The more I learn about the way public lands are being managed in the West the more I realize how the public is in the dark about it. I just finished revising the language on our Submission Guidelines page and it has me thinking we are on the right track to publish work that helps improve the appreciation for and understanding of the cultural and environmental issues of the beautiful American West.
I have written elsewhere on this site about “regulatory capture” and the resulting “Tragedy of the Commons.” Capture is the idea that the hen house is run by foxes. In that story if the foxes have their way there won’t be many hens or eggs left for anybody else. The National Forest and BLM land is largely managed by and for the benefit of a very few who are exploiting the public land for private gain via extractive, damaging uses.
The land, once damaged, is then “improved” by the regulatory agencies at taxpayer expense in attempts to provide for more extraction. In the end, the land is managed at the expense of many for the dubious benefit of a few. For instance, even when severely degraded grazing allotments are brought to the attention of regulators—often by threat of litigation by environmental organizations—the BLM or the Forest Service spends hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time on “improvements” such as fencing or water projects, or “treatments” such as mechanical removal of the poorly performing plantlife, rather than telling the ranchers involved they can’t graze as much. The public foots the bill while the livestock that caused the damage to the lands keep munching and crunching. Never mind that the ranchers involved might very well be more than happy to take a just a portion of the money spent on “improvements” and “treatments” to take their cows away and let the land “improve” all by itself – which it does in a hurry if left alone. But that sensible buyout option is not on the table, and if it were we would all start hearing a great howling about the end of a “way of life.”
If the public knew about the “way of life” gambit they would not put up with it for long. The way-of-life thing is a myth-of-the-cowboy that doesn’t stand up to any kind of objective scrutiny. The way-of-life cowboy myth is no better for anybody than those cigarettes were for the Marlboro Man. The same kind of effective lobbying that the tobacco industry used to deny that cigarettes cause cancer are used today by the special interest extractive groups. The way-of-life objection actually keeps ranchers and their rural communities from much needed capital infusions while the range managers, who come from those communities, stick to outdated policies that do not serve the land, the public or their communities. It all is pretty crazy but myths are hard to overcome. Writers, if you know what I am talking about, send us some of your work. -Mark Bailey