Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?
By Diane Alden & Steven Farrell
October 11, 1999
Rural America and its way of life are under attack. Disparate interest groups-from the federal land bureaucracy to the environmental movement and dozens of other organizations want control of an invention they' call "public land" and the "ecosystem."A process has been under way for decades which changes names and redefines concepts. A case in point: the great outdoors, which once needed to be conserved, became an ecosystem which needs eco-management. The name change may not seem important, but changing names is a tool used to reshape the psychology of the public in order to prepare them to acquiesce to a new regulatory order.
Renaming land and calling it habitat or ecosystem doesn't change the nature of the land. But those words offer a veneer of scientific legitimacy and mystery for what Americans used to understand to be swamp and pasture. 'Thus, the way was paved for a new set of control freaks to tell the rest of America how it is going to be. The stereotypical "soccer mom" is being propagandized into believing that they need government and environmental experts to run things "scientifically" for the benefit of "every man."
The constant use of the term public lands, implies a divine right for a nameless, faceless "every man" to have control over vast areas of the U.S., even though this "every man" does not make a home, raise kids or earn his living anywhere near that land. "Everyman" has replaced the rancher and farmer as a sort of absentee owner, while the government acts as caretaker and rule maker guided by an activist environmental movement.
When the United States came into being, the founders never had the intention of holding onto large tracts of lands in perpetuity. Various acts of Congress, including the Land Act of 1866 specifies that federal lands should be dispersed. Large tracts of "public lands" were held under the dictum that they would be for beneficial use of those living in the locality. However, instead of dispersing lands in its control the federal government bought up more, placing it under pleasant sounding euphemisms such as "wilderness" or "preserves." National Parks and recreation areas were separate from these lands and for use of the public at large. All of it came under the discretion of the Department of the Interior and its agencies the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, and increasingly the military style U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
At the present time nearly 2/3 of the land in the West is under one form or another of federal government control. Nearly 90 percent of the State of Nevada, and 66 percent of the state of Idaho are federally owned or administered. In addition, the land under federal jurisdiction grows daily. Millions of acres have been declared off limits to most economic or practical use.
Just before the 1996 election, Bill Clinton declared over a million acres in the state of Utah, the Escalante, as protected under the Antiquities Act. He did that without making sure it was okay with the State of Utah, its people, the congressional delegation, or the governor. The elites were in ecstasy. Terry Tempest Williams, self styled expert and "poet" to the environmental movement and Robert Redford , movie actor and owner of large tracts of land in the West, were delighted. So were the monolithic federally subsidized environmental groups and the coal producers of Indonesia. The Escalante is home to one of the largest deposits of clean burning coal in the world. Not surprisingly the Riyahdi family, owners of large coal deposits in Indonesia, were contributors to the Clinton re-election campaign.
In his 1999 State of the Union address, Bill Clinton proposed more funding to buy more land to 'save" for future generations. While current generations of ranchers, loggers and miners go the way of the American Indian, buying up more land to "save" it may make the elites happy, but it does nothing for a way of life rapidly disappearing into the Western sunset.
Ultimately, something called the "Wildlands" project is the goal of the guardians and proponents of "eco-management." This project will mean that a strip of land from the Mexican border into Canada will be off limits to human beings; except with permits and controls. Grizzlies and wolves will have a corridor to wander and people will be limited as to where they may live and buy land near that corridor. Al Gore's "urban sprawl" crusade is part of this effort to lock up more land for federal use.. His version of urban sprawl means more than too much traffic or housing developments around Denver or Seattle. It may also mean command and control of some American citizen's 20 acres in Montana.
The average American soccer mom does not fully understand how the cumulative impact of environmental propaganda as currently implemented by the federal government affects her life. Nor does she realize how little control she has over what goes on in public lands. For that she is paying a dear price. Environmental regulations add a $4,200 financial burden to the average American family's costs each and every year. It might be worth the extra money if such financial burdens were not based on poor and often unscientifically based environmental science.
According to philosopher, scientist and environmental expert Alston Chase, the "scientific research" of environmental groups depends on an incestuous blend of government scientists with the environmentalists' own hired guns, yielding so-called science that crosses the line between ideology and partisanship at every turn. One of the results of this combination of pseudo-science and politics is the wedge driven between classes. It has come down to a class war between privileged urbanites who give millions to environmental causes, and the rural poor. Deplorably, the idealism which inspires urbanites to give to environmental groups, is also hurrying the demise of a valuable way of life which happens to be rural and based on the use of natural resources.
Rather than honor and help the rancher or farmer learn from mistakes, allowing him to keep the land as good caretakers and stewards, the environmental movement and the federal government invents restrictions and controls and makes criminals of people trying to make a living. In order to speed removal of these "despoilers" of the land which it covets or wishes to turn into a kind of outdoor museum, the federal government has come up with the plan to buy out the cowboy. The final result is that the concept of private property is going the way of the Indian.
The environmental propaganda war is costing the modern rancher and he must face some bitter economic facts. According to government statistics, the average rancher is lucky if his yearly earnings reach $30,000 after costs. Nearly 98 percent of all ranches are small or mid-sized with less than 500 head of cattle. Twenty-two percent of farm families live at the poverty level. The average profit is 5 to 10 cents per pound of beef-hardly enough to buy a limousine and a house in Florida.
The environmental movement portrays the livestock producer as an "overgrazer" who wants to kill wolves and eagles because ranchers are "mean-spirited" and don't appreciate the "diversity" of an "ecosystem." If the rancher is foolish enough to allow overgrazing he puts himself out of business. This same "mean-spirited" cowboy, working in fair weather and foul, is trying to save his foals and calves and his way of life from both four- and two-footed predators.
The government complicates his life further by deluging him with a blizzard of paperwork. For instance, an environmental impact statement is required whenever the rancher wants to do something with his land, such as put in a new stock pond or grade a road into the back-40. Government agents regularly invade private ranches looking for "endangered species," because the manipulation of environmental regulations has successfully circumvented the constitutionally guaranteed right to private property. For all intents and purposes, if an endangered species is found on private land, such land is rendered almost totally worthless, because the species becomes more important than any use the rancher or farmer may have had in mind.
Urban citizens assume America will always have its agricultural capability and that somewhere there will always be cowboys. Statistics would indicate that if the destruction of the rural way of life continues apace, with its loss of millions of acres of range and farmland to "wilderness" or recreational uses or development. the United States may become as dependent on other nations for food as it is for oil. The self-sufficiency which is largely responsible for America's strength and independence will become a memory. For the time being large corporate farming seems to be the wave of the future. However, oftentimes corporate farms are run by absentee owners who have no sense of place or pride in community. "Sustainable communities" is the buzzword for Al Gore's environmental program; yet current and future environmental policies destroy the very thing they are supposed to save.
Soccer moms and cowboys pretty much want the same things--a clean environment, better education, a decent way of life, a growing economy, safety and security--in short, a better world for their children and grandchildren.In the long run, a pseudo-scientific environmental regime administered by a growing and powerful government bureaucracy will cost all Americans dearly--both financially and as free and independent citizens of a once great Republic. Sadly, in the future it will be possible that children will ask a question similar to one that contemporary man asks about the American Indian. Only the question will be, "Momma--where have all the cowboys gone?"