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Ranching has something to teach us

As the 21st century unfolds, it's becoming clear that we need more family farmers and ranchers on the land, not fewer. We need them not only for the food they provide, but also for a lesson in how to live on the land. It's an ironic turn of events. For decades, livestock grazing in the arid West was attacked by environmentalists -- vilified as an "irredeemable" activity that had to be ended on public lands, pronto. Environmental activists extolled the sins of cattle in the scientific literature, full-page advertisements in major newspapers, colorful coffee-table books, and countless articles and lectures. Some cited writer Edward Abbey, who famously described the Western range as "cowburnt" and denounced cattle as "hooved locusts." Abbey died in 1989, and although the anti-grazing campaign grew more boisterous and contentious, it never really recovered from the loss of its charismatic leader. In fact, you could say the movement crested in 2001, when the national membership of the Sierra Club rejected the adoption of a "zero cow" policy for the organization by a 2-to-1 margin. There were many reasons for rank-and-file Sierra Clubbers to vote the way they did, including a rising awareness that ranchers were trying new methods of cattle management that looked to the health of the land as well as the animals. Read the rest of this op-ed from Courtney, which originally ran in High Country News. ———- Courtney White is co-founder and Executive Director of The Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, public land managers, scientists, and others. He is the author of Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West. For further ruminations by Courtney, see