Our Views Columns

Our Views Columns

Date: 3/22/2012

Title: Preventing Barbecued Chicken since the 1800s

By Mike Deering, NCBA Director of Communications

Livestock have been roaming the western range since post-Civil War years because ranchers didn’t have a dime to buy their own ground after the war. Today, ranchers still utilize 157 million acres of public lands to feed a world population that is expected to grow from 7 billion today to 10 billion people by 2050. America’s ranchers haven’t missed a beat in producing safe, nutritious beef for a growing global population. They do this by adopting the most sustainable production practices. An important part of this equation is the cattle still roaming the public lands out West. Without a viable public lands sector of the livestock industry, food security would undoubtedly be hindered. Beyond food, grazing on public lands keeps wildlife and the land healthy and vibrant. Quite simply, it prevents a massive chicken barbecue. Stay with me and I will eventually get to the point.

A brief history lesson on the whole public lands ordeal is needed before further bantering. According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), federal lands were almost depleted by the late 1800s. BLM reports that in 1870, there were 4.1 million beef cattle and 4.8 million sheep in the 17 western states. BLM notes that in 1900, there were 19.6 million beef cattle and 25.1 million sheep. A bunch of activists, primarily ranchers, saw a need to gain control of the situation in order to protect and sustain the range for their future use. A lot happened in-between but let’s jump to 1934 when the Taylor Grazing Act was enacted. This act basically put some structure to the public lands grazing process to ensure responsible land management from all angles.

Today, public lands ranchers operate under an organized system. They realize in order to keep money in their pockets, food on the table and sustain their family business for future generations they must be the topnotch stewards of the land. However, there are a lot of over-the-top, narrow-minded environmental extremists out there who would like nothing more than to turn the 157 million acres into a vast national park and completely eradicate all livestock off the range. Notice how I said extremists and not activists. The difference is a little thing cowboys call common sense. Activists are fighting for a cause. Extremists couldn’t care less about the consequences of their actions to their alleged cause. In my words, I call them wackos, although that’s not at all politically correct.

I admit, those are some pretty inflammatory words. But these extremists deserve every ounce of it and I will back it up with one of many examples. Let’s hone in on that barbecued chicken I mentioned earlier. Extremists, for the most part, have refused any meaningful reform to the Endangered Species Act, which has resulted in a less than two percent species recovery rate over the past 40 years. Instead of looking at ranching as part of the solution, they spout rhetoric over facts. Look no further than the chicken debacle – officially called the greater sage grouse. Instead of working aggressively to prevent the listing of the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List, they are working aggressively to ignore the chicken and set their sights on ranchers. Say what? Yeah, their end goal is to end ranching; not protect the chicken.

The wackos – as I still prefer to call them – have successfully weaseled their way to the front steps of BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. Late last year, the agencies released a plan to implement sage grouse protections on 45 million acres of federal lands with the goal of preventing the listing of sage grouse. While that’s a worthy goal, the plan fails to recognize that grazing is responsible for retaining expansive tracts of sagebrush-dominated rangeland, stimulating growth of grasses, eliminating invasive weeds and reducing the risk of wildfire. These services can only be provided by ranches that are stable and viable. Without grazing, sustaining and increasing the sage grouse population would be nearly impossible.

Grazing prevents fires. Fires cause death. Death equals barbecued chicken. It is that simple.

Ranchers stand ready to work with the government to prevent the listing of the sage grouse, which has the potential to put public lands grazing to a complete halt (according to Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, March 7, 2012).

To sustain native species, like the sage grouse and prevent the critters’ extinction, these extremists who spend their days gathered around the old oak tree, bunny in hand playing Wheel of Fortune with livestock producers’ livelihood must be forced to retreat. The extremists don’t care about the sage grouse. They care about ending public lands grazing and see this as their opportunity at the expense of ranchers, food security and the innocent sage grouse.

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Kris Vincent
Ohio Rancher