Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West


Looking for Solutions: Restoring the West and Wildlife

Battered ground around stock tanks, eastern Oregon.

What can be done to address the problems associated with public lands livestock grazing? There is a simple answer: end it. Get the cows and sheep off, let the wild creatures reclaim their native habitat, and send the ranchers a bill for the cost of restoration.

Of course, as a practical matter, this is easier said than done. The goal may be clear, but the way to it is not. A lot of time can be wasted debating which is the "right" answer to ending livestock grazing on public lands, but as believers in diversity-biological and otherwise-we encourage a multiplicity of approaches.

In this last set of contributed essays, we aim to expand ideas of what is feasible-to suggest that "political reality" is, to some degree, what we make of it. We offer the thoughts of two experienced and successful strategists who have worked for years to rescue public lands from the abuses of livestock grazing.

Bill Marlett acknowledges the impossibility of "killing the myth of the cowboy" but suggests that what real cowboys have done to western lands is no longer completely veiled by public ignorance and indifference. He discusses various approaches to the challenge of phasing out public lands ranching; further exploration of their individual merits and drawbacks awaits conservationists, the ranching industry, political leaders, and the public at large. Certainly the field is wide open for other creative solutions.

Attorney Stephanie Parent uses the law to seek protection for public lands. Litigation is often seen as environmentalists' "hard line," yet as Parent points out, it is based simply on the goal of getting government agencies to properly enforce laws and standards already on the books.

Although it is our desire to make the end of commercial production of livestock on public lands as painless as possible for the affected ranchers, we recognize that it won't be pain-free. Change, even positive change, can be stressful and disconcerting. Ultimately, however, it is the natural world that supports us all. And if we wish to behave compassionately toward future generations-human and nonhuman alike-we must not postpone or shirk the work to be done today.