Cattle graze on Buckeye Meadow allotment.
Among the many challenges of my 1960s seasonal Toiyabe National Forest fire prevention guard job was explaining multiple use management practices to citizen-owners of the National Forest System.
One afternoon in Buckeye Canyon, for example, I met a family of four backpackers returning from a several-day trek into the Hoover Wilderness high country. They’d had a great time, the prosperous-looking head of the family told me, but he wanted to talk about cattle. The round tin cup hanging from each family member’s belt gave me more than a hint of his opinion on the subject.
“Why are all these cattle here?” the man demanded to know, waving his arm toward Big Meadows, well outside the wilderness boundary.
“This is a national forest grazing allotment,” I answered. “The rancher who owns those cattle holds a grazing permit and pays a fee to graze them here.”
“They’re ruining the country,” he countered. “They shouldn’t be here. Why are they allowed to be here?”
I didn’t get far with my explanation of the multiple-use concept under which our district range conservationist labored to manage cattle and sheep grazing allotments in a way that would maintain the quality of the forage resource as well as the integrity of the watershed, wildlife, and recreation resources. He didn’t care that some ranchers depended on national forest range to stay in business. He just wanted those cattle out of there, pronto! And, although there were no active timber sales on the district, he wanted national forest timber cutting stopped, too. Basically, he wanted national forests to be national parks.
So I took a different tack. After assuring him I shared his concerns for proper public land management, I used the next few minutes of our conversation to find out more about him. I soon knew this gent was a corporate executive who lived the good life in Palo Alto. He and his family resided in a rambling redwood house and dined on steaks at fashionable restaurants college students such as I certainly couldn’t afford.
“You know,” I suggested, “the resources that make the way you and millions of other Americans live possible have to some from somewhere.”
“Look, I see what you’re driving at,” he responded. “But they don’t have to come from places that should be wilderness areas.”
“Places like California’s redwood coast? Places like public rangelands?”
“Exactly….” Just for an instant, his eyes showed he had made the connection, he had recognized the conflict between his affluent lifestyle and his environmental convictions. But only for an instant. He wasn’t ready to accept—or concede to me—the fact that he couldn’t have it both ways forever.
“The Forest Service should get those cows out of here!” were his last words to me. But he sounded more thoughtful, less arrogant, less certain.
Adapted from the 2018 third edition of Toiyabe Patrol, the writer’s memoir of five U.S. Forest Service summers on the Toiyabe National Forest in the 1960s.