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Project War

"Winning the War for The West"

"The publication of Perri Knize's pro-ranching article in The Atlantic Monthly is an event of enormous significance in the campaign to protect western public lands from the environmental tyranny of the livestock industry. It is the first time I'm aware of that a mainstream, non-environmental, mass-media magazine has so strongly supported the livestock industry, and dismissed and attacked those who seek to protect public lands."

Other Comments:

Subject: Rebuttal space to The Atlantic Monthly pro grazing article

I have sent the following letter to the Atlantic Monthly in hopes of securing some space for photographs and a rebuttal article to the junk published in the July 1999 edition entitled "Winning the War for the West."

I would welcome any contributions as I develop this rebuttal.Mike Hudak has already done a point by point rebuttal -- I hope if we get a few pages it will be an enjoyable read with persuasive pictures and just enough facts to persuade the reader we are correct.

Following is my stab at trying to get some rebuttal space.I'll let you know what happens.

June 29, 1999

The Atlantic Monthly
77 North Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts02114

Re: A chance to rebut Perri Knize's "Winning the War for the West" (July 1999)

Dear Folks:

I write in hopes of securing a few pages in one of your upcoming editions for a written and photographic rebuttal of Perri Knize's "Winning the War for the West" (July 1999).

Western conservationists have long pursued better management of public land livestock grazing in the courts, land management agencies, Congress, state legislatures, schools, and media.Though we're inured to uneven and often unmeasurable progress, we were still startled you would publish an article like Ms. Knize's without insisting on better accuracy and fairness.Though Ms. Knize's piece is occasionally correct, it primarily serves up a lot of --pardon my vernacular--cowshit.And like the remnants I've too often stepped over in the midst of formerly clean streams, the residue from Ms. Knize's piece is out of place in a well-respected journal like the Atlantic Monthly.

We don't expect you can offer an immutable commitment to present our views on how western livestock grazing has crippled the land; we realize anything we submit must be vetted for style, length, interest, and accuracy. But we do ask for a broader forum than is available in your Letters section, which offers neither enough space nor exposure to set the record straight.

Given a chance, we would submit an article with information and photographslike those in the attached excerpt from the August/September 1997 edition of National Wildlife.Can we have such an opportunity?

Thanks, I hope, for being fair.

Respectfully yours,

Thomas D. Lustig, Senior Staff Attorney

Yesterday I received the following reply from C. Michael Curtis, the Senior Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, to my June 29th inquiry asking for rebuttal space to Perri Knize's "Winning the War for the West."  Mr. Curtis wrote:

"We'd consider any piece you sent us, on its merits, but we're unlikely, frankly, to want to publish a piece written in rebuttal to something that had appeared in the magazine.  We might make more space than ususal available to a letter written for that purpose.  A lot would depend, however, on how much of what you said was arguable, and how much a matter of verifiable fact."

I propose to send Mr. Curtis the following response (still in draft form):
Dear Mr. Curtis:

Thanks for your July 7th note reckoning our small chances of getting rebuttal space to take on Perri Knize's 'Winning the War for the West' (July 1999).  Your candor saves me considerable writing with no likely audience.

However, given your suggestion that The Atlantic Monthly may make space available for letters containing 'verifiable fact,' several of us are working on submissions offering, we believe, a more accurate picture of what livestock grazing has done to our western public rangelands.  No doubt you've already received several such missives.

I'll send you something short in the next few weeks worthy (hopefully) of publication, and urge my colleagues to do the same.


                        Thomas D. Lustig, Senior Staff Attorney
I hope each of you will write some rebuttal to the Atlantic Monthly, each taking your own approach -- give them a variety of items from which to choose.  Personally, I hope to send some photographs with short captions, under the theory a picture is worth 1,000 words.

I'll keep you posted (although our E-mail will be hibernating for the next two days getting a brain transplant)

Tom Lustig
National Wildlife Federation
Suite 100   2260 Baseline Rd.
Boulder, Colorado   80302
303/786-8001  ext. 18

August 10, 1999

The Atlantic Monthly
77 North Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02114

Dear Editors:

You folks donned your Stetsons, strapped on your spurs, and lassoed a whopping cowboy yarn when you published Perri Knize's tall tale claiming "[m]odern livestock grazing has comparatively little environmental impact."(1) (Winning the War for the West, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1999). To the contrary. While there's no precise measure, each day cows continue to clobber western wildlife, recreation, streams, and public lands.

A good way to assess the damage livestock inflict on western public lands is to compare photographs of what the land's like with, and without cows. It's a little hard to find spots that haven't already been hammered by livestock--in order to assess the land's potential--but I offer the following photos as prevalent portraits of cattle abuse.

Photo 1 shows Arizona's San Pedro River in the mid-1980s, just before this section of the river was protected from livestock grazing. Cows had eaten the young plants to the ground, leaving only a few older trees. Without trees and vegetation, bare unstable banks had widened under the force of hooves and water currents.(2)

Photo 2 was taken by an avian specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in June 1997, from as close to the same spot as possible and in the same direction as photo 1.(3) In the 10 years during which this section of river was rested from cattle grazing, vegetation thrived. This helped stabilize, narrow, and shade the river.(4) With the increased vegetation, songbird densities soared.(5)

Ms. Knize also rounded up another cowboy fable by telling us that "[r]anchers want to leave the range in better condition than they found it ..."(6) While some ranchers want this, few have accomplished it. It often takes lawsuits (brought by conservation groups) to bring some ranchers, and the federal agencies who should be overseeing them, into compliance with federal law.

A recent example of the need to confront ranchers to protect public lands from livestock grazing is shown in photo 3, a picture of Road Canyon on the Comb Wash grazing allotment in southeast Utah's canyon country. The eroded and denuded stream banks are the legacy of years of cattle grazing during which cows removed the streamside vegetation and left the banks susceptible to gullywashers and spring runoff. Road Canyon is one of five canyons on the Comb Wash allotment, all of which are similarly degraded by grazing.

To save Road Canyon and the other Comb Wash canyons from further cattle damage, environmentalists including the National Wildlife Federation brought an administrative lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM, the ranchers, and their allies in the Farm Bureau Federation denied that the sorry condition of the canyons was because of cows. Instead, they claimed the villains were poison soil, big storms, recalcitrant geology, and continental drift.(7)

To prove Road Canyon (photo 3) and the other canyons were the victims of livestock grazing, the conservation groups went 20 miles to the next watershed, an area designated as the Grand Gulch Primitive Area, where cattle had been removed about twenty-five years earlier.

The conservationists systematically compared the condition of Grand Gulch with that of Road Canyon, taking photographs at 100-yard intervals along both streambeds. Photo 4, of Grand Gulch, taken in the same week in 1992 as photo 3 of Road Canyon,(8) is one of the hundreds of photographs that they introduced in evidence at the administrative hearing. It shows richly vegetated streambanks with a dense covering of willows, rushes, sedges, and other riparian plants. This vegetation not only provides excellent wildlife habitat, it also holds the soil in place. When floods run through Grand Gulch, the vegetation traps sediment, so the streambanks are actually built up rather than eroded away.

Historical evidence introduced at the same hearing established that Grand Gulch, like the Comb Wash canyons, had been in a highly degraded condition, but it improved remarkably after cattle were removed in the early 1970s. The conservationists also introduced testimony by experts who compared the soils, hydrology, geology, geomorphology, and ecology of Grand Gulch and the Comb Wash canyons. These experts concluded there was every reason to believe that, were it not for cattle grazing, Road Canyon and the other Comb Wash canyons would support the same rich riparian ecosystem as Grand Gulch.

When presented with this evidence, the federal administrative judge wrote "[t]here simply is no significant factor other than grazing that can explain the difference in vegetation between Grand Gulch and Comb Wash."(9) The judge ordered the cows removed from the Comb Wash canyons until the government did an assessment of their impacts and analyzed whether grazing in the canyons makes economic and environmental sense.(10) (The BLM subsequently concluded it doesn't.)

The stories of Arizona's San Pedro River and Utah's Grand Gulch -- dramatic improvement in ecological condition following removal of cattle -- are not unusual. In a 1984 review of fifteen published studies, Forest Service biologists found that exclusion of livestock had been "highly beneficial" to riparian habitat in thirteen cases, "slightly beneficial" in one case, and in only one instance did not lead to significant improvement.(11) Nonetheless, because of the land management agencies' continued devotion to the livestock industry, cows graze the vast majority of streams on western public lands.

These are just a few corrections to Ms. Knize's tale. Overall her article painted as inaccurate a picture of the western grazing problem as it did of the majority of those who are trying to solve it. Overgrazing has taken a tremendous toll on the health and productivity of western public lands, at the expense of those who've hiked, hunted, fished, and loved these lands. Seeking an end to abusive grazing simply requires taking common sense steps to manage a public resource for the good of all the American people, and the wildlife and wild places they treasure. Most acknowledge we have a long way to go. For example, a joint BLM and U.S. Forest Service Report concluded in 1994 that "riparian areas have continued to decline [since 1934] (p.25), and estimates that 20% of the riparian areas managed by BLM are "non-functioning" and 46% are"functioning at risk.." Altogether, less than 20% of potential riparian habitat in the western United States still exists."(12)

While it is unfortunate that a few environmental fanatics have tried to make their point through illegal tactics, the vast majority of those seeking grazing reform -- such as the National Wildlife Federation -- are mainstream organizations who work within the system and whose agenda for repairing the land is based on facts, sound science, and sensible economics, most of which are absent from Knize's story.

Ms. Knize is not wrong to point out ranchers who are sound stewards, but she's lost in the wilderness to suggest there are enough conscientious ranchers to repair decades of abuse.

Respectfully submitted,

Thomas D. Lustig, Senior Staff Attorney
National Wildlife Federation, Boulder, Colorado


1. The Atlantic Monthly, July 1999, p.58, col.2, ¶2.

2. This photograph was provided by Dave Krueper, the Avian Senior Technical Specialist for the United States Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") at the San Pedro National Conservation Area (1763 Paseo San Luis, Sierra Vista, Arizona 85635; {520/458-3559}). The photo was opportunistically taken by a member of the public and donated to the BLM. Mr. Krueper wrote me that "I believe [photo 1] was taken in 1984, two years before the BLM acquired the lands which were to become the San Pedro [National Conservation Area]." The photo was taken from the northwest side of the small bridge at Hereford over the San Pedro River.

After this photograph was taken, a 15 year livestock grazing moratorium officially began on January 1, 1988.

Tom Lustig has a copy of this slide. You can reach Lustig at 303/786-8001 ext. 18.

3. Mr. Krueper wrote me that "I have been accused of fabricating the shots for an 'agenda' (my record is abundantly clear in regard to livestock grazing within sensitive riparian habitats), but I can assure you that these photos are from the same spot and in the same direction. If you project the 'after' photo onto a screen, a small reddish object can be seen through the trees in the right center of the image. That red spot is the corner of the agricultural pump which can be clearly seen in the 'before' image."

Tom Lustig has a copy of this slide. You can reach Lustig at 303/786-8001 ext. 18.

4. Mr. Krueper from the BLM wrote, "Most of the trees that can be seen in the 'after' photo are Gooding's willow, with some seep willow (Baccharis sp.) and also some Fremont cottonwood. We also had Arizona walnut and Arizona ash become established."

5. BLM's avian specialist, Dave Krueper, provided me with a table of how neotropical migratory bird populations changed along the San Pedro River after livestock grazing was halted. I have attached his table as Exhibit A. Between 1986, when cattle were present, and 1991 (cows were removed on 1/1/88), the density of Yellow-billed Cuckoos rose 216%, Yellow Warblers increased their density by 607%, and Summer Tanagers by 245%.

6. The Atlantic Monthly, July 1999, p.61, col.2, ¶1.

7. I have attached the entire decision (as Exhibit B) in the Comb Wash case (National Wildlife Federation v. BLM) issued by the Department of Interior's Chief Administrative Law Judge on December 20, 1993 (a case which Ms. Knize mentions on page 60, col.2 of her article). Judge Rampton alludes to some of the ranchers' attempts to blame the degraded condition of the Comb Wash canyons on agents other than cows can be found on pp. 13-14 of his opinion.

8. Photos 3 and 4 were taken by Professor Joseph Feller at Arizona State University's law school (College of Law; Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287-7906 {480/965-3964}) between March 20-22, 1992. Professor Feller has the original slides from which the attached photographs were made and will be happy to provide them.

9. Judge Rampton's conclusion about the similarly of the streams in Road Canyon and Grand Gulch-except for the absence of cattle in the latter-is found on page 14, ¶6, Exhibit B.

In an attempt to avoid the administrative law judge's order, the ranchers and Farm Bureau Federations appealed his decision to an administrative appellate board in the Department of Interior, known as the Interior Board of Land Appeals. The conservationists were upheld on appeal. National Wildlife Federation v. BLM, 140 IBLA 85 (August 21, 1997).

10. Exhibit B (National Wildlife Federation v. BLM) p. 36 ## (2) & (3).

11. William S. Platts and Fred J. Wagstaff, Fencing to Control Livestock Grazing on Riparian Habitats Along Streams: Is It a Viable Alternative?, North American Journal of Fisheries Management 4:266-272 (1984).

12. U.S. Department of the Interior. 1994. Rangeland reform '94 draft environmental impact statement. Bureau of Land Management. Washington, D.C.

A reference to this report and many other studies concerning the impact of livestock on riparian ecosystems can be found in A.J. Belsky, A. Matzke, and S. Uselman, Survey of livestock influences on stream and riparian ecosystems in the western United States, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation,54 (1): 419-431 (1999). I have attached a copy of this article as Exhibit C.

Reprinted from Headwaters News "Readers talk back"

Re: In-depth section on public lands grazing
Subject: cows on public lands
Date: Wed, 30 Jun 1999 07:12:34 -0700
From: GC
To <>

It seems to me the trouble with a lot of ranchers is they think they own everything---even the public land they graze
their cows on. I feel they do NOT own the public land and when they turn their cows loose and unattended on public
land, then they should have to accept any losses themselves. But no, they whine and whimp and cry to "control"
(shoot) the wolf or the bear or the mountain lion. What they really need controlled is their responsibility to watch
their cattle or sheep or whatever it is they send out there and turned loose on their own for only God knows how

I would like to see all public lands taken away from ranchers. They can just keep their cows down home on the farm
where they belong. I feel I have a part of public lands too, and I would like to see wildlife being wildlife there, free
and not behind fences. I would REALLY like to see the beautiful land and clear water uncluttered with cow dung!!!


Dear Editors:

I was aghast at reading "Winning the War for the West" by Perri Knize in the July issue. The issue of cattle grazing across millions of acres of public land is complex, but one that is no stranger to scientific and economic scrutiny, a fact of which the author seems wholly unaware.

Contrary to the article's unsupported claims, cattle grazing has an extremely negative impact on any landscape, especially across the arid US west. Today, as it has through the last 150+ years, grazing destroys natural habitat, both riparian and upland. Cattle act as four -legged vacuum cleaners that cross the landscape in search of food and water, eating most everything available, in many cases down to the bare ground. This consumption occurs to the detriment of native plants and wildlife that simply cannot compete, as nesting areas are trampled, native plants destroyed, and water befouled. Grazing causes not only the destruction of plants and native grasses, but unleashes erosion that hinders the health of rivers, degrading habitat essential to fish and other aquatic species.

In spite of the vast amount of studies on the negative impact of cattle grazing on public land (BLM and Forest Service), the author states, "Modern livestock grazing has comparatively little environmental impact." The statement represents the height of absurdity and creativity. "Comparatively," compared to what, ground zero of a meteorite impact? I would be hard pressed to throw a dart at a pile of public lands ranching research, from university studies to resource agency equivalents, and not hit information on the well known and ongoing negative impacts of ranching on public lands, and the subsidies that allow this frequently destructive practice to continue unfettered.

The article's take on economics is equally absurd. In addition to the subsidized rent on public land ($1.35 per AUM), ranchers also get subsidized fencing, and subsidized eradication of so called "nuisance" species such as coyote, and even wolves - all on land that belongs to you and me. Further, in the author's own state of Montana, where a vast expanse of public land is used for grazing, a recent economic study at the University of Montana states that, "..federal grazing is responsible for about one quarter of one percent of all income in Montana." To characterize grazing on public land in the west as a sole source of income for family ranchers is off base, and on the whole, grazing on public lands in the west subjects a fragile landscape to a tremendous beating for a very small return. It is also key to note that the vast majority of acres grazed on public lands are still held by very large corporate operations that cover millions of acres.

Cheapening the debate with terms like, "ecoterrorists" reveals the author's thin grasp of the facts and of the grazing issue in the west. Also, to use the word "persecution" for those who use legal means to protect public land is irresponsible. As a growing number of people seek to protect the biotic integrity and recreational value of the landscape, land management agencies have been sued as the public has sought enforcement of laws that have been on the books for years. Apparently in the author's mind, enforcing something as trivial as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Clean Water Act, or the Endangered Species Act relegates the enforcer to the category of "coconspirator" in the great "persecution" of ranchers.

While there are standouts that should be encouraged for their efforts, such as those limited cases where ranchers are seeking to tread more lightly on public land, they represent only a small strand in the web of public lands grazing, and certainly not the status quo. Regrettably, many of the same impacts that we saw in 1899 are still occurring in 1999, and the land looses its character, and species begin to disappear.

It is not about a the so-called loss of the cowboy culture, but instead it is about the opportunity for people to enjoy a landscape that has not been ravaged from the Rockies to the Cascades, leaving only remnants of the species that once lived there. It is also about the integrity of living systems, and allowing them to continue, or at least giving them a fighting chance. Grazing on our land, public land, is not a right, but instead a privilege - a fact that is lost far too often in this debate.


Arlington, VA

Letter to the Editor
The Atlantic Monthly

In the article "Winning the War for the West", author Perri Knize did a great disservice to the hundreds of range, grassland, wildlife, and fisheries scientists who have spent their careers studying and publishing on the environmental effects of livestock grazing in the West. Ms. Knize is guilty of the same "half-truths, skewed facts, and outright fallacies" she accuses others of. Let's look at the scientific evidence:

Although the federal range may be, as she says, "in better condition than it has been in more than a century", there was no direction for it to go but up. Decades of uncontrolled grazing prior to the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 converted hundreds of millions of acres in the West into denuded, eroding moonscapes. The fact that these rangelands have improved somewhat since the 1930s results not from better grazing practices, but from significant reductions in cattle and sheep grazing. It also proves that any form of livestock management is better than none at all. It doesn't show that grazing is beneficial to grasslands and shrublands, or that it does not harm the environment.

The author also wrote that cattle grazing improves wildlife habitat, since elk, deer, and antelope prefer the more succulent shoots that regrow after plants are grazed by cattle. She ignores data showing that (1) elk actively avoid areas grazed by cattle, (2) these plants are not adapted to heavy grazing and are damaged by multiple defoliations, and (3) that the regrowth may be only 10% of the amount of the forage originally available to wildlife. She also fails to mention that elk, deer, and other wildlife managed just fine before cattle were introduced.

It is true that pronghorn have been declining at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge in Oregon, where cattle were removed in the early 1990s, but the drop is similar to pronghorn trends throughout the West, from New Mexico to Canada. Pronghorn experts speculate that the recent decline is due to adverse climatic conditions and to sagebrush communities degraded by 100 years of livestock grazing.

The vast amount of published information that Ms. Knize ignores speaks to her own biases. She doesn't mention studies showing that livestock grazing is the second major cause of the endangerment of plant species in the United States and the fifth major cause of the endangerment of all species. She doesn't discuss studies showing that 80% of western streams have been damaged by livestock grazing and that they are currently in their worst condition in history. In my recent review (Survey of livestock influences on stream and riparian ecosystems in the western United States, 1999, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation), I found that nearly every study of livestock grazing concluded that livestock degraded streams and their adjacent riparian zones, and reduced fish and wildlife populations dependent on these ecosystems. Streams start to improve as grazing is reduced, but true improvement comes only after grazing is eliminated.

Finally, the author did not report that introduced weeds, which are possibly the greatest threat to our western grasslands and shrublands today, are invading western grass- and shrublands at the unprecedented rate of 5,000 acres per day. This is today, not 100 years ago. It is interesting that Ms. Knize didn't inform her readers that the one range scientist she did quote, Prof. D.J. Bedunah of the University of Montana, places the blame for weed invasions on livestock grazing, which, in his words, "is a form of disturbance that can significantly increase bare soil and reduce the ability of grazed plants to compete with ungrazed plants [i.e. weeds]. Livestock can also transport weed seed in hair or wool, and some seeds can remain viable in animals' digestive tracts and may sprout after excretion (The complex ecology of weeds, grazing and wildlife, 1992, Western Wildlands)."

Ms. Knize's conclusion that "modern livestock grazing has comparatively little environmental impact" is strongly and convincingly refuted by even the most cursory review of the scientific literature. It is unfortunate that The Atlantic Monthly doesn't utilize the same form of peer review that helps scientific journals separate fact from fancy.

A. Joy Belsky, Ph.D.
Grasslands Ecologist
Portland, OR 97201

Joy Belsky, Ph.D.
Staff Ecologist
Oregon Natural Desert Association
732 SW 3rd Avenue, Suite 407
Portland, OR 97204

Ph: 503/228-9720
Fax: 503/228-9720 (please call first)

Joy Belsky's Response to Perri Knize's Rebuttal:

When our letters came out, I wrote The Atlantic Monthly, explaining how Knize's reply was as scientifically unfounded as her earlier paper. I even sent copies of the original papers and reviews to the editor. They chose to ignore this letter. A few excerpts are below:

In the November edition of The Atlantic Monthly, you published my Letter to the Editor concerning errors in Ms. Knize’s July article. Without checking her "facts", you allowed her to reply to my statements using inaccurate information (information that is nearly identical to materials published by the livestock industry). Since she repeatedly impugned my reputation and scientific integrity, I’m enclosing copies of the actual papers I used. These papers are well known and widely cited in the scientific literature, and were written by well respected range and wildlife scientists. I find it highly improbable that she wasn’t aware of them. For example,

1. Ms. Knize states "Nowhere have I been able to find a study that says riparian areas are in the worst condition in history."

In my first enclosure, Cheney, Elmore, and Platts wrote in "Livestock Grazing on Western Riparian Areas", that "extensive field observations in the late 1980s suggest riparian areas throughout much of the West were in the worst condition in history." This is one of the most frequently cited papers in the range science literature and was written for the Environmental Protection Agency by three of the foremost fisheries and riparian specialists in the country. Author Wayne Elmore is a top riparian specialist for the Bureau of Land Management and William Platts is a nationally respected fisheries biologist with the U.S. Forest Service (now retired).

2. Ms. Knize states that my scientific credibility is called into doubt with my "absurd assertion that … regrowth is dramatically less than the forage that was ‘originally’ there".

The data I referred to on reduced forage production are widely used by range scientists throughout the West and are even repeated in the above article by Cheney, Elmore, and Platts. They state "In 1980, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that the vegetation on more than half of all western rangelands was deteriorated to less than 40% of potential production and to less than 60% of potential on more than 85% of the rangeland." I have never seen these basic findings disputed by any professional range scientist (although ranchers certainly dispute them).

3. Ms. Knize also impugns my credibility by referring to my "absurd assertion that elk avoid cattle".

I have enclosed a review paper by wildlife biologists Dr. Michael Wisdom and former US Forest Service Chief Dr. Jack Ward Thomas. This paper was in a book published by the Society of Range Management, which I doubt Ms. Knize would accuse of bias against cattle. This paper states that "elk avoid or decrease their use of areas grazed concurrently by cattle", citing eight different scientific studies. After discussing various research results, they concluded that "the trend seems evident: with the onset of cattle grazing … elk use shifts to areas unoccupied by cattle." Once again I’m incredulous that she doesn’t know this, which is well discussed in the scientific literature as well as in introductory wildlife biology texts.

4. I will not even attempt to provide papers refuting Ms. Knize’s inaccurate assertions about the tolerance of grasses to grazing or bison in the West. Her confusion of the Great Plains Bioregion, which was heavily grazed by bison, with the Great Basin Bioregion, which had few native ungulates, makes it difficult for me to respond. There are dozens of scientific papers going back fifty years that discuss the differences between these two regions. Her near total ignorance of the ecology and evolutionary history of western "rangelands" leaves me breathless.

Joy Belsky

More On the issue of elk and cattle:

Cattle graze the aboveground shoots and leaves of grasses, some of which are old. The plant, because it is programmed to maintain a fixed root/shoot ratio depending on growth stage, regrows, using stored resources in the root crown and roots. The resulting growth is green, succulent, and usually of higher quality than the older leaves because young leaves normally have a higher nitrogen content than older leaves, which have more cell wall materials). Elk like this young, succulent stuff a lot. The problems are:

1. The total biomass of aboveground plant material available to the elk after the cattle have grazed an area is lower than the original amount. Sometimes only 1/10th as much. So, the elk have much less forage, even tho it might taste good. Since elk as a species survived thousands of years on the mixture of older and younger shoots available to them before cattle arrived in the West, it's probably safe to assume that elk don't need the help of cattle. We all prefer fresh vegetables to week-old stuff, but we survive just as well on the old, especially if it is in much greater supply. 2. The reason the grasses don't produce as much shoots after being grazed is that cattle graze to the plant base, damaging buds for new shoots. In addition, every time the grass regrows, it uses up it's stored nitrogen and carbohydrates, having less for the next regrowth. Finally, in the Intermountain West, rainfall is predominantly in the winter and early spring. By the time the cattle have come and gone, the soil is depleted of moisture and there isn't enough water for the plant to grow to it's original size.

2. Elk avoid cattle, as well discussed by wildlife biologists Dr. Michael Wisdom and former US Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas in a book entitled "Rangeland Wildlife", edited by Paul R. Krausman and published by the Society of Range Management. Although elk are occasionally seen together with cattle, the above authors conclude that "elk use shifts to areas unoccupied by cattle", entering pastures only after the cattle have left. Therefore the elk are presented with less food for a shorter period of time.

3. Grasses that have been grazed have less stored carbohydrates to help them get through the winter and resprout the next year; they also have less aboveground standing litter (dried leaves that ranchers call "wolfy thatch") that insulate the grass's growing points at its base from freezing winter winds and dessicating summer winds; and they don't have the dead leaf mulch around their base to moderate soil freezing. The standing dead litter also acts as a solar collector to help melt the snow around plant in the spring. There is a reason bunchgrasses evolved to hold on to their dead leaves rather than be deciduous. Cattle ensure that these plants go into winter scalped. Elk would never graze an area so hard since they tend to graze and move on.

4. Cattle graze grasses more than once per season since they also much prefer the new succulent shoots. Once you also allow for elk to graze the new sprouts after the cattle leave, you have grasses that are severely stressed. Research has shown that bluebunch wheatgrass that is grazed only once requires 6 years of rest to regain it's original productivity. Even winter grazing on dead leaves damages bluebunch wheatgrass.

So, from the elk's point of view, it has less food, less important nutrients, and is kept out of key habitat during much of the year, being forced to occupy less productive land.

From the plants' point of view, they are grazed multiple times, go into the winter with less root mass and stored nutrients, are subjected to freezing or hot dessicating winds, and have lower productivity the next year. In addition, this multiple grazing wipes out their seed production.

Add to this the probability that cattle are increasing invasions by unpalatable weeds, there is little good to be said of cattle grazing in elk habitat, although if there is enough food for all (which seldom happens) then there is enough food for all.

Joy Belsky

Sign-on letter in support of Dr. Joy Belsky:

January 19, 2000

The Atlantic Monthly
77 North Washington St.
Boston MA 02114

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We, the undersigned, are writing you to express our displeasure at Perri Knize's response to letters criticizing her article, "Winning the War for the West" (Atlantic Monthly, July 1999), that defends the sustainability of public lands livestock grazing and extols the "benefits" of grazing to wild flora and fauna. Given that her article contained so many misstatements and untruths, we are amazed that Ms. Knize was invited to respond, and we cannot let Ms. Knize's denigration of our colleague, Dr. Joy Belsky of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, pass without comment.

Letters from Susan Zakin, Mollie Matteson, and Dr. Belsky presented a scientific critique of Knize's pro-grazing exposé. Ms. Zakin cited research by Dr. Belsky, among others, on the impacts of livestock grazing on native ecosystems. In her response, Ms. Knize discounted the science by grossly overstating grazing "success stories," and dismissed Dr. Belsky's work by impugning her character, calling her assertions "absurd." It is one thing for Knize to continue to blindly defend livestock grazing in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary--including recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey--but her ad hominem attacks against Dr. Belsky and her work are inexcusable. Such defamatory language chills public debate and should be discouraged. The Atlantic failed to do so here.

Dr. Belsky was a Senior Research Associate and Visiting Fellow at Cornell University. She is author of nearly fifty peer-reviewed scientific articles. Among her recent articles are: "Effects of Livestock Grazing on Stand Dynamics and Soils in Upland Forests of the Interior West" (Conservation Biology 1997); "Survey of Livestock Influences on Stream and Riparian Ecosystems in the Western United States" (J. of Soil and Water Conservation 1999); and "Livestock Grazing and Non-indigenous Plant Invasions into Arid and Semi-arid Communities of the American West." Dr. Belsky's research is impressive in both scope and depth, and her reputation unsullied in the scientific community.

As Dr. Belsky noted in her November 12, 1999, letter to the Atlantic, Ms. Knize's personal attacks against a respected scientist sets a dangerous precedent. Scientists considering research on controversial issues or who might lend their voices to public debate on environmental policy may not, for fear of subjecting themselves to such inaccurate and personal charges. We urge the Atlantic to consider the broader effects of writings such as Ms. Knize's before publishing them in the future.

Mark Salvo, J.D.
American Lands
Portland, Oregon

Bill Marlett
Oregon Natural Desert Association
Bend, Oregon

Susan Ash
Wild Utah Forest Campaign
Salt Lake City, Utah

Ric Bailey
Hells Canyon Preservation Council
La Grande, Oregon

Nina Bell
Northwest Environmental Advocates
Portland, Oregon

Eric Bergman
Westminster, Colorado

David Bertelsen
Arizona Native Plant Society
Tucson, Arizona

Denise Boggs
Utah Environmental Congress
Salt Lake City, Utah

Judi Brawer
American Wildlands
Bozeman, Montana

Gene Bray, Board Member
Idaho Watersheds Project
Meridian, Idaho

John Carter, Ph.D.
Willow Creek Ecology
Mendon, Utah

Steve Chambers
Ventana Wilderness Alliance
Santa Cruz, California

Lee Christie, Board President
Oregon Natural Desert Association
Hood River, Oregon

John Cloud, Member
Sierra Club Nat'l Grazing Policy Task Force
Santa Barbara, California

Timothy Coleman
Kettle Range Conservation Group
Republic, Washington

David Crawford
Rocky Mountain Animal Defense
Boulder, Colorado

Michael Dean
Portland, Oregon

Edward Dobson, J.D.
Bozeman, Montana

Elsie Dupree
Carson City, Nevada

Gail Dupree
Nevada Wildlife Federation
Carson City, Nevada

Rob Edward
Boulder, Colorado

Alice Elshoff, Board Member
Oregon Natural Desert Association
Frenchglen, Oregon

Katie Fite, Ph.D.
Boise, Idaho

Mark Fletcher, Ph.D.
Forests Forever
San Francisco, California

Ivy Foster
Hillside Foundation
Hillside, Colorado

Jonathan Gelbard
Graduate Group in Ecology
University of California at Davis
Davis, California

Bill Hallstrom
Green-Rock Audubon Society
Beloit, Wisconsin

Dean Keddy-Hector
Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
Austin, Texas

Steven Herman, Ph.D.
Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

Sam Hitt
Forest Guardians
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Michael Hudak, Ph.D.
The Public Lands without Livestock Project of SEE
Binghamton, New York

Allison Jones, M.S.
Wild Utah Project
Salt Lake City, Utah

Leslie Glustrom
Boulder, Colorado

Tim Ingalsbee, Ph.D.
Western Fire Ecology Center
Eugene, Oregon

Ginger Kathrens
Wild Horse and Burro Freedom Alliance
Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition

Andy Kerr
The Larch Company
Ashland, Oregon

Linn Kincanon
Idaho Conservation League
Boise, Idaho

Bill Lazar
The Lazar Foundation
Portland, Oregon

Tim Lillebo
Bend, Oregon

Laird Lucas, J.D.
Land and Water Fund of the Rockies
Boise, Idaho

Jarid Manos
Great Plains Restoration Council
Denver, Colorado

Pam Marcum
Committee for Idaho's High Desert
Boise, Idaho

Martin Marzinelli
Eagle, Idaho

David Mattek
Habitat for Wildlife
Pennington, New Jersey

Brett Matzke
California Trout
Camp Nelson, California

John McCarthy
Idaho Conservation League
Boise, Idaho

Regna Merritt
Oregon Natural Resources Council
Portland, Oregon

Tom Myers, Ph.D.
Great Basin Mine Watch
Reno, Nevada

Jim Myron
Oregon Trout
Portland, Oregon

Sally Nunn
Oregonians for Utah Wilderness
Eugene, Oregon

Mary O'Brien, Ph.D.
Eugene, Oregon

Lance Olsen
Glendive, Arizona

Mike Peterson
The Lands Council
Spokane, Washington

Roger S. Peterson
New Mexico Natural History Institute
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Jim Powers
Prescott National Forest Friends
Prescott, Arizona

Thomas Pringle, Ph.D.
Sperling Foundation
Eugene, Oregon

Robin Redd
The WindDancer Foundation
Atlantic, Georgia

Phil Riddle
Wyoming Outdoor Council
Lander, Wyoming

Dave Robinson
Concerned Friends of Ferry County
Curlew, Washington

Kirk Robinson, Ph.D.
Predator Education Fund
Salt Lake City, Utah

Nicole Rosmarino
Southern Plains Land Trust
Pritchett, Colorado

Chandra Rosenthal, J.D.
Defenders of Wildlife
Washington, D.C.

Greg Schneider
Danville, California

Joe Scott
Northwest Ecosystem Alliance
Bellingham, Washington

Todd Shuman
Sierra Club Activist
Glendale, California

Peter Smith, J.D.
Carson City, Nevada

Ken Snider
Portland, Oregon

Jason Spaulding
National Stream Protection Office
Nevada City, California

Paul Spitler
California Wilderness Coalition
Davis, California

Billy Stern, M.S.
Madison, Wisconsin

Kieran Suckling
Center for Biological Diversity
Tucson, Arizona

Stu Sugarman, J.D.
Oregon Wildlife Federation
Portland, Oregon

Chant Thomas, M.S.
Dakubetede Environmental Education Programs
The Heritage Institute of Antioch University
Jacksonville, Oregon

Craig Thomas
The Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation
Georgetown, California

Irene Vlach
High Desert Committee, Oregon Chapter, Sierra Club
Portland, Oregon

Larry Walker
BLM Range Conservationist (Retired)
RangeBiome, A Public Rangeland Almanac
Beaverton, Oregon

D. R. Webb, Ph.D., J.D.
Network Associates-Ecological Consulting
Eugene, Oregon

Chuck Willer
Coast Range Association
Corvallis, Oregon

Travis Williams
Arlington, Virginia

Robert Witzeman, M.D.
Maricopa Audubon Society
Phoenix, Arizona

George Wuerthner
A Hunter's Voice
Eugene, Oregon

Nancy Zierenberg
Wildlife Damage Review
Tucson, Arizona

I was just delighted to see Joy Belsky's excellent reply to the Knize article in Atlantic Monthly. I'm pro-rancher, a bias that makes me a little sad to see articles like the Knize article. To suggest that Knize defends ranching with articles like hers is to narrow all the possibilities within ranching to the few options that are favored mostly by the transnational, international, and related global companies that sell to a mass market. Her work favors the corporate powers clamoring more market share where cheap food is tonic, in contrast to the world of working farmers and ranchers, where cheap food is calamity.

There is a vision of agriculture in which food is grown everywhere, and environmental protection is anathema. In this view, favored by some groups such as -- from my experience -- the Farm Bureau, wetlands are an enemy stopping the widespread planting of wheat and other grains. The ideal of these folks is to shove aside wolves, and grow more cows, to plow under the wetlands, and grow more grains. Production is king, in this view. But production can be suicide for the average farmer and rancher, whose needs to make a living including sending the kids to college mean that cheap food means low wages.

Food gluts are killing farmers. Too much land is taken for farming, and the surplus is killing the prices farmers need, while killing life on earth to make way for crops. There are several other factors afoot at the same time, and these are equally important with the point I'm making here. High on the list is that corporations are approaching governnments everywhere with the siren song of encouraging nations to produce a lot more food than they need, so they can make some money selling the surplus to others. This works fine up to the point that corporations succeed in selling this vision to so many nations that the world, like now, becomes awash in food. This kills families' chances to stay at home on the farm or ranch. It is anti-family, anti-evironment politics. Please share this train of thought with anyone who may have even the slightest interest in it.

Lance Olsen


Atlantic Monthly
77 North Washington St.
Boston, Mass. 02114
July 28, 1999

Dear Editor:

As a wildlife biologist who has worked on the public lands of the West, I found your recent article by Perri Knize to be so full of errors and misrepresentations of the truth, I could not begin to address the individual problems in a short letter to the editor.

I will note, however, that she glosses over the multiple impacts that livestock production has upon wildlife, and fails to note that both independent and government studies have identified livestock production as responsible for more endangered species in the West than any other human activity (such as logging, mining, and subdivisions).

Though Knize continuously asserts that "wildlife" benefit from livestock production, she usually fails to identify the species. And in the few instances where she does name specific animals, she refers mostly to elk, deer, and geese, all highly adaptable and relatively common animals that tend to flourish on human disturbance. Both deer and geese, in fact, thrive even in urban environments-which most biologists would not identify as good wildlife habitat.

What Knize does not point out is that dozens of species, many of which were formerly widely distributed, are now on the verge of extinction or significantly reduced in numbers largely as a consequence of livestock-induced habitat degradation, disease transmission from livestock, or persecution from ranchers. This includes species such as black-tailed prairie dog, black-footed ferret, sage grouse, bighorn sheep, wolf, grizzly bear, swift fox, desert tortoise, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Bonneville cutthroat trout, and many others.

Mollie Matteson
Livingston, Montana

Here's a letter I wrote to the editor of Atlantic Monthly prior to the article coming out. I asked that I be allowed to write a rebuttal, and the answer I got was that I could write a letter to the editor. I haven't bothered to write anything.

Subject: Atlantic Monthly article

Here's a copy of a letter I wrote to the editor of Atlantic Monthly PRIOR TO THE PUBLICATION of its recent piece on livestock and ranching. Mind you I had not read the article, but based upon my conversations with the author when she interviewed me I had grave concerns about the potential accuracy and slant of the piece. You might find my comments useful. I still haven't brought myself up to reading the article. I'm afraid I'll cry.

George Wuerthner

Managing Editor
Atlantic Monthly
77 North Washington St.
Boston, MA 02114
May 19, 1999

Dear Atlantic Monthly

I understand that you soon be will publish a piece on livestock production in the West by Perri Knize. As someone who was interviewed by the author for the story, I have reason to believe your forth-coming piece may lack important perspective and perhaps even contain factual errors. Not having read the piece, I may find that I'm wrong, and Perri may have put together a fine article. Nevertheless, given my conversations with her, I have reason to believe the article may provide an overly positive perspective on livestock production that ignores many important counter-balancing and subtle points.

I'd like to offer to read the article and give you my feedback on its contents. Or I could share with you some of our email correspondence so you can see the kind of information I provided her and her responses-responses that demonstrate that she is anything but a passive and impartial observer. Better yet for your readers, I am willing to quickly write a second piece to accompany her piece-a kind of pro and con review that provides another look at the same issue. You, of course, are under no obligation to consider any of my points, but if you are interested in accuracy and honesty in your piece, you owe it to yourself to just see what I have to say on this contentious issue. I'm not trying to censure the article, but certainly think some of the information may be misleading. To quote from a famous radio commentator, what your author may have failed to do is provide the "rest of the story."

Briefly let me give you my background. I have degrees in botany; wildlife biology, range science, science communication and I spent three years in a geography Ph.D. program. In addition, I worked briefly as a biologist and range con for the BLM, and more recently have traveled and researched the topic of livestock impacts, land use, and land preservation issues. I am currently researching a book on livestock production. All of this experience and knowledge provides me a perspective and background that few can match.

Let me give you a few examples from the material that I know the author has included in her piece and demonstrate how one could provide an entirely different "spin" on the issue.

The author cites Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Park's (MDFWP) decision to graze some of its winter range and wildlife refuges because "it attracts elk and antelope". There's a grain of truth in this. Elk and most grazing species prefer young, tender shoots to older, drier forage. Grazing by livestock reduces the amount of older grass. However, this is only part of the story.

Cattle production has its own impacts that are almost never mentioned in the glowing press releases from MDFWP. For instance, the department could choose to use controlled burns to reduce the amount of older grass. Wild grazers are equally attracted to recent burns as they are to intensely grazed sites. But burning has less potential ecological damage to grasslands since fire consumes all species equally. Cattle, on the other hand, are more selective, consuming some species over others. The plants not grazed, typically "weedy species" are thus given a competitive edge over the preferred grazed species that must invest more energy into growing new shoots at the expense of roots, and seed production.

In addition, studies done by the MDFWP itself as well as other researchers have demonstrated that elk and other species actively avoid lands where livestock are present. In other words, they only graze these lands after the cattle are removed. They are socially displaced. The dept. has made no attempt to determine whether this displacement negatively affects the animals. In other words are they displaced into areas with less cover from predators, deeper snows so they must use more energy to survive, forced into areas with less nutritious forage, and other effects? We don't know, but it's likely this is the case. The benefits of young grass may be outweighed by all these negative impacts.

Plus elk aren't the only wildlife the MDFWP is supposed to manage and protect. They have responsibilities for all species; not just those favored by hunters. And the presence of livestock on lands that were originally purchased to provide habitat for native species is continual threat to predators like grizzlies and wolves which are killed if they happen to chew on a cow or sheep. The loss of grass cover also affects many other species due to a loss of hiding cover-sage grouse for example are soon to be listed as an endangered species because cattle impact them in several ways including loss of hiding cover making them more vulnerable to predators. These aren't hypothetical impacts. They are well documented. So why doesn't the MDFWP point out these problems?

The reason is more political than ecological. First, you have to follow the money. The MDFWP receives most of annual revenue from selling hunting and fishing licenses. The majority (70%) of Montana is private land-most of it owned by ranchers and farmers. If the agricultural community perceives that the MDFWP is hostile to its interests or even mildly criticizes it for some of its practices, there is a legitimate fear that these owners would in reprisal restrict access to private lands for hunting and fishing. This will almost certainly reduce the number of licenses sold. Less money means less of a bureaucracy. No bureaucracy wants to see its size or importance decreased. The department is acutely aware of this and maintains an agricultural friendly public profile-though it is aware of many impacts created by the industry on fish and wildlife in the state. By allowing cattle to graze on dept. lands, landowners are often more willing to tolerate the presence of wild animals and hunters.

I know the article mentions the Malpai Borderlands project as an example of how ranchers are managing the land for biodiversity and land protection. There is no doubt from my conversations with others and my own observations of the area, that in some cases, the ranchers involved in this program have improved their operations. Nevertheless, one has to put this into perspective. Improvement isn't the same as the best condition. There are still problems with the Malpai cattle that I could enumerate if you are interested.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Drum Hadley, heir to the Anheuser Bush beer fortune, along with the Nature Conservancy, are under writing much of the expense and innovation needed to bring about these changes in cattle operations. In other words, it's questionable whether the Malpai Borderlands example can be replicated elsewhere. That is why the Malpai Borderlands is used as one of the only examples of "ecologically friendly" livestock operations in the West. You have to ask why all the articles that mention how ranching is compatible with ecosystem preservation always use the same few examples such as the Malpai Borderlands.

The reason is simple-it costs a lot of money and few ranchers are willing, much less able to afford the expense. It is dishonest to generalize from these few examples and suggest that it's a "solution" to livestock impacts across the West. It's like some car manufacturer spending a lot of money for a special carburetor and lightweight body to design a car that gets 100 mpg, then claiming that cars don't have much impact on air and other environmental parameters. Undoubtedly such cars can be manufactured, but is it something that the average commuter can afford? If not, then it's nothing more than a propaganda show piece-and that's what the Malpai Borderlands is in reality.

Third, the Malpai is often cited as an example of how ranching is preventing subdivisions. Yet of the more than two dozen ranchers affiliated with the project, I am told by a source close to the project that only three ranches-all owned by Drum Hadley or his son-have conservation easements on them forever precluding development. In other words, the rest of the ranchers are keeping their options open. The Malpai may not be "saved" from subdivision at all. What is saving the Malpai area is remoteness. More on this later.

The author mentions the example of the Nature Conservancy's Dugout Ranch purchase in Utah. TNC claims it "saved" the ranch from developers. I know several of the TNC staff in Salt Lake and I questioned them about this. In truth, there were no other buyers interested in the ranch other than a wealthy Hollywood star. There was no immanent threat of development as implied in either TNC's press release (i.e. it's always saving land from development-it has to say this because that's how it gets people to donate to its coffers.) or in recent articles on the purchase. This is often the case for remote property-which I'll discuss below.

Furthermore, like the Malpai example, TNC is spending more to manage cows here to reduce livestock impacts than the average rancher could afford. Will TNC do a better job than the previous owner-I have no doubt that they will. Yet even in light this expenditure of funds, TNC cattle operations are still impacting the landscape; not only on the 5,000 or so acres of the ranch, but the more than 200,000 acres of public lands they are still grazing as well. Their cattle are still polluting the streams. Their cows are still compacting soils and trampling crytogramic lichens and crusts that are critical in the region for preventing soil erosion. The ranch is still dewatering the streams to produce hay to feed cows. The cows are still consuming forage that would otherwise support native herbivores. These are only some of the undisputed ecological impacts of the continued cattle operations-which TNC staff will readily admit to if you question them about it. The problem is that most journalists aren't even equipped with enough knowledge to know what to ask, much less how to evaluate the answers.

All of this framed as a choice between condos or cows. Most people say they would prefer condos to cows. Sure if condos were a major problem where they occur, however that's not what is destroying the ecological integrity over most of the West. It's like asking if you had a choice of dying from a grizzly attack or a heart attack, which would you prefer. It's just not a valid question for most people-there are so few grizzlies that it's unlikely you will die from it. But heart attacks are everywhere. Ditto for condos vs cows.

Livestock production is cited in numerous studies (happy to provide them) as the major cause of species endangerment, water pollution, soil erosion, exotic plant invasion (weeds), dewatering of rivers (for irrigation), predator decline, ecosystem fragmentation, and riparian damage. And this is only the beginning of the list of livestock induced impacts I could provide you.

There is no denying that subdivisions (condos) also have many negative effects, but they are concentrated on far less of the landscape, and hence aren't the major impact to the West's ecological integrity and probably never will be for a variety of reasons too complex to go into here. Open space isn't the same as good wildlife habitat, although good wildlife habitat does depend upon open space. Most of the concern about condos is more a visceral reaction to loss of the pastoral landscape. Collectively we all have (and especially your author) a bias that tends to view rural landscapes as somehow "better" than the urban areas where most of us live.

Nevertheless, the threat of condos vs. cows is highly overrated. Most of the West is empty of development. For instance, the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks recently released a study that showed that more than 95% of the state (85 million acres) had a population density of 4 people per square mile or less-this still qualities most of Montana as "frontier" under the old standard of the 1890s census. Yet many species are endangered or threatened here including black footed ferret, swift fox, sage grouse, Columbia sharptail grouse, Arctic grayling, wolf, grizzly, and others.


What's the problem with all these species? There are tens of millions of acres in Montana without a single condo or major urban area. Can't these animals get by on these millions of acres of land where almost no one lives? They can't and don't. The common denominator in the decline of all of these is livestock production-it's the major agent responsible for the extirpation or extinction of these species across most of the state. Ironically, the part of the state where most of these species have survived best is in the heavily populated western part. For example, the most wolf packs and highest grizzly populations are located in the state's four most densely settled counties-not in the lightly settled agricultural regions. This is not as one might expect, but there's a reason. Despite the loss of some habitat to development, these animals persist in the face of higher human population density because most urban dwellers, including those owners of ranchettes are less inclined to kill these predators on sight.

Another reason condos are not a major threat across most of the West has to do with people's reasons for buying land. Most subdivisions are located in or near existing urban areas. They driven by demand, not availability of private land for sale. People are drawn to areas with high amenity values, jobs, hospitals, airports, cultural opportunities and such. Hence most of the growth in the West is focused on regional urban centers like Boise, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc. In fact, most rural counties are losing population or barely staying the same. Most of the rapid growth is concentrated in a relatively few areas, and statistics about growth and the threat of subdivision are consequently somewhat misleading. That is one reason why the Malpai Borderlands and Dugout Ranch were not threatened by subdivisions. Both are too far from any significant population center. It costs a lot to subdivide and sell land in parcels. In most rural areas, ranches are sold intact, not broken up.

Sure one can find an occasional ranch in an isolated area that may be divided up, but in more cases than not, these more remote ranches are purchased by wealthy sport ranchers (like the Hollywood star who was the only other person interested in the Dugout Ranch) who can afford to purchase entire spreads, and have no need for 20 acre ranchettes.

This is not to deny that in some locations, condos are a threat to landscape integrity, but whether ranching can prevent this is a questionable assumption. It's linking a cause and effect that may not exist.

Most of North Dakota is private land. Much of this land is for sale. Its way less expensive than land in Montana or Colorado, yet there are no threats of subdivisions in North Dakota. People are leaving in droves.


Because it lacks the amenity values found in the Mountain West and elsewhere. If you had a choice of buying land for a vacation home or even as your main home, where would you buy: North Dakota or a nice mountain valley in Idaho, Montana or Colorado?

Ranching doesn't prevent demand. That's why "supporting" ranchers as some suggest is a poor land preservation strategy. It doesn't address the demand side of the equation, nor does it address the many other factors that are causing ranchers to "sell out." When land values rise, ranching can't sustain itself. You can't pay $5000 an acre for land and expect to pay it off running cows. This reduces flexibility for ranchers. This is one reason why no young people are entering ranching in much of the West. They can't afford to do it. In addition, ranching is marginal in the West, and compared to other parts of the country where cows are grown, it takes a lot more land to run one cow. This means more costs for fencing, more costs for predator control, more cost for management. Many of these costs are subsidized or externalized. I.e. if a rancher's cows trample a riparian area and destroy a fishery, the rancher doesn't pay for this-at least not yet.

The only proven way of preserving land is by buying it, zoning it, or obtaining a conservation easement on it.

Finally, let's put some responsibility on the ranchers. They don't have to sell to a developer. There's no one holding a gun to their collective heads-not in the private property is King West. There are many buyers willing to buy lands with conservation easements that preclude development, or ranchers could simply sell the property for less money to someone might continue to ranch it-but they don't usually do this. Greed is what drives subdivisions. A rancher as the seller can control who buys the place and under what terms-if he/she is will to accept less profit. Most don't do this because it's hard to ignore the fact that you can sell your ranch for 5 million dollars and set up yourself and your kids for life by investing that money in the stock market or whatever. Not surprisingly, most ranchers chose this option. I probably would too if I owned a big ranch.

Well I guess this is enough to hopefully provide you another perspective on the issue. If you would like for me to review the piece and make any additional comments, I would be more than happy to do so.


George Wuerthner
Box 1526
Livingston, Montana 59047

Atlantic Monthly
Boston, Massachusetts

November 11, 1999

Dear Atlantic Monthly:

Perri Knize's responses to recent letters to the editor about her grazing piece continue to demonstrate her shallow understanding of the complexity of the grazing issue. Let me explain the problem using the responses she made to several recent letters to the editor.

One reader wrote that livestock production is responsible for more endangered species in the WEST than any other human activity. To discredit the reader, Knize cites a recent Bioscience article on species endangerment that lists livestock as the third most important source of species decline. However, Knize glosses over the fact that the Bioscience article evaluated the entire United States! Livestock production is chiefly a western problem. And in the West, livestock production is responsible for a greater share of species endangerment as other analysis have determined.

Furthermore, even if we look at the entire US, livestock production is still a major factor in species loss, yet she gives the impression that being third most important factor in one analysis somehow validates her very uncritical review of the livestock problem.

The same Bioscience article cites water development and farming as major proximate causes of species endangerment. A critical and thoughtful reviewer of this issue would note that in the West the primary purpose of the majority of dams and irrigation systems is to provide water for production of livestock forage. Thus the extinction of many species from salmon to snails endangered by western water development is ultimately due to livestock production.

Similarity, the majority of agricultural land in this country is devoted to the production of corn, soybeans, sorghum, hay and other crops that are ultimately fed to cattle. A more thoughtful analysis of the livestock's contribution to species loss would certainly make these connections. Again if you look at the ultimate cause of species endangerment in the West livestock always figures prominently.

In another example of Knize's inability to understand subtleties of the issue, and how she continuously takes things out of context, she asserts that livestock grazing is beneficial to prairie dogs. Livestock grazing can, in some ways benefit prairie dog by removing taller vegetation that hinders predator detection and prairie dog dispersal. But saying cows benefits prairie dogs without mentioning that the primary source of prairie dog mortality over a huge portion of their range are poisoning programs done on behalf of the livestock industry is a serious omission. Whatever benefit prairie dogs may derive from livestock grazing is canceled out immediately by the fact that ranchers are intolerant of prairie dogs and continuously seek to eradicate or significantly reduce their numbers.

Furthermore, even if cattle grazing doesn't directly harm prairie dogs, it is disingenuous to suggest that they require cows to flourish. In much of the short grass prairie, prairie dogs do just fine without any vegetation removal, and even in the mid and tall grass prairie locations, the removal of tall vegetation can be realized through the use of fires or the reintroduction of native herbivores like bison.

These are by means the only problems with Knize's article and her responses to reader's concerns. Knize seems to take things at face value all the time, and fails to delve deeper to explore the subtleties of the issue. If she can find one exception to any statement, she then tends to invalidate the entire statement. In this regard she reminds me of people I've meet who assert that smoking tobacco isn't really dangerous to one's health because old Aunt Martha smoked three packs a day until she died at 103 or whatever. Indeed, Knize did such a good job on the issue of livestock production, maybe you should have her do a story about how the hazards of cigarette smoking are exaggerated as well.

George Wuerthner
Box 3156
Eugene, Oregon 97403

To: The Atlantic Monthly
RE: Knize: Winning the War for the West

To the Editor:

It is disheartening to see the Atlantic join the journalistic race to the bottom with the publication of Knize’s misinformed article. If I were to send you a substantial contribution would you hire a fact-checker? Or is that no longer a matter of concern at the Atlantic.

If the west is so ecologically healthy due to ranching perhaps your author could explain the 50,000-100,000 missing grizzly bears or the tens of thousands of missing wolves. Where are the vast prairie dog towns and the predators and healthy grasslands they supported. Where are the healthy Salmon spawning streams? The truth is that these animals and plants have been destroyed –with the same determination displayed by ethnic cleansers--either directly by ranchers, or by the government at their behest. For what reason? To make the West safe for the publicly subsidized grazing of dull-witted domestic life stock–the eating of which leads to numerous human health problems.

All of the animals I have mentioned–prairie dogs, grizzlies, Salmon and wolves–are essential components of healthy ecosystems. They perform fundamental regulatory functions, and without them ecosystems decline.

Fortunately, with the rise in concern for human health, cattle production is in decline, and no amount of disinformation is likely to reverse that. A healthy West rests with protecting and restoring large tracts of land that are capable of supporting viable populations of all native species and natural processes. The challenge for humans is to find a means of living compatible with that. We’re supposed to be smart animals, let’s see if we can do. Sadly, the Atlantic and Knize have not contributed to that process.


David Johns
Wildlands Project

Preface by George Wuerthner: This survey is relevant to the recent Article in Atlantic Monthly since the author takes at face value what agencies say such as citing the Montana Dept. of Fish Wildlife and Park's assertion that grazing is beneficial to wildlife. If she had dug deeper she would have found less agreement with this "published" policy statement. In Montana, most of the hunting takes place on private lands. To avoid closure of that land to hunting and a reduction in license sales, MDFWP allows grazing on some of its state game ranges. It tells the public this is good for the wildlife--but the major reason for this policy is to appease the livestock industry.

Wednesday August 26, 1999
Contact: Amanda Carufel (202) 265-7337

Nebraska Fish & Wildlife Hurt by Politics, Says Staff

NGPC Leadership Rated Ineffective

Interference with Investigations; Lying to the Public; Fear of Retaliation Cited

Washington, D.C....Politics routinely override science in wildlife management decisions made within the Nebraska of Game & Parks Commission (NGPC), according to an employee survey released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the survey, agency staff cite a pervasive fear of retaliation for reporting wrongdoing and decry interference in law enforcement investigations and other special favors for politically influential individuals.

PEER, in conjunction with the Nebraska Division of the Izaak Walton League, mailed out surveys to all 339 NGPC professional (excluding data entry and maintenance) staff. More than half responded, including more than 66% of law enforcement personnel and a greater than 73% response from fish and wildlife staffs. Employees also submitted essays about the greatest challenge facing the agency with many citing the continuing influence of a former agency director, Eugene Mahoney, as NGPC's biggest problem.

On survey questions about dominance of political special interests in natural resource matters:

* 78% of all field staff and 83% of fish and wildlife biologists agree that "special interest groups have inappropriately influenced NGPC decision-making to the detriment of natural resources or agency integrity." Only 9% of all responding employees disagree.

* 93% of agency scientists say that NGPC bows to "political expediency" rather than following scientific recommendations. Only 2% disagree.

* 85% of responding employees believe that "NGPC top administrators cater to people with apparent political power rather than ordinary citizens." Only 9% disagree.

"This is a damning portrait painted by the agency's own employees who witness what is going on first hand," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The survey results, and the employee essays in particular, can only be regarded as a cry for help to their Commissioners, the public and to lawmakers."

As one employee wrote, "NGPC is developing a history of tainting resource issues with politics of the day and continues to ignore its responsibility to wildlife in this state." Another noted, "The greatest challenge facing NGPC is what to do with Eugene T. Mahoney...More money has been spent in developing a state park named after him than can ever be justified."

The survey also gave employees the chance to rate the performance of their own top managers:

* 78% rated NGPC Director Rex Amack as ineffective. Only 14% thought that Amack was an effective Director. Even more tellingly, 72% felt that Amack was not qualified to be Director. Only 13% thought he was qualified.

* More than 82% of responding employees urged the NGPC Commission to "conduct a national search for professionally qualified candidates to be the next Director."

* Less than 12% of employees agreed with the statement "I trust and respect the NGPC administration." Similarly, only 11% rated employee morale as good.

"Staff morale is the lowest I have seen," commented one staffer. Another opined, "NGPC administration needs to be replaced with personnel that take public issues pertaining to wildlife seriously."

High percentages of employees registered perceptions that agency managers have engaged in misconduct:

* More than 67% of law enforcement respondents say that agency managers have interfered in investigations of violations.

* On controversial issues, more than 72% of employees say that NGPC public statements have not been "honest and forthright."

* More than three quarters of employees say they "fear retaliation for disclosing problems." Similar proportions of agency staffers say they have personal knowledge of NGPC administration retaliating against a co-worker because that person did "their job 'too well.'"

PEER has conducted similar surveys in state and federal resource agencies across the country. PEER survey results have historically paralleled the results of surveys conducted by the agencies themselves. In the case of the NGPC, a 1987 survey done by the Izaak Walton League shortly after the appointment of Director Amack showed very clear concern by NGPC employees about his effectiveness as director. A 1993 Virginia Polytechnic Institute survey also raised concerns about the way the NGPC dealt with the public on issues of conflict.

"This has been an employee referendum on their own management," said Ruch. "This is not a scientifically selected sampling; this is not a few disgruntled employees; this is a flat out majority of the entire workforce. The Commission should take these results seriously and should seek effective means of working with agency staff to rectify the problems and concerns expressed in this survey."

Complete results of the PEER survey are available by connecting to