The West For Itself—Perhaps At Last1
19 January 2012 (revised 20 February 2012)
Imagine the West’s public lands without fences, without stock tanks, without wells and pipelines. And with fewer roads.
Imagine pubic lands where bison, wild horses, ground-nesting birds like sage grouse, and large carnivores can roam free of conflicts with people who financially profit from these lands.
Imagine these lands with lush streamside grasses, forbs, and trees—alder, willow, and cottonwood. Trees filled with songbirds. Trees lining clear, deep streams teaming with large numbers of healthy fish.
And imagine some implications of these changes: over time fewer roads would mean fewer weeds. Fewer weeds, less need for herbicides. Less herbicide, less poisoning of stream invertebrates, and less bioaccumulation in the fish that eat them.
Fewer fences would mean less hindrance to movement of deer and antelope. And less predation on sage grouse, as the fences provide convenient perches for raptors that prey on nests and young birds.
Less extraction of groundwater would mean a higher water table. Springs and streams currently dry may again support aquatic life.
For communities adjacent to public lands, imagine greater economic opportunity and diversity, particularly in businesses related to recreation, but extending to many providers of goods and services.
These benefits, and many more, would emerge if we did just one thing—reduce the presence of ranching on public lands. And I’m not talking just about making livestock grazing less harmful. Ranching really must be reduced, because much of ranching’s harm is inherent in its essential infrastructure and practices—fencing, the building and use of roads, the extraction of water, the alteration of fire regimes, even the truncation of the food web.