George Wuerthner, We Ought Not Grow Cows In Dry West

George Wuerthner, a prolific naturalist, author, photographer and activist, has this guest column in New West today. We Ought Not Grow Cows In Dry West

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  1. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    I read George’s article with interest and then read a few comments. The comments were predictable; ranchers are good stewards of the land and conservationist are waco eco-terrorists.

    In reality, most ranchers are not good stewards of the land. If they were, riparian vegetation would be flourishing on most streams and would not be incised 10 to 15 feet. Meadows would not be grazed to bare ground. But these meadows, if properly managed, would have a stubble height of 4 to 8 inches. Grazing requires intensive management. A range scientist, Alan Savory, promotes managed grazing. Most ranchers consider him a heretic. If current day ranchers would have followed Savory’s ideas, their ranges would not be in such disarray as they are today.

    The reason that ranchers won’t manage grazing? It cuts into the bottom line: profits.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think ranchers also see the land differently. Most don’t see it very closely except inasmuch as it directly relates to livestock. There, most of them pay attention.

    They are aren’t deliberately bullshitting us when they say they are “good stewards of the land.” They believe they are, and fatuous politicians reinforce them by telling them they are stewards. Most of them know little about the land beyond the aspects of livestock grazing.

    If someone knows about the different kinds of plants (especially ones that livestock don’t eat or eat too much of), the smaller animals, the geology of the area, the hydrology, the cultural artifacts, the difference between the way the land is now and what is was like 30 years ago or 200 years ago, they are dismissed as “tree-huggers,” “hippies,” flower-sniffers.

    They think they are stewards of the land, and they think it because they are ignorant of things beyond their occupation.

    By merely stating this, they would brand me, or anyone else saying it, as an “elitist” (meaning educated, or presuming to criticize them).

  3. Monte Avatar

    Unfortunately, I agree for the most part. What fires me up the most is the grazing abuse of public land, especially considering the ridiculously low AUM price. Thankfully it seems we’re finally starting to address that issue.

  4. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    It always amazes me when ranching is described as improving public lands and wildlife habitat and examples of that are stock tanks and fences. What stock tanks do is divert water from streams and thus deprive all plants and animals downstream of water and then concentrating all the animal traffic to a few specific areas which then trample the ground into a huge erosion hole not to mention the trails to those areas. Then would anyone anywhere please explain to me how stringing miles of barb wire fence improves wildlife habitat or public lands in general.

  5. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Miles and miles of barb wire fences are just not needed. Portable electric fencing is more effective, because the rancher can manage his herd by moving to new pastures, or a section of a pasture, when the stubble height gets to a pre-determined measurement. This is managed grazing. The fenced area determines what size the grazing area will be. A 20 acre area can be fence in about 3 hours. And the cattle learn to respect the electric wire rather rapidly!

  6. SAP Avatar

    Rick, that’s an excellent point about electric fence. Are there public safety/liability concerns with using it on public land? Also, it requires a lot of vigilance: chargers can go down in lightning storm, wildlife knock them over (sometimes), cattle sometimes tromp willows over onto the fence and knock it over . . . just a few things I’ve seen happen. But overall, I agree that electric fence is very light on the land and allows great flexibility in managing grazing.

  7. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel


    I think that the agency in charge of the land would have to be on-board to use electic fences. I don’t think it would be a problem.

    Yes you do have to take care of the fences. However I did not have any problems with T-storms. I used surveyer ribbon dipped in molasses and hung on the wire for training. Pretty fun results! The cows and wildlife stayed away from the fence.

  8. renae Avatar

    You people really amaze me. stocktanks that divert water from creeks. Those happen to be filled from wells that were drilled and payed for by the rancher because you made him fence the creek beds off so that the cows could not eat the vegetation that still grows on creekbeds during droughts. There wasnt enough for both cows and wildlife. Of course not we happen to be going through several years of drought. and to make it sound the way you do is just amazing.

  9. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    Yes a high % of stock tanks are now filled by wells. There are also thousands across the west that divert water from streams and springs. Fencing cows off of springs and streams is probably the only good thing about a fence on public land.

  10. kt Avatar

    Electric fences are a disaster – frequently fail, hazards to big game, and birds – with wires particularly difficult to see, especially in certain light conditions.

    Ranchers DO NOT bear the cost of wells or other facilities on public lands – even though funds may come out of the laughable Buck and Half or so per AUM fees ranchers pay to graze and destroy our lands and waters, the COST to the the public of having them out there (and that includes the harmful facilities like wells, spring-gutting or other projects) is 6 or more times the revenue BLM or the Forest Service receives.

    The whole thing is a welfare system where taxpayers sup[port destruction of tthe Wst’s water and wildife hbaitats …

  11. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel


    Electric fences have to be tended daily. Batteries have to be checked as well as grounding. I put surveyers ribbon between each fiberglas post to increase visability. Sometimes wildlife would go through the fence and I would have to spend some time putting it back together.

    I did this for three summers, doing a stream restoration on Vermillion Ranch in NW Colorado. Sadly, the stream has reverted back to it’s original state. But I would recommend e-fencing to anyone that has the time to watch over it.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan