchers pay a whopping $1.35 per month to let a full grown cow and her calf foul streams, trample springs, displace (and kill) native wildlife and spread weeds. It’s a crazy bargain if you think about it.

                • I was using Merriam Webster’s definition 1.


                  “an indefinite usually extended expanse of land”

                  Other users displace and kill native wildlife (most notably hunters) and many other users also spread weeds. I don’t think hunters or fishers pay the feds anything for their permits, just the State. And as a recreationist who doesn’t pay, I’m also getting a bargain. I get that everyone has environmental impacts.. I just don’t get the level of what feels like hate directed at ranchers (and oil and gas folks). Especially since most folks using federal lands use fossil fuels to get there.

  4. For whatever it’s worth, just pointing out the fact that public lands rancher Janie VanWinkle, who is featured prominently in the Denver Post article above, is the current president-elect of the Colorado Cattleman’s Association. So, one has to assume that VanWinkle is deeply involved with grazing policy and politics. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s not like the Denver Post just drop around the country-side and stumbled upon the VanWinkle Ranch.


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