Rancher’s Life In The High Plains

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The scale of the cattle farming at Gallon Jug is modest compared with the tradition of grazing on public lands typical of ranching in the western USA. But they share some common ground such as the horse-based cowboy (note below that women are also in the saddle in some places such as Montana). Something not discussed in the ideological battles over public lands that got to a boiling point in the last couple years–the intangible patrimony of a way of life–is worth a couple minutes of your consideration and this article lays it out, part of a series the Guardian is running:

In Montana, land transfer threatens the American rancher’s way of life

Ranchers in the west have been struggling for decades. Now a new threat looms: public land might be taken away from them

If you want to appreciate the prairie landscape that inspired President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside 230m acres as national land, you have to pull off the interstate somewhere in the Dakotas, or in the eastern third of Montana, Wyoming, or Colorado. Follow a dirt road for a few miles, roll down your windows, and shut off your engine. Do this almost any time of day, preferably in springtime. Above and below ground, the prairies are humming with life: birds, rodents, snakes, pronghorn, badgers and coyotes, rioting amid a landscape of grass and sagebrush.

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A patchwork of public land comprises large blocs of this splendid and sparsely populated terrain, and while much public ground has the appearance of a nature preserve, it is mostly a working landscape. Public forage, timber, and water resources sustain thriving wildlife populations, along with millions of livestock and thousands of agricultural producers. For these people and their communities, public land isn’t a destination on a bucket list, a recreational playground, or a studio for Instagrammers – it’s a source of life to which they’re intimately connected. That’s why many ranchers are unnerved by the Republican party’s land transfer agenda, which aims to give away as much federal public land as possible to the states. While the movement gains traction among the Republican cadre, its attractiveness to rural westerners is less certain, and if it ever succeeds, it will mean a radical restructuring of the foundations of the economy and the culture of the west.

There is a hardcore element within the growing land transfer movement, represented most garishly by the Bundy clan from the Mormon stronghold of Bunkerville, Nevada, who owe more than $1m in unpaid federal grazing fees, and who blackened the image of anyone with a cowboy hat when they staged an armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon last year. The Bundys and their acolytes don’t believe the federal government has the right to own any land aside from military bases, but their militant, extremist position is a sideshow. The most powerful champions of land transfer wear business suits and woo industry and urban conservatives with a simple pitch: states understand their own resources better than the feds, and they’d do a better job of managing timber, livestock, petroleum, and mining leases for the benefit of the state economy and local communities…

Read the whole article here.

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