A number of articles have appeared in the Idaho State Journal in recent weeks relating to agriculture (especially livestock grazing and water) that express the environmental viewpoint. There is another perspective from those who produce our food.
Agriculture is Idaho’s largest industry, accounting for 20 percent of sales, 14 percent of jobs and 16 percent of GDP. Farm and ranching provide 39,000 jobs and 14,700 jobs to food manufacturing. Livestock alone contributed $4.3 billion to the economy in 2016 (University of Idaho, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, 2017.)
Ranchers pay taxes, provide jobs, make a regular payroll (no matter how difficult), and spend most of their money for support services, the domino effect of economics.
Livestock Grazing on Public Land:
Jon Marvel, former spokesman for Western Watersheds (Erik Molvar current executive director), and now Leonard Hitchcock – Idaho State Journal, Aug 3, 2017, advocate for prohibiting grazing of sheep and cattle on public lands.
When the west was settled, the Federal Government encouraged development. The pioneers grazed their livestock in the mountains and homesteaded the valleys as it was necessary to live on and prove up on what a homesteader wished to gain title to. As development increased, grazing privileges were awarded based on priority. These documented privileges became known as grazing permits. They are bought and sold as real property. Since the mountains, for the most part, were never homesteaded, it remains under federal control, a fee is assessed, based on an economic formula, for the privilege to graze. The fee is not set by ranchers. In my opinion, it is too low.
If the majority of the people want livestock grazing banned from all public land, it will happen, but not without consequences. Livestock will then graze on private range and farmland; competing with barley grown for beer, feed for cows to produce milk, wheat, beans, potatoes, corn, etc.
If the alternative is to get rid of all livestock, beef and lamb now consumed will have to be replaced by pasta, bread and veggies and there won’t be enough to go around. If livestock are gone ranchers will be compelled to compete for your jobs and we will get more than our share because we know how to work. Yes, we will compete with bankers, salesmen, lawyers, health providers, and even university professors, as not all ranchers are stupid.
George Wuerthner, Idaho State Journal, July 30, 2017, states that in Oregon, the public owns the water and not the irrigators. Since his article appeared in The Idaho State Journal, I assume his comments apply to Idaho water as well. His claims are incorrect. When land owners divert water from a stream and use it beneficially, it becomes a “right”, awarded by a court with an accompanying certificate. Water rights thus become property rights, are bought and sold as real property and if appropriately used, remain so. As contention arises regarding ownership or priority of use, the State of Idaho acts as an arbitrator or regulator.
If landowners were prohibited from diverting water for irrigation, Idaho would lose a large percent of our food production. An economic as well as a social disaster to say the least.
Several years ago, a neighboring elderly couple were burning weeds in their backyard. A wind came up and the fire got out of control. Neighbors came, one with a road grader, but were unable to control it. With the contemplation that it would soon be a major wildfire as it rapidly spread in three directions toward vast BLM and Forest Lands, all who had been trying to contain it looked on with helpless horror.
As the fire crossed the fence on to our ranch property, the flames became smaller and soon died out. Why? The terrain and vegetation were the same on both sides of the fence. Cattle and sheep had grazed on our side of the fence and eaten the top of the grass. The flames from the shorter grass now could not attain adequate height to spread.
This was before cell phones, but, oh, that a camera had been on hand. I wish every Idahoan, even every American, could have seen what we witnessed that day. Visual proof that livestock grazing retards wildfires.
As a young unmarried man, I had the responsibility to herd the family’s band of sheep in the mountains for a period of time each summer on a section of State lease property. There was a small spring in one corner of the section, which was piped into troughs, the only water on the property. In hot weather, the sheep had to water every day. They tromped and denuded the whole area around the troughs badly. It looked like a dust bowl. One day the Forest Ranger visited my camp. He chided me severely and reamed me out thoroughly, and said I had allowed the sheep to ruin the ground and it would never recover. Since it was state land and not forest, he had no jurisdiction or he would have fined me. As he left I felt embarrassed and ashamed, but I had no alternative. The sheep had to have water and the Forest Ranger would not allow them to drink on forest property or I would get a fine for trespassing.
Two years after the sheep were sold and gone, the vegetation was so abundant on that property that it was difficult to walk through, though some of the growth was noxious weeds and thistles that the sheep would have eaten. Now it is difficult to ride a horse through that same area.
If we are doing things all wrong by harvesting timber from our forests or mining for ore that makes steel and cement, or grazing livestock on public land that produce meat to eat and wool for clothing and bedding, show us the better way.
You environmentalists- step up and be leaders. Provide the example for us to follow. Take to the wilderness and live naturally. Live in caves and eat wild berries, or whatever, for a year. But don’t kill any wild animals for food or skins for clothing or bedding, it would be wrong to kill an animal. We will anxiously be awaiting your report, but remember, you can’t record it on paper, as paper comes from a tree cut in the forest.
Written by Ken Andrus
Ken is a former Idaho state legislator from Lava Hot Springs.