Agriculture as an industry has been conservation-minded since the get-go. With the changing of the guard at Department of Interior and USDA, we have changed the direction of the former administration 180 degrees. President Barack Obama might go down as the most radical environmental president and his environmental policy has affected a lot of minds over the years.

Last week Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, through administrative leak, showed that he intends to reduce the size and scope of several national monuments and change the management of several others. His goal is to increase the economic activity in those areas. The environmental litigators are already planning on going to court.

Can environment and economics go together? There is no question in my mind. But many conservation groups don’t seem to think so. There are some who believe in market-based environmentalism, but they are few. For this country to move forward and prosper we need to overcome this divide between natural resource users and those groups that want to lock it up and let nature take its course, which we all know would be a disaster.

Let’s take national forests for instance. This year’s fire season has claimed over 8 million acres of forest and forage, I can’t think of a more tragic outcome. It’s been well-documented that timber production and grazing help maintain healthy forests. This country’s policy toward forest management has been guided by the environmental movement; they must take some responsibility in these disasters, which occur mostly on public lands.

Public lands have been in the limelight these past few years and everyone has a claim to them. This is why we have the multiple-use mandate. Everyone gets to use them. They have also become highly regulated, to the point that the resources are going to waste. Last summer a California rancher gave me a hat that their local Farm Bureau produced, which said, “Graze it, log it, or watch it burn.” These are ranchers who have intimate knowledge of the national forest they run on.

Another area that is literally being managed to death are the feral horses. We should say management by doing nothing.  Horse groups are as bad as the environmental litigator crowd. They can’t see the forest through the trees; no pun intended. But ever since Congress protected the feral horses, they have over-populated the range, and are destroying it.

A couple weeks ago Laura Snell, a natural resource advisor with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, released a study about the horse problem on the Modoc National Forest where there are 3,000 horses roaming. The Herd Management Area is to hold 200-400 head. She said that the horses are dominating the natural springs in the area and keeping other wildlife from using the water. These natural springs are literally being trampled out of existence. The horses get in the water and compress the mud and dirt to the point the spring stops flowing, and nothing gets watered.

We need to change our thoughts on what is good conservation in this country. I think we can all agree that we want biodiversity in the ecosystem, as many native plant species as possible and diversity of wildlife, and that definition includes feral horses and domestic cattle. We can have all the above if groups would stop litigating and land managers would do their jobs. Collaborating is good, but we need to put emotions on hold and refer to the best science available and do the job.

Groups like Western Watershed Project and the Center for Biological Diversity are simply making things worse. They don’t come up with viable solutions; they litigate for fun and profit. To these groups it’s a business model. Somewhere along the line it must stop because both sides can’t win; this isn’t a zero-sum game. It’s simply common sense.

It’s OK to earn a profit from the public resource. If you’re a miner, you reclaim the ground. If you’re a logger, you don’t take all the trees, and cattlemen certainly know not to take all the grass. It’s simple stuff in the end.

The environment isn’t a left or a right issue—it’s just doing the right thing. Locking up the landscape isn’t realistic. We’ve seen disastrous outcomes doing that. We’re talking about natural resources which must be nurtured, harvested and allowed to rest and regenerate. This isn’t the “anything goes” early 1900s; there are no free grazers anymore. It’s time for cooler and more reasonable heads to prevail and take us all forward. — PETE CROW


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