Cattle Free by ’93- A Thirty-Year Retrospective and Discussion

BLM photo

Thanks to John Persell, in his comments on Les Joslin’s multiple use post,  for reminding me that this has been on my list.   Rebecca Watson’s comment today on sustainable mining also reminds me of the two common dichotomies (or threads or ??) in our work. 1. Don’t do it (or not on some lands) and/or 2. Improve the practices.

Anyway, I thought a good kickoff to the discussion would be an undergraduate honors thesis from 2019here by Cloe Dickson. I tried to contact the author prior to publishing this, but was unsuccessful. There’s much good stuff in this 77 pages and I only excerpted a few bits below. She begins:

Three distinct questions will guide my study of the public lands ranching issue:

(1) What were the motivations of ‘Cattle-free by ‘93’?
(2) What were the direct and indirect outcomes?
(3) What does the formation of the ‘Cattle-free by ‘93’ movement tell us about the nature of rancher/environmentalist conflict?

She traces the relationship in the Sierra Club between zero-cut (remember that?) and zero-cud policies. She also tracks the extremism of no-cud and Cattle-free to being an impetus for efforts at collaboration between ranchers and environmentalists like the Malpais Borderlands Group and the Quivira Coalition. Her view is that the dialogue has shifted.

Cattle-free by ‘93’ has evolved significantly in the last 25 years. Widespread exurban development on and near western rangelands has dramatically changed the way in which people view the public lands ranching debate. The fear of habitat fragmentation from the environmental community, coupled with the desire to continue the western ranching tradition in the face of the ranchette and dude ranch phenomena, may prove to be an area of compromise between the once divided respective camps. In formal and informal arenas, the ‘Cows Not Condos’ campaigns marks a significant shift away from the cattle-free mindset that once dominated the western range.

I thought these arguments about social justice were interesting..

When viewed in an environmental justice frame, the public lands ranching issue becomes much more complex. Atencio argued that, “this is more than a ‘cows versus condos’ argument. And it is more than an argument of cows versus the loss of mere lifestyle or profession choice. It is an argument of a unique culture and communities that have endured in this region for 400 years. It is an argument of environmental justice” ( 2004, p. 23). It is not just about removing ranchers from public lands; the ‘Cattle-free by ‘93’ campaign directly interferes with many components of the culture of the rural American West. Atencio argued that viewing cattle ranching as a profit-motivated industry forces environmentalists to think that the only way to stop the damage done to rangelands is to outright remove all livestock. He warned that the “…the danger of straight and narrow economic thinking is that it fails to take into account the less quantifiable, though no less important, issues of social well-being and cultural vitality” (Attencio2004, p. 23). Atencio’s claims prove valuable in understanding the responses generated by ‘Cattle-free by ‘93’ and how broader anti-ranching rhetoric was received in the 21st century.

If you are a fan, as I am, of Justin Farrell’s book “The Battle for Yellowstone”, that might resonate with some of his observations that in the debates around Yellowstone, issues that are actually values and culture-based are treated as if they were really scientific and economic. Which gives folks much funding to generate more info, but does not address peoples’ real differences. As we used to say in planning, sometimes you need more analysis, but sometimes you just need more dialogue. Which may be why local collaboratives are more successful at finding middle ground.

Another topic Dickson discusses is why the Clinton Admin backed off their original Range Reform package. Seems like they lost the fire in their belly, they didn’t have the votes and or ????

I know many TSW readers were involved in all this. I’d be interested, as I’m sure future students will be, on your perspective on all this history.

And are the strategies of “just say no” and “fix the practices” in some sense complementary? Does emotional intensity developed in a “make those pesky ranchers go away” campaign get transferred in political capital that can be used to improve practices? Not sure that it has worked that way for “no-cut”.

Final historical question:

In the paper..

Preservation, or the notion that wilderness must be put aside for its own sake, has long been a source of division within the natural resource management community. When Congress passed the Forest Management Act of 1897, forest reserves were opened up to logging, as well as mining and livestock grazing (Wuerthner 2002). While conservationists like Gifford Pinchot was a proponent of this move, John Muir on the other hand remained adamant that livestock grazing threatened watersheds and wildlife, as well as negatively impacting the ecology of the overall forest ecosystem (Wuerthner 2002).

I was under the impression that grazers and loggers, in different places, had been there first. For example in this history of the SW Region of the Forest Service

By the time the first forest reserves were proclaimed in 1891, the free use of public lands by cattlemen and sheepmen had become a way of life. They knew nothing of grazing capacity and there was no fund of technical knowledge about forage management to rely on. Overgrazing could not readily be recognized until in an advanced stage. Thus, when the Forest Service came into being February 1, 1905, the most complex problems facing southwestern foresters related to grazing rights and range management. Instructions to foresters in the Use Book regarding grazing responsibilities were very simple: “Inform yourself as to what sheep and cattle men graze their stock upon your district, the number he actually owns, and whether or not he confines himself to the range described in his permit.” [12]

What was actually going on on the land before the federal reserves were established? Does this vary by area?

2 thoughts on “Cattle Free by ’93- A Thirty-Year Retrospective and Discussion”

  1. The evidence of human history on the La Bajada Mesa has been dated to at least 8000 years before the present where volcanic rock provided the tools needed to harvest the abundant prey that migrated up and down the Rio Grande.

    Fast forward to the 1300s and after consuming nearly every living thing atop Chapin and Wetherill Mesas in southwest Colorado, the Mesa Verdean ancients sojourned east over the continental divide into the Chama and Rio Grande valleys then settled the Caja del Rio Plateau and Santa Fe. The Santa Fe River canyon was the easiest route to traverse the 600 foot La Bajada escarpment but frequent flooding often made the gap impassible for the ox and horse-drawn wagons used by Spanish invaders along the Royal Road or El Camino Real.

    In 1695, “La Majada Land Grant” was awarded to Field Captain Don Jacinto de Palaez for his efforts in reconquering New Mexico. La Bajada Village was subsequently established at the base
    of the escarpment and first documented by the Franciscan Church in 1737. [US Forest Service]

    Pre-European Indigenous cultures in the Jemez Mountains and around the Valles Caldera raised turkeys, beans, squash and maize.

    The Gila National Forest near the New Mexico-Arizona border has had a problem with feral cattle for decades after a grazing permittee went bankrupt then left his herd and the country in the 1970s.

    Because of pollution from cattle grazing American Rivers named the Gila the nation’s most endangered waterway in 2019. Then in 2020, former Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced Senate Bill 3670, the MH Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act. It protects 450 miles and 23 segments of the Gila River and its tributaries in New Mexico under the 1968 National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    If passed the bill would also transfer 440 acres from the Gila National Forest within the US Department of Agriculture to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument within the US Park Service and the Department of Interior. The bill was reintroduced by Democratic New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich in 2021 and it passed out of committee despite howls from the livestock industry.

    Also in 2020 the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump Organization’s Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and its local representatives saying the agencies are allowing cattle in restricted areas along the river.

    So, earlier this year contractors with the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service or APHIS shot 65 unvaccinated feral cattle from helicopters on the Gila. Managers with the GNF believe there are some 150 of the critters still infesting the Gila so managers are taking comments on another round of lethal removals. But, it’s hardly an easy alliance between preservationists and an agency like APHIS that killed 1.75 million creatures in 2021 including 400,000 native species like wolves, cougars, bears and bobcats.

    Officials are compelled by the Clean Water Act to protect the watershed where some livestock owners have permits to graze and last week the Grant County Commission passed a resolution supporting the Forest Service but Earth haters are crusading to stop the lethal removal. There have been at least nine tries to wrangle some 800 animals from the Forest even though half of those varmints died during roundups and the rest went to butcher.

    Yes, Republican welfare ranchers are apoplectic about shooting destructive invasive cattle from helicopters on public lands but they’re more than excited to slaughter wolves from aircraft.

    That cattle have been allowed into national forests and other public ground for pennies a head is a crime that needs to end.


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