More ranching propaganda from TNC

The above link is to an article published by The Nature Conservancy exalting the Malpai Borderlands group in Arizona and New Mexico. You can read the article for a little background on the Malpai group, but the basic story is relatively simple. A very large ranch called the Gray’s Ranch lying along the Mexican border in the Animas Valley of New Mexico was for sale. TNC purchased it for $18 million planning to resell it to the FWS to create a large national wildlife refuge. Local ranchers were opposed any more federal ownership in the area. In steps Drum Hadley, heir of Anheuser Bush beer fortune and an admirer of the “cowboy” lifestyle. Hadley buys the Gray Ranch. Using the ranch as a “grass bank” Hadley persuades other ranchers to adopt some less destructive grazing management and conservation easements in exchange for grazing access to the Gray’s Ranch. TNC uses this story as an example of how ranching can co-exist with protecting landscapes.

Whenever a group starts to talk about preserving a lifestyle you have to be wary. . In fact, what they are preserving a “deathstyle” since livestock production is responsible for the listing of more species in the West under the Endangered Species Act than any other factor

However, the story leaves much out. It glosses over the many, many unavoidable impacts of livestock grazing upon native ecosystems. Including the obvious fact that putting the majority of vegetation into the belly of an exotic animal reduces the carrying capacity for native herbivores from grasshoppers to pronghorn. Most of the riparian areas and springs have been commandeered for livestock use—again with direct consequences for native species.

Instead we are led to believe that ranching is a positive influence upon the landscape.

I have been to this area a number of times. Have many photos of trashed and overgrazed areas on public lands allotments held by Malpai ranchers as well as private lands that are heavily grazed.

The Gray Ranch itself is in pretty good shape because it is actually not grazed except in drought years or alternative grassland when there is a fire that eliminates forage on public allotment or private ranch. It’s used as a ‘grass bank”.  In other words, it is the absence of cattle that leads to better condition rangelands on the ranch.

However, had it been made into a wildlife refuge, I have no doubts that it would have been in as good or better shape.

Furthermore, another detail not disclosed is that the “conservation easement” allows the ranchers to sell their property for development if “economic conditions for cattle ranching decline” or some such language. I have a Capital Press article where Bill McDonald is bragging about how the conservation easement has this trigger mechanism that allows them the ability to dissolve the conservation easement. In other words it’s not iron clad. There is a loop hole that allows them to get out of the easement. So it’s not as good as one might imagine

The article uses the cows/condo argument suggesting that had the Gray’s Ranch been made into a national wildlife refuge, and the local ranchers had not entered into conservation easements, these private ranches would be subdivided.

This is a common scenario used all the time to justify on-going livestock abuse of the land. No matter how bad cattle grazing may be, condos or housing tracts are worse, so do not criticize the ranchers.

However, not all ranches are equally attractive for subdivision. The Malpai Borderlands is very, very remote country. It’s far, far, far, from any towns, amenities, etc. and its potential for subdivision is very low. Not to mention being close to the border with all the Mexicans crossing has many people nervous. It’s not the kind of place that is a top priority for housing, especially since there are places much closer to Tucson, etc. with much greater subdivision potential.

There is so much happy talk about how ranchers are benefiting wildlife in this article. For instance, the article has this quote: “Radke leads the way to a little pond used to store water for livestock. He explains that this stock tank played a vital role in preserving the Chiricahua leopard frog, even before the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act. During a drought, the ranchers trucked in water for two years to keep the frogs alive. “The only reason these frogs are here in the San Bernardino Valley is because of this rancher.”.

But what TNC does not disclose is that the entire reason the Chiricahua Leopold Frog is in trouble in the first place is that cattle have trashed the riparian areas, and springs that is its natural habitat, leaving it almost no intact habitat. Cattle stock ponds are hardily ideal habitat for the frog, and promoting ranching as a positive influence for the frog is another example of TNC’s propaganda.

And they almost ecstatic that the area did not become a wildlife refuge and public land. Much of the positive work done is financed by Drum Hadley the beer fortune cowboy and without his money much of the work would not be done. Not to dismiss it, but Hadley is trying to prove that ranching is positive.

Most of what his money is doing is repairing the impacts from cattle, and/or eliminating cattle from an area and then calling the results how cattle grazing can improve the land. I.e. fencing to keep cattle out of certain areas. And calling “water developments” a positive thing is another illusion. That means taking water from natural water sources and putting it in stock ponds or water troughs–meaning it is not available for natural flows, riparian vegetation, etc.

Once again we see a national organization ignoring the real costs of livestock production, and trying to make a purse from a sow’s ear. Unfortunately by promoting ranching in the arid, these organizations are misleading the public, and contributing to the continued demise of many species.


  1. Jim Wiegand - Wildlife Biologist Avatar
    Jim Wiegand – Wildlife Biologist

    I know all about the political group calling themselves The Nature Conservancy. For this fake conservation group it is all about money and speaking for those in power. A good case in point is their involvement or lack of involvement in the wind energy destruction of condor habitat in and around the massive Tejon ranch in CA.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    If you want to see how overgrazed this country is, go to the vicinity of 31 25′ 108 50’on Google Earth street view. I am guessing this is even on the land of this supposedly “better” Gray Ranch.

  3. Professor Sweat Avatar
    Professor Sweat

    TNC is just another “environmental” NGO that will not admit the truth about livestock industry’s massive environmental footprint. The Sierra Club will talk your ear off about fossil fuels, Greenpeace will get their members on the ground protesting, and Audubon will do their annual bird counts, but none of the major “environmental” NGO’s will take on the livestock industry. And now TNC is trying to protect a “lifestyle”??

    Livestock production is the biggest contributor to climate change, and a leading cause of habitat loss, deforestation, ocean and waterway pollution, and species extinction. One cannot brand themselves an environmental organization without taking a stand against this industry. I am entirely grateful “radical” organizations like Western Watershed Project and The Center for Biological Diversity exist. They shall be receiving my money from here on out.

    1. Maska Avatar

      All I can say is, “Amen.” We have been supporting CBD and WWP for years and will continue to do so.

  4. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    I would say human overpopulation is the biggest contributor to climate change, everything follows from that. Then oil, gas and petroleum products, automobiles, then livestock production, and it is what has given them all so much clout and political influence.

    A little of the blame has to go on our shoulders, those who eat meat all over the world and who consume their products. Cutting back on all of it would make a big difference, instead of trying to find ways to either keep consumption pace or increase our consumption in way that is a little bit better for the environment (but really isn’t). No NGO wants to acknowledge human overpopulation.

    I believe consumption of meat and dairy products is increasing in other parts of the world, as they become more prosperous. I wish people in emerging economies would learn from the mistakes of the West.

    1. Professor Sweat Avatar
      Professor Sweat

      “But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.”

      1. Ida Lupines Avatar
        Ida Lupines

        I believe it, but why is that? Livestock producers aren’t raising them for nothing. (I don’t eat the stuff for animal welfare reasons – both the inhumane raising of livestock and the godawful ‘processing’ of sentient animals, and the all the wildlife killed in order to have this, what today is an extremely unnatural industry), but how are ya gonna get people to stop demanding it? What’s the alternative?

        Because of our multitudes, no matter what we do, it’s all too much, and I believe, too late. So much of our activities cause greenhouse gases and climate change. None of it would have been such an issue in the past when our numbers were much smaller.

  5. Kevin Jamison Avatar
    Kevin Jamison

    I agree with everyone, mostly, and I think Ida has it closest. Human consumption is a problem that could be done smarter but it is just the unbelievably massive numbers of humans that is the largest component. If there were only a billion people or fewer, the inevitable collapse of the entire planetary ecosystem and us with it could be avoided.
    That may be what Mother Earth has in mind to try to save as much diversity of life as possible. Maybe even us too, but I doubt it.

  6. sandra Avatar

    It is a true and evil disgrace that it always comes down to greed with NO compassion for life…any or animal. It is unhealthy for humans as much as for animals, and they simply do not care.

  7. snaildarter Avatar

    Yep, as humans get more affluent they have fewer babies but eat more meat, especially cows. When I think about the 7+ billion people on earth I don’t see much hope for the future, but at least China is leaning on their new wealthy class to tone it down, so maybe they’ll eat less meat, poach less ivory, and decimate less of the worlds turtle population. Locally cows and other livestock on public land is just wrong.

  8. snaildarter Avatar

    The Nature Conservancy does a lot of good, but its usually a vehicle for a big donor to work through. Here in Georgia they saved a grove of old growth Cypress trees on the Altamaha River that range from 30-60 feet in diameter, also the near pristine Barrier Island Little St. Simons. But this was really Hank Paulson and his wife Wendy, they gave the money and called the shots.

  9. Kyle Gardner Avatar
    Kyle Gardner

    Propaganda is right and such a happy message as we’ve come to expect. Yet it’s not surprising to see it coming from TNC which is essentially a corporate entity these days, focused more on its bottom line and facilitating questionable dealings. And yes the emphasis is on preserving a lifestyle over habitat or species. What makes it weird is how much of the lifestyle is that of the hobby rancher. Is there a valid analysis that would confirm TNC’s happy message that cattle grazing is good for the environment, or even a good business practice for the common good? And the conservation easement is no guarantee of anything anymore. Loop holes and escape clauses based on a whim. We have to remain vigilant about TNC’s continuing efforts to tilt the language and the overall agenda of the “new conservation.”
    Thanks for the story George!

    1. Kyle Gardner Avatar
      Kyle Gardner

      Who said anything about “all or nothing” or “100%” or “ideological purity”? That sounds a lot like the neo-conservationists’ straw man argument. TNC’s reputation was once outstanding, but as the organization has become more aligned with corporate/academic interests, its agenda has changed accordingly. One need only review a few comments made by P. Karieva, TNC’s chief scientist, to get a sense of the new direction. I agree that compromise is how we get things done, but we’re essentially being asked to compromise on the remaining 5% of wilderness-quality lands in the lower 48. What kind of deal is that? TNC’s deep pockets do not translate into deep ethics.

  10. Jeff Avatar

    If it wasn’t for The Nature Conservancy Black Footed Ferrets wouldn’t be in Kansas. The Tall Grass Prairie Reserve wouldn’t exist and numerous other conservation minded ranchers wouldn’t even be in our discussions. They may not be ideologically pure as some of you expect, but this same ideological purity litmus test is the chief cause of the dysfunction of American politics especially in our Congress. Perhaps more of us need to accept and appreciate small gestures all make for steps in the right direction as opposed to the “all or nothing lot” that winds up with nothing? If you think everyone must commit 100% to your view and expectations you’re going to be very frustrated and equally ineffective.

    1. Elk375 Avatar

      Plus 1

    2. Gary Humbard Avatar
      Gary Humbard

      A big plus 2 Jeff.

    3. Louise Kane Avatar
      Louise Kane

      TNC is one small cog in the Black Footed Ferret Recovery

      “Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team
      The Black-footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team (BFF RIT) was created in 1996 to integrate the expertise and resources of various partners contributing to recovery of the black-footed ferret. BFF RIT is a multi-agency conservation effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and includes representatives from federal, state and tribal governments, zoos, private landowners and nonprofit organizations. The team was created pursuant to Section 4(f)(2) of the amended Endangered Species Act which authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to procure the services of appropriate public and private agencies, institutions, and other qualified persons to help implement endangered species recovery plans.
      Although the role of BFF RIT is strictly advisory in nature, many team members are hands-on participants in captive breeding, reintroduction and population monitoring efforts. Members assist in review of the recovery plan and provide recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the appropriate conduct, methods and priorities for black-footed ferret recovery efforts.
      BFF RIT Executive Committee
      The BFF RIT Executive Committee (EC) reviews the overall management and direction of the Recovery Program and provides board policy and planning guidance to the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the BFF RIT subcommittees. The subcommittees include the Conservation Subcommittee, Education and Outreach Subcommittee, and Species Survival Plan Subcommittee.
      Members of the EC include representatives from the following partners:
      Association of Zoos and Aquariums
      APHIS/Wildlife Services, USDA
      Arizona Game and Fish Department
      Audubon of Kansas
      Bureau of Indian Affairs, USDI
      Bureau of Land Management, USDI
      Canada, Parks Canada Grasslands National Park
      Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
      Colorado Parks and Wildlife
      Defenders of Wildlife
      US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDI
      US Forest Service, USDA
      Fort Carson, US Army
      US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, USDI (Fort Collins, CO and Madison, WI)
      Gros Venture and Assiniboine Tribe (Ft. Belknap, MT)
      Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks
      Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
      Mexico; University of Mexico, Institute of Ecology
      Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks
      Natural Resources and Conservation Service, USDA
      National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
      National Park Service, USDI
      National Wildlife Federation
      Navajo Nation (Arizona, New Mexico)
      Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
      New Mexico Game and Fish Department
      North Dakota Game and Fish Department
      Northern Cheyenne Tribe (Montana)
      Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
      Prairie Wildlife Research
      Rosebud Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
      South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department
      Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
      The Nature Conservancy (Kansas and South Dakota)
      Turner Endangered Species Fund
      Utah Division of Wildlife Resource
      World Wildlife Fund
      Wyoming Game and Fish Department”

      and then there are the private partners including the WWF and many others

      Black-footed Ferrets Friends

      The Black-footed Ferret Friends (BFFFriends) is an organization of private partners interested in the conservation of prairie wildlife. Members include representatives from the livestock industry, wildlife conservation community, and Native American Tribes.
      BFFFriends have a keen interest in supporting BFF recovery, in particular, efforts that provide landowner incentives.

  11. Mak Avatar

    Because it is difficult to research everything, I don’t have a quantitative handle on the massive human usurpation of winter habitat – yet, near every valley in the west is occupied by humans who fence and exclude wildlife.

    Elk are often willing to share cattle-saturated winter habitat (leading to native predator conflict with those who fence or pack guns to protect domestics. Beyond this parenthesis I do not intend to use the word “ranch”; that industry could not exist and did not exist until the wildlife – tens of millions of bison and pronghorn, elk and their predators, and the tiny prairie dogs, were shot, poisoned, removed from their habitat. That industry required fragmentation by trains, later roads, and extreme immigration by the USA following Louisiana purchase. Indigenous hunter-gatherers were purposely wiped out by the US military in this way following “Civil” war. Aside: the mule deer decline across the west is due to their lower willingness to intrude among cattle, combined with the gunning. What’s a Native wolf to do, when humans do the same now as Phil Sheridan et al. when they established a policy to subdue/eradicate Indians by killing their food off?).

    I have, however, seen those nearly every valleys fenced, water sequestered /transported, and heard the whining of those squatters, from Bundy family to E. OR.
    The constant chorus most offending is their pretensions concerning predators slavering to attack their domestics and children.

    With unbridled access to unnatural weapons, including guns, poisons, motor vehicles, and laws, wildlife have no place to survive and thrive. Public lands are increasingly insufficient, increasingly “owned” in the modern colloquial sense.

    I do somewhat admire Ted Turner for his focus, while contending that the industry in question is in NO way “traditional” or of any value whatsoever in protection – it remains merely the frontline of human exploitation of the earth.

    Looking at the isolation of African wild sanctuaries, we know that the enemy is increasing population, private “ownership” of land, and the hubris of those who scheme to “own” and conflation of personal utilitarian life with “rights.”

    In a wider interpretation of the wisdom of Amish position against riding atop a horse leading to pridefulness, we cannot see relief.

    Kevin Jamison above believes that with a mere thousand million we would be in balance. This number existed with limited tech beyond metals, yet Europe was by then ravaged and deforested, China so overwhelmed that aside from domestics, few large animals were left in passable range, and genes already selected for resistance to Vibrio cholerae and other Crowd diseases. Shows only the last 2000 years in bloody stain. The claim of 300 million at that time, still omits the previous strife and sowing of salt to destroy biotic life in two places around the mediterranean.
    The proper baseline is longer ago.

    Many lived in wild and natural worlds, lived in joy and fulfillment without the comforts that baseline movers demand as “rights.”

    A final note: Those pretending to adhere to Abbey’s quote at R bottom, include commercial users of wilderness to benefit themselves – by introducing unready humans – adult babies – to wildlands.

    Propaganda and voting: what you allow before sufficient knowledge, devastates beyond your lifetime. Do not compromise.

    1. Nancy Avatar


    2. Jeff Avatar

      You sound like Ted Cruz, and will be comparably ineffective in your pursuits.


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George Wuerthner