Will the “silent majority” of the Public who support wildlife conservation ever stand up to ranchers and extractive industries who dominate public lands?
Will the “silent majority” of the Public who support wildlife conservation ever stand up to ranchers and extractive industries who dominate public lands? I just read a book titled “Waste of the West” by Lynn Jacobs—he published it in 1991. The book is an indictment of the abuse of Federal public lands by ranchers whose livestock graze and destroy habitat with their hooves at low cost. It cites the regular violation of rules by the ranchers and also indicts the agencies governing these lands—the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service for not enforcing regulations. It points out that these lands are supposed to be multiple use but the agencies as encouraged and directed by western-dominated congressional committees devoted most of their energies to keeping ranchers (and extractive industries) happy. The book overlooks changes that have occurred to these agencies especially since the Clinton Administration. The BLM has had to adapt to the environmental groups who have brought pressure on these agencies. For example, the notorious Bundy confrontation in Nevada concerned BLM’s enforcement of restrictions on grazing near threatened species. The dry unproductive nature of the western land requires that cattle trample hundreds of acres to forage--Jacobs cites statistics that show that while cattle in Iowa only require 1 acre per year to forage, cattle on BLM and FS public lands require an average of 185 acres to forage (230 in Nevada) (p. 29). Although the Jacobs book is dated and one-sided, the wasteful dominance of the ranchers on Federal lands is still true and the movement to a more balanced approach and emphasis on protection of endangered species will be under attack from the Trump Administration.
One point that Jacobs makes and that others have made (including myself in my Wildlife Politics book) is the strong dominance of the ranching industry over western natural resources politics despite the fact that they make up only a tiny portion of the population and despite the fact that the amount of meat derived from the Federal livestock herds is a small percentage of the overall meat trade. Jacobs cites statistics that show that the 30,000 public ranchers represent less than 2% of the nation's cattle and sheep producers (p.25). Jacobs provides details: “Only 3% of Wyoming’s residents are employed in all agriculture, yet they—mostly ranchers-make up 30% of the state’s legislators…About 1% of Montana’s 1 million residents are ranchers, yet stockmen compose approximately one-third of the politicians in the state.” How can this be the case? Jacobs describes the key reasons. They are the best organized political group in the West. They have dozens of formal associations that represent their interests in states and at the Federal level. The list of such groups is impressive: National Cattlemen’s Asso, Public Lands Council, American Farm Bureau fed, Asso of National Grasslands, National Wool Growers Asso, Society for Range Management, National Inholders Asso, People for the West, Multiple Use Land Alliance, National Livestock Producers Asso., Western Livestock Producers Alliance, Western States Meat Asso,, Agricultural Council of America, American Meat Institute, American Sheep Producers Council, American Sheep Industry Asso, National Council of Farmer Cooperative, National Farmers Union, and National Livestock and Meat Board. Of course, there are now many groups representing various aspects of environmental and wildlife concerns too and they have exerted some influence, helping to bring some pressure on BLM, USFWS, and FS. As I point out in my book, they are able to bring to the public notice information about actions that affect wildlife that in the pre-environmental movement era would have been invisible to the public. However, these organizations do not have the financial resources nor inclination to contribute to political campaigns. For most, they rely on small contributions from individuals who have an interest in wildlife but, of course, does not influence their livelihoods and their support is a “avocation”-not a vocational interest for them. As discussed in the book and in previous blog posts, surveys show that the general public is supportive of biodiversity and more restrictions on the exploitation of ranchers of public lands but their mild interest in these issues has been consistently outweighed by the rancher-extractive industry coalition that dominates so many western states. In states such as California and Oregon, the rancher coalition is not dominant but in less developed and populous states, ranchers-extractive industries reign supreme. They remain consistently dominant in Congress too due to our electoral set-up. Jacobs cites Malachowski’s description of this reality: “With 17 western states holding 34 seats in the Senate, there will always be enough votes to guarantee that the livestock industry’s interests are not overlooked.” My own and others had hoped that the trends in many of the western states movement to a more varied economy with services and ecotourism and migration of people from other states to the west that these “new westerners” would upset the rancher-extractive coalition’s dominance. But this has not happened and it is not obvious that it will happen in the near future.
During my research for the book, I noticed that there was no blog available for sharing informaton on wildlife conservation and thus I set up this blog to accomplish this purpose. Please share any informaticoncerning issues related to wildife policy and politics. I welcome feedback from users concerning this blog and website.