The Viva Vine: vol #4, no #1: January / February 1995
Meat People Playing Dirty
by Pamela Teisler-Rice
With the general sprawl of the U.S population, environmentalists, along with everyone else, have set up shop in areas across the West which were previously the exclusive domain of ranching, rodeos, and adobe. They have come with copies of the Endangered Species Act under their arms. And like the Carpetbaggers who went to the South after The Civil War, these environmentalist indeed threaten to end business as usual for ranchers as well as miners and loggers.
The environmentalists have a lot to bring suit about. A 1991 United Nations report declared that 85% of western rangeland in the U.S. has been degraded by overgrazing by livestock. In New Mexico, The Diamond Bar is where one battle is raging. It is an area of one the the biggest federal grazing allotments. The banks of the Main Diamond Creek are bare and crumbling. According to biologists in a January 3rd Wall Street Journal article (from which many of the facts for this story were derived), "[The Main Diamond]'s current condition ... helps explain why every fish species existing in the Gila River 50 years ago is now either extinct, endangered or under consideration for federal protection."
Cattle denude or trample nearly everything in their paths; and they pollute waters with the dung they leave behind. Their introduction into the American landscape hundreds of years ago spread Old World grasses that overtook more delicate native ones. Predator control serving commercial ranching interests also has tragically obliterated whole eco-systems of wildlife.
In general, cattle grazing has transformed much of the West's environment into a virtual desert. In riparian zones (narrow land strips that run along side rivers, streams and ponds), ranching has eroded these delicate and lush eco-systems into barren watering holes for cows. Thus, the critical areas where the majority of all wildlife of the West develops its habitats, have now become "cow burnt."
People from federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service among others have in recent years been on the front lines, though sometimes reluctantly, enforcing laws to protect and revive these western environments. They've been commissioned to bring reforms to the American West to, so to speak, save these ranchers from themselves. The ranchers, who have adopted a militant government-hating stance, of course, don't see it this way.
Ironically these ranchers are the same ones who got rich on a history of cheap grazing fees charged them by the federal government -- the owner of much of the land. The ranchers are now saying, however, that the public lands are not public at all, but belong to them! Just like that. Many believe in fact that the government shouldn't even have a right to own land at all -- that the U.S. government has no right to lands where their cattle graze because the land was stolen over a century ago in war.
When it comes to complying with environmental regulations, this kind of rhetoric of course is very convenient. Complying they are not.
These ranchers and others are more than just talk, though. They're arming themselves, literally. Today we have a total movement, no less, welling up all across counties of the West. This so called "county movement," named after Catron County, New Mexico, which passed local laws making it illegal for the Forest Service to regulate grazing even on federally owned and protected lands, has in fact taken up arms against the U.S. government. Often there are reports of federal environmental regulators literally frightened away with threats of violence. [Where is Norman Schwartzkopf when we really need him?]
Catron County, in fact, passed a measure requiring all heads of households within its boundaries to own firearms to "protect citizens' rights." In just the past two years, over one hundred counties across the West have passed equally ludicrous ordinances.
The cattle industry, however, should take a hint from the perilous state of the fishing industry. Today whole fishing towns are being turned into museums of a bygone era. This is an industry which also thought it could regulate itself. But in just 20 years or so, it's vacuumed its backyard nearly bare of fish. With the modern introduction in the 1970's of factory trawlers, modern fisherman could process fish on board ship staying at sea for months at a time, efficiently fishing some species nearly to extinction.
The beef and fish industries have in effect mortgaged the future of their prospective environments. They've kept prices low on the animal foods they've profited from like there was no tomorrow. Today the fisherman will probably get a federal buyout.
Cattle ranchers will probably hang on to the past through violence until their environment won't support them anymore. And then they will want a buyout.
In all of the ongoing public debates around the global environmental crisis, a curious silence surrounds the issue of cattle, one of the most destructive environmental threats of the modern era.
-- Jeremy Rifkin, Beyond Beef
Ed. Note: Despite all, vegetarians continue to be considered a fringe group without viability. We vegetarians lose all and gain nothing from animal industries. We lose species, we lose our environment, and we lose our topsoil. We pay for subsidies to, buyouts for, lawsuits against, and violence from animal industries. And our children and our children's children will pay even more dearly than we.
REFERENCES FOR THE ABOVE STORY
"Catron County, N.M., Leads a Nasty Revolt Over Eco-Protection," Wall Street Journal, Jan. 3 1995, p. 1.
Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, by Jeremy Rifkin, A Dutton Book, 1992, New York.
"Hook, Line and Sunk," The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 11, 1994, p.75
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