Obama avoids a 'war on the West'

Rocky Baker points out that the Idaho Cattle Association is pleasantly surprised-

A lot of people I know worked hard to get Barack Obama elected President;  not just conservationists, but independents and Democrats who had sat on their hands for years.

As Barker points out, after the election the traditional Western resource users (who are often irritatingly called “The West”) expected the worst and were ready to fight against another “war on the West.” This is something they claim — a “war on the West” —  whenever some President doesn’t give them the deference and subsidies they think they are entitled to.

Now they are grinning. He has done nothing to disturb them. “Democrat” Walt Minnick, Idaho’s soon-to-be-defeated congressman in the state’s first district reportedly said “The Obama people have learned from Clinton’s first 90 days.”

I think they’ve learned the wrong lesson.

Barker’s article quotes a number of people who say leaving the traditional resource interests alone ( interests who, interestingly, employ very few people) is smart politics.

I beg to differ. People need to consider why the Democrats in the Interior West have such a hard time doing well over the course of more than just one election. The answer is easy, Democratic Party activitists, most of whom are unpaid, never get rewarded. Elect a Democratic and they snub you to glad hand with the landed noblemen who have never voted for a Democrat in their life.

Republicans are being heavily criticized for playing to their base at a time when it is shrunken in size and seems half crazy, but folks are predicting a likely Republican upswing in 2010. There are complicated reasons for this, but in the West the Democrats are going to get beaten because, unlike the Republicans, they give no reward to their base. Why should anyone do voluntary work for a Democrat, and especially for Obama? If the best reason a President or a Democratic office-holder can give you for helping them is that they aren’t crazy Republicans, they are crazy themselves if they expect more than a half-hearted vote.

If organizer Obama was a community organizer the way he treats Western Democrats, especially conservation activists, he would have been lionized by all the slumlords.

As I wrote at the beginning, “A lot of people I know worked hard to get Barack Obama President, not just conservationists, but independents and Democrats who had sat on their hands for years.” I wasn’t one of them. I despised Bush, but I gave Obama no money, posted no signs, wrote no essays in his favor. In the past I did work for many Democratic candidates, and I will help local candidates again. In 2008 I spent my usual political donation money and time instead downloading itunes, buying clothes, cameras, and giving to a few conservation groups. In other words I spent my money wisely.

Obama avoids a ‘war on the West’. Some environmentalists are disappointed, but Western Republicans and natural resource groups are surprised – in a good way. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.







  1. pointswest Avatar

    Obama just knows how to avoid fights and how to win by gaining popular support, but the neo-conservatism of the 80’s is dead and buried and is not coming back. There are a few states, like Idaho, that may remain conservative for several years but as in other states, Idahoans will eventually be overwhelmed by the reality of the neo-conservatism chickens coming home to roost. We already had the economic collapse that will be with us for several more years. The neo-con foreign policy of might-makes-right backfired on the U.S. and all now consider these policies to be an utter failure and object of shame. The epitome of neo-conservatism, George WMD Bush, had the lowest approval rating of any president since political polls started tracking them.

    The neo-cons were great global warming denialists and it is well understood that they, in fact, organized a campaign of misinformation about global warming . Some are still denying it today when the scientific facts indicate that global warming is much worse than was predicted. The West is likely to be hard hit by global warming since it was already a land of extremes. With more heat energy, particularly, in the Pacific, these extremes will probably be much worse, …droughts and fires, heavy precipitation and flooding, and ecosystem meltdowns.

    Most important of all is that the young, the gen-Y’ers, are not only more liberal, they’re anti neo-con. They are very disillusioned with faith based and greed based politics and are very interested and savy in science and ecology. They may become known as the “green generation.” You may not see it in Idaho, but it is very clear here in California. The God, guns, and George WMD Bush rednecks of the West love to scare the locals into some fear of political backlash—they love to scare people in general–but such a notion is laughable in most areas of the country. The backlash ain’t gonna happen. Reality, the neo-con chickens, have only started coming home to roost.

  2. JB Avatar

    Merle Haggard in 2012? 😉

  3. timz Avatar

    pointswest, tell us now after your anti-Bush tirade just what it is the Obama “hope & change administration” has done to help the causes many of us here hold dear. A “war on the West” is just exactly what many of us had hoped for.

  4. timz Avatar

    And by all means lets make California the model of success all other states should attempt to attain. Got your state tax refund yet or still holding on to that IOU from Arnie?

  5. Maska Avatar

    “People need to consider why the Democrats in the Interior West have such a hard time doing well over the course of more than just one election. The answer is easy, Democratic Party activitists, most of whom are unpaid, never get rewarded. Elect a Democratic and they snub you to glad hand with the landed noblemen who have never voted for a Democrat in their life.”

    Well said, Ralph. We see this over and over in southern New Mexico.

    One thing local politicos need to remember is that with the advent of the Internet and targeted mailings, we no longer feel constrained to support only our own Congressional reps. We can (and do) throw most of our financial support to those in other districts, and even other states (e.g. Raul Grijalva) who better represent our views and interests.

    For many years we gave modest financial support to Tom Udall, the Congressman from northern NM. Now, with support from conservationists all over the state, he’s our junior Senator. You’d think party bigwigs down our way would learn from this experience, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  6. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    So the options are, if not voting for a Democrat because he’s not 100% your policies, voting Republican or the equally untenable third party candidate. As the alien from The Simpson’s would say, “Go ahead, throw your vote away!”

    I understand the frustration expressed here. There was a lot of chirping back in 2000 that there would be difference between Gore and Bush. I think its pretty clear how incredibly wrong that statement was (and I fell for it at the time), even if we don’t know how Gore would have governed. As much as I wish that western and environmental issues would be at the top of Obama’s list, quite frankly, they are not, but I didn’t expect them to be, either.

    I see the evidence in the present case, and as I said, I understand the frustration – but it’s going to be nearly impossible to satisfy folks on the far left. Still, the current leadership, on balance/across the board is far superior to the alternative, in my opinion.

  7. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    I live in Minnick’s district, and frankly, don’t give a damn if he’s not re-elected. His voting pattern is basically the same as Sali’s. And Sali at least was good for a laugh (see e.g., bill he introduced to abolish the law of gravity).

    I gave Minnick, Obama and other Dems time and financial support in 08, but won’t in the next rounds. I used to share the same view as Matt, that you hold your nose and vote for the lesser evil.

    With over 3 decades of political activism, I’m now approaching apolitical, and think that folks are going to have to mobilize outside of the traditional political process to achieve anything. Awful GOP control and policies may hasten that outcome. Cynicism or realism?

  8. Maska Avatar

    Matt, I’m not talking about “throwing my vote away.” (And for that matter, nobody is 100% for my policies–and I don’t expect it.) I’m talking about how I spend my limited time and money. There are dozens of candidates, local, statewide, and national, who are vying for our attention. Some are significantly better than others.

    I see no problem with donating the most (or doing the most volunteer work) for those who promote causes–conservation and otherwise–that are most important to me.

    I also think it’s reasonable to suggest that perhaps some of our local candidates in the West should rethink where their support really lies. Bill Richardson understands this very well. He knew Catron County would never vote for him, no matter what. He cultivated urban, suburban, and conservationists’ votes, instead, and won election twice by large margins.

    If we don’t put some pressure on the Democratic party via selectively contributing time and money, they’ll never get the message and things will never change.

    To be quite clear, I voted a straight ticket in 2008, but I put my major time and money into the Udall race.

  9. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Maska – excellent points. The throwing your vote away was a joke (sort of) – it was a Simpson’s reference form the 96 elections, after all.

  10. Maska Avatar

    Sorry to have missed the joke–but we hear this all the time

    Matt, I agree with you that the current regime is better than the previous one (We may finally get our southern NM wilderness bill, for example.), but we still have a long way to go in educating Easterners on what the West is really like in the twenty-first century. Too many people from east of the hundredth meridian still seem to get their image of the West from old movie Westerns.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    There is a lot more to political support than voting. Yes, Democrats will vote for Democrats anyway, but there won’t much money, volunteer work or enthusiasm.

    The Democrats were crushed in 1994 not because they crossed party lines to vote Republican. The result came mostly from a slightly higher percentage of Democrats staying home and Republicans turning out to vote.

    This is a warning to Obama. Keep your friends close.

  12. jimt Avatar

    Maybe we could give Eastern folks who have never traveled West to experience the true Western landscape a tax credit to encourage them to see what is happening out here~S~.

    I will tell you all one story. When we were in Vermont, we had neighbors who had never been out of the East. We would go on and on about Glacier, Canyonlands, Utah and New Mexico backcountry, the Tetons…Well, they decided several years ago to head up to Banff and Glacier with their HS aged kids. When they got back, we had them over for dinner. Frank, the hubby, said the first few days he had a back neckache. I sympathized about hotel pillows, and he said, “No, it was from looking up at REAL mountains and seeing how high they are”…VBG. Interestingly, they also offered that they felt somewhat isolated, intimidated, and uncomfortable with the vastness of the Western landscape; that is was “too big”.

    Funny. The entire time Karin and I were in the East, we felt hemmed in and claustrophobic because we couldn’t see out; the horizon was so constrained….~S~

  13. nabeki Avatar

    When I hear Obama is good for the environment I want to laugh out loud. Well he’s pretty unhealthy for wolves. If he wants to play games and cherry pick environmental issues, to maximize his ratings, independents like myself see right through it. It was obvious he was placating the ranchers by picking Salazar for the Interior. Now we’re left with his decision to de-list the wolf. This will not be a very pleasant Winter or Spring for me knowing wolves are being hunted.


  14. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Politicians know the political calculations. Obama avoided a bunch of whining ranchers, timber execs, etc. and in doing so he avoided any whining at all ~ why ? Because conservationists are going to vote for him anyway, and because people like Rocky Barker aren’t going to whip up coverage of angry environmentalists. That’s not true of ranchers and timber folk — local reporters would be chomping at the bit to give a poor rancher the opportunity to spark a rhetorical “war” if Obama did anything meaningful for the western public landscape, even as ranchers – as a group – represent a remarkably marginal uber-minority of individuals in the West – that’s because they remain politically privileged, organized, and galvanized.

    In contrast, when Obama spites the interest of the western public landscape we get responses like :

    “We all expected more from the Obama administration,” Schlickeisen [DoW] said.

    tisk, tisk … But, presumably ~ DoW isn’t going to lift a finger to apply pressure like it did with Bush.

    “Although the Bush administration is gone, unfortunately it looks like its policies will live on for Columbia-Snake salmon,” said Bill Arthur, deputy national field director for the Sierra Club.

    but, presumably ~ we’ll sit in our corner and take it like a good red-headed step-child ….

    When rancher-association reps confront the possibility of even something as miniscule as the public land grazing fee going up from $1.35 to $1.50 per AUM (whereas market is at $17 – $20), then all hell breaks out and WAR is declared. This has the consequence of looking really stupid to anyone who has any idea about what’s going on — but the fact is: NO ONE HAS ANY IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON !! so all the layman sees is a galvanized interest-group who really cares about what they’re raising a fit about ~ and that, more than what’s really going on, engenders sympathy and political support.

    There are two, if not more, ways of garnering political support —

    1. there’s the kind where you try to get 51% of the people to agree with you so that you can claim “majority” — doing this involves diluting your position down with consultants who convince you to avoid controversy – offending people. we see that environmental groups are constantly trying exercise this with their little petitions and their soft-fluffy language.

    2. then there’s the kind where you galvanize from within – energize an interest group and apply political pressure via the cohesion of that group. Robert A. Dahl explains this very well in his accounts of democratic polyarchy. this exercise of political influence is more likely to get the attention of decision-makers, and the response of decision-makers – as is eminently apparent in Obama’s capitulation to “avoiding a war” in the west . Building galvanization like this requires a willingness to use decisive language that gets at the truth – a truth that those who are sympathetic recognize — and building support among the apathetic, historically – has had little to do with reason and more to with the perception of conviction.

    you don’t exercise this kind of democratic political influence by constantly compromising away the underpinning principles of your interest to other agenda items, a self-dismissive understanding of the political process, or an over-apologetic posture with regard to those who are counter to your interest — which happens when a group’s constituency finds themselves mired in the “better-then”, “lesser-of-two-evil”, apologist uber-consideration for the two-party system. one might suggest that this is the fault of the Democratic party (especially in the west) – but ultimately, you don’t see the same with mid-western/Eastern Democrats who have the backbones of unions – a political interest group that is willing to bite back. What political-interest-groups do Democrats in the west have to keep them honest ? To give them that political courage ? Political parties are not sources of integrity – and ought not be considered such —- they are vessels/vehicles for which interest-groups can either take hold, or get run over — but in either event – the party doesn’t respect loyalty ~ in fact, it responds most to exactly the opposite.

    generally, one can attempt to do both of these things – and come general election, that’s what politicians do — politicians, that’s NOT the job of interest-groups. ultimately, an account of history in the west — particularly western natural resource history (think DeVoto & others) demonstrates that the 2nd account has won out time and time again. You don’t build organizational cohesion by laying down the next excuse as to why your interest isn’t on the agenda – you don’t do so by ‘taking one for the “team” ‘ over and over again – and you sure as hell don’t build support and political energy/galvanization with mealy-mouthed talking points that reach out to a constituency that doesn’t care. you show people that YOU care ~ even if that means kicking the dirt up ~

    we can blame these things on Obama – or on Minnick (who’s a real piece of work), but the bottom line is that in the west — conservationists don’t have a lot to offer Obama — they’re going to vote for him anyway. and abstaining support for Minnick is pretty tepid too — he’s busy collecting more than we’d ever offer from Wall-street, the pharmaceuticals, the AG interests, etc.

    The best thing that could happen for the wild in the west is if Rocky Barker were wrong about Obama avoiding a ‘war in the west’ ~ but if he were wrong because conservationists were willing to see these policies & appointments for what they are : a declaration of war on our interests – and act accordingly.

  15. Maska Avatar

    Brian, I understand and appreciate your points, but I wonder what your take is on the often recited mantra that practically nobody actually votes on the environment–i.e. that when the chips are down, the vast majority vote on their perceived economic or social interests, or “security,” or pretty much anything other than the environment. Are there even remotely enough people who care about the natural world to make us a real force? How many does it take?

  16. pointswest Avatar

    I do not believe Obama is the answer to all of our problems but I can mention one very important thing his election has done is stop the misinformation campaign on global warming started and orchestrated by the Bush Whitehouse. He has also given hope and energy to the gen-Y’ers, aka “the green generation,” who hold science and, in particular, ecology in much greater esteem. He has not been in office long enough to affect changes in the western states where gubernatorial candidates from Idaho talk about buying Obama Tags but give it some time.

  17. jdubya Avatar

    red-headed step-child?? what is wrong with red hair in a step child? now your own kid showing up with red hair might implicate the red-headed milkman, but the step kid should be good to go.

  18. Rocky Barker Avatar

    Interesting responses.
    Ralph’s decision not to work for state candidates underscores why national Democrats have two choices when dealing with the West. They can reward their environmental friends in Washington who do work for them and have a different agenda than state environmentalists. Or they can reward the state Democrats who are building long term organizations in their states. Environmentalists who choose to remain outside this process will either be Republicans or on the outside. For many I think staying outside is a far more comfortable place than trying to get people to change by working the political process.
    As for angry environmentalists. when was the last time you guys went to your Congressman’s town meeting at all.?

  19. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    Pointswest, if Obama is so great on climate change, why have any of his discussions completely omitted any reference to the livestock industry’s significant contribution to it? Obviously, he doesn’t want to get crosswise with powerful agri-business interests.

    Instead, he pontificates about his wonderful alternative energy plans, which look to run roughshod over our public lands and continue the centralized, corporate control of our energy supplies.

    I agree with whoever the writer was that recently said about Obama “we needed a leader, and got a motivational speaker instead.”

    And to Rocky’s points: if the Ds we get in the West are the likes of Minnick and Schweitzer, who cares about supporting the national party?

    Yeah, I’ll probably keep voting D, given the opposition, but with the same limited enthusiasm for other civic obligations like jury duty. I will work for progressive local candidates for positions like mayor or county commissioner where immediate impacts on your daily life can result (open space protection, sustainable economic development, etc.)

  20. pointswest Avatar

    What is the livestock industry’s significant contributions to climate change?

    I do not believe agri-business interests are powerful. I believe they get special consideration since they produce food and politicians are always motivated to keep food production consistently high and food prices to voters consistently low.

  21. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    A 2006 UN Report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, estimated that the livestock industry is responsible for about 20% of greenhas gas emissions. See e.g., discussion at http://www.emagazine.com/view/?4264.

    And as for agribusiness not being powerful, one must question why Salazar and Vilsack, both Siamese twins with agribusiness, with no other distinguishing accomplishments, ascended to Cabinet positions.

    And you might also look at other sources such as the documentary, Food, Inc., or books like Fast Food Nation or the Omnivore’s Dilemma. Then report back.

  22. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Maska, environmentalists do not have to constitute a majority of voters, nor do a majority of voters have to necessarily “care” about environmental issues for an environmental agenda to be effective. Most people don’t care about ranchers – probably, most don’t even know they exist, yet they more than any other interest group, proportional to their actual numbers – are politically priveleged in this country. we vote every other year, and for president – once every four years. the popular vote is not driving the agenda in our country – rather, interest-groups – in coalition – drive the agenda, and they do so in a number of ways – but ultimately, political parties pick and choose which interest-groups to satiate (or to avoid agitating) in order to line them up, or stave them off, in their quest to collect individual votes come election time and legislative votes during term to ensure advancement of their agenda. The judiciary also plays a part.

    Some interest groups are cohesive, galvanized, and demand attention. their impact for or against a particular agenda could be felt at the polls in a general election for president, or it could likewise be felt in the legislature via collecting votes for legislation from individual congress-folk – which necessarily includes electing those congress-folk. legislation is where extractive-industry interests potentially do their most harm – and i would suggest, this is why – more than the vote – Obama is satiating the anti-enviro interests.

    take Clinton and Babbit’s Grazing Reform – an administrative undertaking – rule-making process. That got sold out for legislative votes on NAFTA more than because Clinton was worried about ranchers’ votes. Clinton knew very well ranchers weren’t going to vote for him – he was looking at the respective legislative position ~ key votes in Congress ~ and at that time, those happened to be votes like Craig, Burns, etc. – Livestock Legislators. A similar point might be made on Salmon or old-growth logging and Clinton’s sell out there. This is particularly troubling because the people advising Obama are likely doing so having learned those previous lessons, and we can see that in the advisers that Obama has chosen – they’re the same people that got spanked while with Clinton – but the legislative make-up is very different this time around. You don’t have Craig wielding remarkable influence/rank on the appropriations committee, nor Burns ~ etc. really able to politically punish the way that is was.

    In fact – the legislators that would threaten Obama’s agenda are already doing so for ludicrous reasons having little to do with Obama’s proposed administrative reform and more to do with the radicalization of the right and very marginal interest-groups’ (not votes for a general election) successful exercise of influence within the party combined with those same interest groups’ exercise of external influence with the Blue Dogs. Obama’s not gunna win any votes anyway ! The right-wing’s response to Obama’s not giving them a “war in the west” (or in so many other places) is to push that much further on the ground that there is left ! Obama’s risk-aversion is actually diluting his agenda even further !

    However, it’s fair to say that environmental interest-groups are not so organized – which is actually ironic. Everyone likes the environment, but it’s pretty far down the list on the ranking. but for those that do put the environment up in ranking – they are passionately interested. This fact holds a lot of political potential, because all we need to do to advance an environmental agenda is let the environmental agenda be our standard by which we support a politician, and are willing to denounce a politician’s shortcoming — not party politics.

    The number who care matters less than what an interest is able to do with their organizing efforts – or not do.

    To have influence, one just needs to demonstrate the ability to affect an agenda, even if it’s not the agenda that you’re directly pursuing.

    Organizing resource to kill a Democrat’s run in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, or another state where there’s an anti-environment (or under-performing) Democrat might be enough to get the national party’s attention – if it’s obvious that the effort was organized and the effort was responsible for anywhere near the margin of loss. That might only take enough effort/resource to cast doubt on the Democrat’s record, to support an alternative primary candidate enough to deplete resource for the general election, etc. If this could be done on 4 or five choice candidates who hold influence on a particular committee – then it’d probably have more of an affect within the party. All it’d really take is a commitment from environmental groups to hold candidates equally accountable to their record ~ but that’s not what environmental groups do – they hold Republicans accountable and give Democrats a free ride to run rough-shod over their interest. They keep their mouths shut under the misguided assumption that the environment is necessarily part of the Democratic agenda. That party-politicking is bad.

    of course – then, when you hold politicians to a standard equally, you get labeled a ‘wet-blanket’ or ‘party-pooper’ by people like matt. but who cares ? People who care about the environment ought have NO political allegiance to a party that takes them wholly for granted. In fact, to be honest – the group that I work for has experienced much more responsiveness from Simpson (R) then Minnick (D) in Idaho.

    So, I guess what I’d say is that it’d be better for the environment if in response to Democrats stomping on their interest they would actively hold Democrats accountable — use it as an organizing platform to raise awareness about the environmental issue being forgotten – that way, Democrats can see the consequence and the issue has a voice anyway. Democrats need to be punished by environmentalists, and throwing a few choice Blue-Dogs into the sea is a pretty good first start.

    Look, I was a delegate for the Idaho Democrats at the state convention ~ caucused for Kucinich ~ what I found was a party wholly enamored with party loyalty for its own sake and with the idea of winning an election, and wholly lacking as to any principle as to why that victory might be meaningful. Enviros should caucus within the party – and hold their votes for the primary candidate that is responsive – and if there isn’t any, stand up at the podium and give a speech – then let the state Dems watch you walk out.


    I agree with you to a certain extent. I think that state Democrats are building organizations in their state – I just don’t see a whole lot of difference from state Republicans. With the environment, that’s sure as hell the case.

    For many I think staying outside is a far more comfortable place than trying to get people to change by working the political process.

    This is probably pretty true — I know that when I caucused, there were a few environmentalists that showed up, but mostly – it was people who were excited about personality, there wasn’t even really an agenda. And of the few I saw, probably a good bit of ’em were the type that’d fold in the first breeze anyway.

    As for angry environmentalists. when was the last time you guys went to your Congressman’s town meeting at all.?

    this is another good point.

  23. DB Avatar

    Brian and Debra K and others: you make wonderful, inspirational points. I’m with you all the way (although I have no problem in going back to work for Obama next time – he had my credit card since the Taco Bell arena speech and I hoofed around Elko for three days knocking on doors). Thre’s just too much cleaning up to do from the Bush years and I think he’s making progress.

    The discouraging thing is the amount of backlash from ordinary, reasonable poeple a strong environmental agenda creates. I hunted up Grimes Cr this a.m. and had a little chat with a conservation officer – obviously a wildlife advocate – who told me WWP is too extreme, and I ran into a former democratic governor while walking my dog behind the Capital recently who said “Jon Marvel–that wacko”!!

    Like Brian says, although everyone loves the environment, active enviros get marganilized.

  24. pointswest Avatar

    I read, with interest, the article you linked. Let me first say that I am on the side of less grazing on public lands and for healthier diets. I’m sure many of the concepts presented in the article are valid. However, global warming seems to be directly correlated to the rise in the combustion of fossil fuels that has risen exponentially over the past few decades. Global warming does not seem to be correlated to the number of livestock. Most of the scientists of the world believe the cause of global warming is the combustion of fossil fuels. I will continue reading about the methane gas produced by cattle but I am, at this point, skeptical.

    As to the power of agribusiness, I believe agribusiness is important and is big but where the producers (farmers) are generally independent businessmen numbering in the tens of thousand and were the products are freely chosen commodities chosen to be produced at the farm level and where these products enter a semi-free market, I cannot see very much centrally located “power” in agribusiness. Where is all this supposed power in agribusiness. How is it organized and who wields all this power? Why have potato prices plummeted in Idaho? Why doesn’t the powerful Idaho potato Kings flex their powerful political mussel to get potato prices back to where they were? It is hard for me to argue that the power is not there because it is hard to prove a negative. Please provide positive proof, with some specifics, on this power wielded by agribusiness. Who are the players? What specific powers do they have?

  25. nabeki Avatar

    Brian….Great posts

    ‘m an independent who’s liberal on the environment but conservative on other issues. Obama has already lost my vote and I think many Independents feel the way I do. In the short time he’s been in office he’s managed to piss off just about everyone, which is no small feat.

    I completely agree with you on ranchers having a stranglehold on Western politics and land use issues. Which brings us right back to the wolf. Have you read Michael J. Robinson’s “Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West?” It documents the unholy alliance of feds and ranchers that literally erased the wolf from the western landscape in the twentieth century. He writes that it took two decades of fighting before ranchers would accede to a wolf reintroduction program with ESA protection. But even then they would not be afforded normal protection that an Endangered Species would be expected to have. The bargain struck between ranchers and feds was the feds would continue to kill wolves for the livestock industry. It’s been this way since wolves were reintroduced back in 1995. The amazing thing is the public tolerates this misuse of their tax dollars to subsidize the ranchers.

    Robinson points out that because of the arid nature of western lands and cattle’s increased need for water they have to be spread out, making them more vulnerable to predation. The best thing that could happen to wolves is if ranchers were denied permits to graze on our public lands.

    The wolf is subjugated to cattle even though cattle displace elk, deer and other ungulates. Cattle do nothing positive for the environment unlike the wolves who’ve had a positive influence bringing back riparian zones trampled by elk. Without the wolf elk could graze along river banks whenever they pleased. Now the wolves have dispersed elk populations, allowing aspen and willow to rebound in these areas, which in turn encouraged the return of beaver and song birds to rivers and streams. Wolves cull deer and elk by selecting out the weakest individuals and making the herds healthier. Cattle degrade the ecosystem but because a small group of ranchers hold the feds in the palm of their hands, this nonsense is allowed to go on. Merle Haggard’s comment was right on target.


  26. Heather Avatar

    Why??? why is it just a “small group of ranchers hold the feds in the palm of their hands”. ???land ownership? why is this allowed to go on?some says it is either ranching or development. How about designated wilderness..

  27. pointswest Avatar

    I don’t believe a “small group of ranchers” do hold the Feds. It is that Americans like the romance of the cowboy. I do too…sort of…actually I like the old trappers better than the cowboy but cowboys are sort of cool too. I like Western movies and all that stuff.

    But I think American are slowly coming to their senses and realizing the problems with grazing cattle on our last remnants of wilderness.

  28. nabeki Avatar

    Heather….I wish I could fully answer your question why ranchers have so much power to dictate policy but the feds and livestock industry connections go back over a century.

    Wolves wouldn’t need to be “managed” if there weren’t any sheep or cattle grazing on our public lands.


  29. Brian Ertz Avatar


    land ownership and control are the answer to your question.

    The US Congress is bicameral – that means that there are 2 houses – the House and the Senate.

    The number of house members in Congress is a representation of the population, whereas the number of Senate members is fixed – there’s 2 Senate members per state regardless of the population.

    Idaho gets 2 Senate seats and New York state gets 2 Senate seats.

    Because western states have relatively low population densities given land mass, and so much of the land mass is federal land anyway (Idaho is over half federal land) – this representation via the senate translates into more influence per person.

    Livestock ranchers are interested in huge swaths of land in the west, as well as private land, and so it’s been in their direct interest to have political associations which secure huge influence with county commissions, state & other local governments. This influence enables them to pass favors (or punish opponents) within state & local governments to a very large degree – and because the populations are so sparse, there aren’t a lot of other interests competing for power or attention and otherwise obscuring their direct line to decision-makers. It is in this political atmosphere that more powerful, federal legislators are cultivated in the west — so people holding county positions have the experience and political organizations to help them move up to state – and the same is true from state to federal government – right ?

    so now, you’ve got politicians in western states who have relied upon these political environments to get where they are, and the ones that make it to the senate exercise particular influence relative to the others who represent senate districts with vastly larger populations.

    The way the senate works is largely by seniority – so senators that stay in the senate longer are given more power (over procedure, etc.) within their respective committees. Western senators have been able to maintain their senate seats for longer largely because of the relatively monolithic interests associated with what i previously mentioned. the political organizations in their states have relatively fewer interests competing given the lesser population, ranchers have a relatively easier time rising because of the state & local positions that they have secured themselves — and so ranchers in the west have a proportionately easier time of maintaining their seats in the senate, which grants them the privilege of seniority. This is true of folk like Craig, Burns, Pete Domenici, etc — very powerful men in the west who largely depended on the political organization of Livestock interests within their respective states. the relative disproportion of their power is a function of the bicameral legislative system – via the senate which apportions power geographically rather than by population, the land mass & lack of population via of their respective states, and the land-ownership dynamics – whereby western states are largely federal lands that ranchers have appropriated themselves and have successfully turned into economic & political resource.

    in order to pass law, you gotta have both the senate and the house – as well a president – so Livestock’s political influence hasn’t been so potent when it comes to advancing legislation — Livestock’s political influence is best exercised in preventing legislation from passing, and they have been able to leverage that power very successfully in influencing presidents’ administrative reform efforts – via rule-making processes, and in advancing their agenda (which is ultimately the status quo) by preventing public-interest groups from the legislative reform which might bring sanity back into the administrative & political process.

    many of the most powerful members of the senate are recently gone – Craig, Burns, Pete Domenici – and with them the seniority that they compiled over years and years – so the senators that replaced them in their states are relatively less influential. demographics are rapidly changing in the west & there are many more interest-groups that are emerging.

    this is why Obama’s advisers “heeding the lessons of the past” is so inappropriate right now. the dynamics are completely different – and i would argue, it’s in Democrats – as a political party – interest to rip the band-aid now and make changes that ameliorate a greater appreciation for America’s public land and wildlife. A “war on the west” fostered by western ranchers & Republicans’ response to Obama and other Democrats doing the right thing might solicit a radically different response from the new demographic out west than before – and as i mentioned before, the political consequences via legislation aren’t quite so poignant ~ so much of the power was swept out last election and it ain’t unique — these guys aren’t going to vote for anything Obama anyway (and that includes Minnick – who needs to be shut down).

  30. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    Pointswest, you can obviously believe whatever you want, but the authorities I’ve read indicate that livestock are a bigger source of greenhouse gases than transportation. More examples:

    http://www.earthsave.org/globalwarming.htm. Seems like I recall reading that a person driving a Hummer has less harm as far as climate change than the one regularly eating corporate produced beef. (Not that I advocate driving a Hummer or other huge SUV–I think it’s indefensible).

    Also, re agribusiness, the JR Simplot conglomerates control the biggest amount of public lands allotments in the US, over 2 million acres of public lands, according to the book Welfare Ranching, at p. 5.

    A few weeks ago, I was just on a public land allotment permitted to a Simplot company in bull trout habitat. Bull trout are listed as a “threatened” species under the ESA. The cattle were stomping around and leaving excrement in a meadow along a critical bull trout stream, supposedly closed to cattle grazing. (Note: this allotment is permitted to a few others besides Simplot, so I can’t say if the cattle were actually Simplot or not–couldn’t get a good view of the brand).

    Regardless of whose cattle they were, here we are as taxpayers subsidizing the destruction of an irreplaceable resource–bull trout need cold, clean, complex streams, and cattle grazing is entirely incompatible with them–for the benefit of private agribusiness. What is that really getting us?

    Besides Simplot, Monsanto, Perdue, ADM and other huge agri conglomerates have tremendous financial and political clout. While I have not (yet) become a complete vegetarian, I avoid beef completely. In general, I’m trying to avoid the corporate food system and only support ethical local food producers whose practices are known, and think this is one way we as citizens can start to make an impact, whether from the perspective of climate change, landscape health or human health.

  31. Lynne Stone Avatar

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the info on this thread, a simple thing to do, is to stop eating beef. After a while you won’t miss it. Still serving steaks, Brian?

  32. pointswest Avatar

    Debra K,

    I believe Simplot and ADM have some political power, certainly more than the 4th Ward Quilting Society, but much, much, much, less than Exxon, Rupert Murdoc, or Haliburton.

  33. JB Avatar

    The cowboy of the American West has long since passed out of existence. By the end of the 19th century the fence supplanted the cowboy as the tool of choice for raising cattle. Frederic Remington depicted this in “The Fall of the Cowboy” (1895), which you can view here: http://www.birdseyeviews.org/teaching-resources/remington.pdf

  34. pointswest Avatar


    Someone should tell two old cowboys I knew, Elwood Huntsman and Sawd Wood, that they have passed out of existence. They would come into the Imperial Club every night and each buy a 5th of Jim Beam and nurse it from the bottle all night. On weekends, they each would buy two 5ths.

  35. JB Avatar


    Sure, there are still plenty of people that call themselves “cowboys”; Remington’s point (as far as I understand it) was that fences killed the real cowboys. Of course, the overgrazing of the commons played a part as well.

    Today’s “cowboys” mostly ride around in trucks and on ATVs.

  36. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    the neo-conservatism of the 80’s is dead and buried and is not coming back.

    Do you really think so pointswest?

    A “war on the West” is just exactly what many of us had hoped for. I think you are right timz, if you meant taking on special interest groups like ranchers.

  37. pointswest Avatar

    >Do you really think so pointswest?

    Dead, burried, and the flowers wilted.

  38. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Pointswest, I think it may be on its way out but I don’t know if I would say it is dead yet.

  39. pointswest Avatar

    Oh Yeah???

    Let’s try proposing a national monument in Washington DC for Ronald Reagan. …mayby next year. …the year after? …maybe in five years? …in 10 years?

    FDR got one within 20 years of his presidency.

    Wait…it will be the rip snortin outrageous rancher Ron Regananomic revival electoral backlash in 010….err…012…016 maybe?

    No. Its dead. In fact, I hereby propose, “kick a redneck in the ass” day of Oct 15 where you can kick the biggest redneck you know square in the ass without legal reprisal.

  40. Virginia Avatar

    To Brian’s point about the power of western senators: Please watch what my idiotic senators Mike Enzi and John Barasso have been doing in the health care debacle. I realize most people here are from Idaho, but if you want to read a really, really good book about how Wyoming has evolved regarding cattle ranching and the power of the ranchers in this state, try “Pushed Off the Mountain; Sold Down the River: Wyoming’s Search for its Soul”, buy Samuel Western.

  41. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    kick a redneck in the ass” day of Oct 15 where you can kick the biggest redneck you know square in the ass without legal reprisal.

    What if he is carrying a gun because it might get taken away? 🙂

    Virginia, thank you for the book title. I will have to check it out.

  42. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    I think it was Bernard DeVoto who said something like however you can decertify a state from the union, it should be Wyoming, which has never really been a state.

    Mostly, it’s been a landed gentry livestock fiefdom from the start, with absentee ranches owned by wealthy British remittance men. When Idaho seems bad, Wyoming often seems worse. And the damage in WY from the O&G development–Bush’s legacy–is mindboggling. I too will look forward (?) to picking up the book Virginia mentions.

  43. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Debra, I think this is probably most states that are a landed gentry fiefdom.

  44. Wyo Native Avatar
    Wyo Native


    Please name who these so called powerful ranchers are in our state that pull the strings of our politicians. I grew up on a ranch in the Bridger Valley and was a member of the FFA throughout high school, and I am yet to meet a rancher let alone several who may be pulling the puppet strings of our elected officials.

    Barrasso was an orthopedic surgeon who did not even grow up in Wyoming, and Enzi was a shoe salesman from Gillete. Neither of these two individuals have a ranching background nor did they start their political careers in areas of our state that are agriculture prominent.

    So how are they controlled by the ranching industry in our state?

    BTW, you may not like what our Senators are doing in the Health Insurance Debate, but don’t forget the idiot Dems could pass legislation without a repub, but they lack the will!

  45. Wyo Native Avatar
    Wyo Native

    Debra K,

    You folks either seem to forget or just plain ignore the simple fact that almost every lease that was developed during the Bush admin (especially in the Jonah Field, Pinedale Antecline, and Coal Bed Methane) was issued from 1993 to 2000 under the Clinton Administration, once McMurry Oil proved they had the technology to produce the fields.

    The Clinton admin was also the major contributor to the development of Coal Bed Methane in the eastern part of Wyoming.

    Is the Bush admin blameless? No they are not, because they could have stopped it. But the simple fact of blame for oil and gas development in Wyoming lies more with the Clinton (and even Carter admins if you want to talk about the Maddison Formation production) than with Bush.

  46. Cobra Avatar

    Kick a redneck blah, blah , blah,
    It’s not the legal crap you would have to worry about, most I know would take your boot with your foot in it and put it in a place you’d probably not care for.

  47. rick Avatar


    I have to agree with pointswest. I know many cowboys that are still spending the majority of their day in the saddle. Perhaps this may be true of some of the ranchers/landowners, but there are still plenty of cowboys. My guess is that Remington was thinking more about the end of the trail drives rather than the actual end of the cowboys. If you want, we can turn this discussion into an art appreciation discussion. That might be a nice change.

  48. Virginia Avatar

    Wyo Native: look up Hunt Oil and George Brown, the Hoodoo Ranch manager who flies his airplane over his BLM-leased land out in McCullough Peaks to make sure no one is bothering his cows. When I spent a summer working for the BLM, George had the head of the BLM scared to death of him. I have seen first-hand what his cows and the cows of other ranchers near Cody and Meeteetse have done to these lands. Read the book I recommended for background on how ranchers have run the Wyoming legislature for years. Check to see what happened when Jim Geringer was governor of Wyoming related to grazing issues, extractive issues, environmental issues.

  49. Wyo Native Avatar
    Wyo Native


    I will read the book you mentioned, and there may have been some truth to that book at one time in the history of Wyoming.

    I have to tell you though things have changed in Wyoming over the last 20 years. Almost every single elected official from my portion of Wyoming which is Uinta, South Lincoln, and Sweetwater counties do not have any association whatsoever with the ranching industry.

    I also would have hoped that you would have been able to name more than one ranch that has power in our state (BTW, I did know about George Brown and the Hoodoo Ranch when I lived in Cody). Shoot even I that disagree with your statement that the ranching industry runs our government can name more influential ranchers and operations than that.

    You should look up Wyoming Land and Livestock CO, JR Broadbent Ranches, Bear River Land and Livestock, and Deseret Land and Livestock, just to name a few.

  50. pointswest Avatar

    “Kick a redneck blah, blah , blah,
    It’s not the legal crap you would have to worry about, most I know would take your boot with your foot in it and put it in a place you’d probably not care for.”

    Whatever it is that they do, it will be done in an ever decreasing minority.

  51. Virginia Avatar

    Wyo Native: sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations.

  52. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    Wyo Native, far be it for me to defend politicians of any stripe. I’ve come to the conclusion that both Dems and Republicans are all whores, it’s just a matter of which clientele they service.

    I do think Bush II admin altered NEPA review and otherwise greased the skids to permit the extent of O&G development that occurred. But certainly, blame can be placed on all administrations, which value corporate control and campaign contributions much more than protecting the environment.

  53. pointswest Avatar

    My father ran a fairy large business in Idaho with 65 employees. He always used to complain about all the breaks farmers (including ranchers) got from the government. He used to repeat, mostly to himself, that farmers own the state of Idaho and that they run the government. Specific complaints were that farmer/ranchers could drive and tow their equipment on public roads without permits, licenses, fees, or taxes. Farmer/ranchers could build roads without permits or approvals, fees, or taxes. Farmer/ranchers could pump water from streams (this has changed quite a bit lately) without permits, approvals, fees, or taxes. He complained farmer/ranchers got all kinds of tax breaks, price supports, and subsidies from the government. They get free support from county extension offices and all sorts of free inspections, education, reports and other government handouts. Other business had to work around farmers and farming. Ranchers could you fence you out of your public lands (we were hunters). Farmers can put land in CRP (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/CRP/ )where they are paid by the government to nothing…let land lie fallow.
    Growing up, I believed Idaho was one giant conspiracy of farmers and ranchers.

    But then I went to college where I happen to take a couple of courses on economics. The professors there talked about how the government can slant a laissez faire free market economy into what some call social engineering. They specifically talked about farming. They said there are long standing policies in the US to slant the free market such that food production remains high while food prices remain low. It is not just at the state level and it is not just in Idaho. The Federal, state, and county governments, as a matter of economic policy, give big breaks to farmer/ranchers. It has worked. Americans pay a smaller share of their personal income on food than does any other nation. Even the poorest of the poor can easily afford milk for their baby. That is not so in other parts of the world. It is a policy that has been around for decades and decades.
    So keep this in mind while speaking of a ranching/government conspiracy. It is more likely the long standing American economic policy of keeping food prices low.

  54. catbestland Avatar


    Please expound a little on the Hunt Oil/ranching interest you mentioned earlier. Hunt Oil brothers recently purchased a large parcel of land next to my home and are supposed to be developing in, but they have a strange relationship with the public land ranchers in the area. I would like to understand more about where they are coming from. Any reading material you could suggest would be appreciated.

  55. pointswest Avatar

    Article by Paul Krugman about the economics of going green…


  56. Brian Ertz Avatar


    you are right about the social engineering aspect of agriculture. however, the value that comes with such is disputable, particularly when speaking about public lands ranching – which is what we are speaking of.

    the direct and indirect subsidies that are afforded public land ranchers in states like Idaho are highly detrimental to the public interest — especially the environment. the trade-off is not cheaper food at market – as the livestock market is affected by international & national markets. however, all of the ‘public-grass’ commodity afforded public lands ranchers constitutes 3% of grass that the livestock market consumes in the country. for that – direct & indirect tax-payer funded subsidies sink about half a billion dollars – and the American tax-payer is left with desertified public landscapes, polluted water, and denuded wildlife populations and habitat — a degraded environmental that impacts other sectors of local economies with much more promise for economic stimulation in non-consumptive uses that celebrate our public wildlife and wildlands.

    public land ranchers often try to hitch their trailer to the more general agricultural commodity story-line ~ “we put food on your table”, “prices will go sky high”, etc. These are disingenuous claims. As mentioned before, public land grass constitutes 3% of the market in the country — the ebbs and flows of the livestock market have more than covered that margin for various economic reasons (biofuels, natural disasters, opening of international markets, etc. etc. etc.) – and the fact still remains — American’s are not entitled to 3 servings of beef 3 times a day. In fact, if one were to associate the various health illnesses associated with our over-consumption of beef right along with the environmental degradation and economic perversion — there is a lot of public value in ending this public-land use right now. A 3% reduction in feed or meat consumption would not throw anyone into hunger nor significantly increase the price of beef in this country.

    nobody is speaking about any “conspiracy” — we understand that this story-line has hitched itself to the Big Ag narrative of the need for Ag subsidy. I disagree with that story-line and identify the breach of public trust in its continued persistence. But let us not confuse the notion that this has been going on for a very long time with the suggestion that it is “right” – or that criticism of such is conspiracy theory. Nor that it is good for the public interest.

    Working in a field that promotes watch-dog advocacy/activism very frequently exposes people to critics who are frequently less able to identify substantive arguments as to why the current system is alright ~ and more often than not to those who claim that it’s the current system, so it must alright, or not as bad as is suggested.

    The relatively low cost of beef as virtually nothing to do with public lands ranching ~ it’s just not that significant in the greater context of the livestock market that dictates price. but for the hundreds of millions of acres of lands that belong to you and me, and for the tax-dollars that you and i contribute to the economic activity — there is very little value ~ in fact ~ just the opposite, so little value and so destructive to the environmental values that belong to all of us that the whole enterprise is a scam – a breach of the public trust.

  57. pointswest Avatar


    I agree with everthing you said. Again, it is a case of my trying to clearly identify the problem; not to defend the status quo.

    While I believe the overall ecomic policy cheap food to the American consumer is good, it needs to be taylored or adjusted in certain cases and in certain areas. I have read many times that even if all public grazing rights were suspended, beef pricies would hardly be affected. Seeing the large scale dairies and feed lots east of Los Angeles, I believe it.

    We do not need to be sacraficing rare and endagered wildlife for a few months of summer grazing in the Yellowstone and other areas. I think we just as well enlarge the Park and make a couple of other areas, like maybe central Idaho, wolf and grizly priority. To hell with the cattle in certain areas.

    But I do not believe the problem is a conspiracy between wealthy and powerful rancher barrons weilding political influence. It is more a conflict of good policies that need some details worked out. I think conservationist need to understand that it is not always evil that they are up against. Sometimes it is only ignorance.

  58. pointswest Avatar

    Article by Paul Krugman about the economics of going green…

    Try this link…


  59. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    Getting pack to my earlier points about livestock production being a significant contributor to climate change, Brian brought this documentary to my attention: Meat the Truth.

    It definitively states that livestock production is a bigger source than transportation for greenhouse gases.

    I recommend that anyone interested in climate change and/or livestock production watch it; here’s one link: http://www.meatthetruth.nl/content/view/135

  60. pointswest Avatar


    I saw a little documentary on TV today on beef and methane gas. I will keep reading/watching but it still seems like the numbers of cattle have not had the worldwide increase that the combustion of fossil fuels have had over the past 20 years. American eat less beef than they did 20 years ago. Most of the word cannot afford to eat beef. I’m sure the number of beeves have increased over the past 20 year but by how much?

    I read a statistic a couple of months ago that we have burned more oil in the past ten years than in all time previous to this period. Americans are burning more and more and people around the world are starting drive cars, especially in China and other parts of developing Asia. American burn coal and started burning a lot of it about 20 years ago. China is starting to burn a lot of coal.

    I saw the experiment of a contained environment with methane gas warming faster than a normal environment but I think it is more complicated than that. Carbon Dioxide forms a layer in the upper atmosphere that passes a lot of electromagnetic energy as it comes from the sun but then traps it after its wavelength has been lengthened at the surface by absorption and remittance. What bandwidths of electromagnetic radiation does methane tend to reflect, absorbed, or pass? How high does methan tend to go in the atmosphere? What happens to it over time, does it react with other gases and precipitate out? What are the rates of recation? I would like to see some more hard science on this by established scientists.

  61. Debra K Avatar
    Debra K

    Pointswest, hard science was involved in the 06 UN report that said livestock is a bigger problem than transportation. And methane is something like 20X more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. It’s not something I’ve ginned up on my own.

    Watch Meat the Truth, and see if that illuminates this issue any further. I am at least impressed that the Netherlands is progressive enough to elect politicians willing to discuss this issue in public.

    Per capita consumption of beef may be down in the US, but sheer population growth has made total consumption of beef higher. Plus you have China and other developing nations in the world increasing their meat consumption considerably. It is clear that the Earth cannot sustain this trajectory of increasing meat consumption, whether from climate change, ecosystem health or human health.

  62. jdubya Avatar

    He could start to support the West by lighting a fire under this bill…



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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