Cattle Controversy

Cattle industry is destroying our wildlands


This letter is in response to the articles on cattle ranching that have recently appeared in the Roundup. I would like to interject a few facts into the emotional stew cooked up by the author of those articles.

1. Cow enthusiasts and their admirers in various government agencies have had a chokehold on the American West for over a century. During that time, cattle have subjected vast areas of the West to gradual and terrible destruction.

2. Cattle have drastically changed much of the Western landscape. Much of the Southwest was grassland 125 years ago. The great seas of grass have been stripped bare and the deserts reduced to overgrazed wastelands. Today a great deal of the land is scrub brush, cactus, and cutbank, and for what? Here are some hard numbers: Based on 1987 government figures, roughly 1/2 of 1 percent of the nation's beef supply is raised in Arizona, a truly insignificant amount.

3. Ninety-seven percent of the nation's beef supply is raised in the Midwestern and Eastern United States. If every last cow were pulled off the public range in the American West, only 3 percent of the nation's beef supply would be affected. The effect on the national economy would be negligible. Putting it another way, public lands ranching in the American West produces only 3 percent of U.S. beef while utilizing roughly 75 percent of Western publicly owned land, a total of 41 percent of the West.

4. Our beloved Arizona has in effect been turned into a giant corral. None of us journey into the back country in hope of seeing a cow. We would like to see a coyote, a mountain lion, or perhaps a bear, but most likely you won't spot a predator. All of these animals are routinely hunted and killed by ranchers or as part of government predator control programs.

And it's not only the predators that are thinned out. Competitive species such as antelope, elk and bison are now either nearly extirpated or their numbers reduced to mere fragments of their former numbers. If you or I want to see a grizzly bear, we will have to travel a good long way. In short, our wildlife has been traded for somebody's cattle.

5. That isn't the only part of the raw deal the public has gotten at the hands of the politically influential cattle industry. The list is long: We could have running streams bordered with lush riparian growth, but instead we have cows. We could have seas of native grasses, but instead we have cowburned scrubland. We could have beautiful, healthy deserts, but instead we have sick wastelands. We could have productive watersheds, but instead we've overgrazed and eroded uplands that are far less fruitful than before the coming of the cow. We could have a delightful natural environment to enjoy, but instead we have somebody's damned cows!

6. Times have changed. The myth of the American cowboy can no longer carry a terribly destructive and minimally productive industry on his back any longer. When the cattle are gone from Western public range, we will all be witness to an incredible ecological recovery.

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