Welfare Ranching, the Circle of Life, and Bundy’s Beef Bonanza

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Our problem results from acting like cowboys on a limitless frontier when in truth we inhabit a living spaceship with a finely balanced life-support system.” – David C. Korton

It takes around a hundred times as much land to raise cattle in the dry, sparsely vegetated West as compared, for instance, to states like Michigan, Vermont, or Georgia. Because of this, if you eradicated all of the cattle production in the land from the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast, you would be diminishing U.S. cattle ranching by a whopping two percent.

So Clive Bundy’s 400 cattle, then, require 40,000 acres to raise them and that’s 40,000 acres he doesn’t have. Whereas many cattle ranchers in the western United States feel they have the right to dirt cheap grazing on public lands that actually make it cheaper to raise cattle where it’s the most destructive, as opposed to the eastern rancher’s practice of having to own the land they use to make a living, Clive Bundy actually believes he has a right to access public lands without paying even for that.

Imagine if my friends and I were to come to where people fish, hunt, and otherwise enjoy the outdoors in your area and began to wipe out all of that recreation because I had reasoned that since I want to make money off the timber there, that what’s ours is mine. Is Clive Bundy prepared to offer Americans profit sharing, or even merely Nevadans? Color me strange but I’m doubting it!

This, contrary to what many might initially suppose, is an entirely appropriate analogy when one considers that the western deserts are the most fragile ecosystems we have, ecosystems that take much longer to come back than areas rich in biomass. It takes very little to turn a barely habitable place such as the Great Basin, where Bundy’s holding his hoedown (despite his recent comments, he insists colored folk are welcome), into an UNINHABITABLE place. It’s a sick philosophy practiced by too many and it damns future generations to a cowburnt wasteland.

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Cattlemen out west have had a stranglehold on the land, people, and politics of more than their own region for far too long, from the mass murder of competing sheep herders in Montana during the 19th century to their refusal to step aside and allow Yellowstone’s bison, the last truly wild bison in the continental U.S. and bison descended from the last 23 that were found alive after attempts were made by industrialists and genocidal politicians to make that number a big fat ZERO, the ability to leave Yellowstone during its ridiculously harsh winters and forage for food in National Forest. In fact, numerous times in recent years, hundreds and sometimes over a thousand bison are rounded up for attempting to find food or simply go to their ancestral calving grounds to give birth, and sent to slaughter!

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And, NO, bison didn’t have the same impact on the land. For one, unlike our modern agricultural methods, no one owned them and, as a result, they weren’t confined to an area, as is the case even with public lands grazing. Four hundred bison wouldn’t stay on forty thousand acres of desert scrub because they’re not stupid. They like things like water and grass so they’d move on. The regions rich in these things always hosted the greatest herds of bison for this very reason. Even if they did, before cattle came to the West, this was an ecologically stronger region precisely because cattle are an invasive species not tailored to its environment and, thus, the environment there isn’t tailored to it either.

Cattle are a wetland species and their flat hooves show it, not unlike those of moose, flat and round. Bison that have no cattle genes in them (Yellowstone’s are the only ones in the continental 48 that are pure) are pointed, albeit not so much as, say, deer. Because of this hoof shape, they literally till the land wherever they go, creating prairie dog habitat and, to suit cattle ranchers whose cattle step into prairie dog dwellings, sometimes breaking their ankles, these creatures are killed by the many thousands. It’s yet another snub against the circle of life since prairie dogs, in turn, support coyote populations and, in some cases, wolves. At the same time, bison disturb already entrenched prairie dog homes which is why packs of coyote follow bison migration, feeding. It’s the circle of life and it’s arrested by cattle, with their flat hooves, stamping and trampling everything in sight.

Further, with all the deforestation and cow trampling that the West has undergone, not to mention the vast tracts of land that have been cleared to grow the corn just to feed them, cattle are considered by many to be the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases. I’m not even going into bovine methane emissions. I’ll let these guys cover that.

I don’t know about you but I can do with two percent less hamburgers and steaks!

We Ought Not Grow Cows in Dry West

Dispelling the Cowboy Myth

Cowboy Mentality Dominates Bison Slaughter

Sacred Buffalo, Holy Cow: The Struggle for the Western Range

The Cowboy and His Cow by Edward Abbey

Censorship and Cop Brutality in the New Bison Wars

Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West

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