blank.gif (51 bytes) Environment

Cowboys and Soccer Moms

Americans Who Need Each Other

Urban Americans live as if they have outgrown the land that feeds them, as incomprehensible as a similar reverence for the land among Native Americans was to the railroad barons, merchants, and immigrant farmers of a century ago...I am haunted by the sense we are all Indians here, as much in danger of losing our land as the Indians were a hundred years ago....and if that happens I fear we will meet with the same national indifference.

—Poet and journalist Kathleen Norris
in her prize-winning book, Dakota


By Diane Alden

t is becoming increasingly clear that the way of life in rural America and resource based occupations are under attack by disparate interest groups from the federal bureaucracy to the environmental movement. Additionally, many other interests including tourism and recreation are in contention for control of the recently invented construct known as "public land," which for historical and climatalogical reasons is located primarily in the West. The current status of the agricultural and resource based community may be compared to the plight of the American Indian communities a hundred years ago. The steady erosion of the commercial use of America’s natural resources has been replaced by a neo-colonial dependence on tourism, recreation, and aesthetic considerations.

Changing the Name of the Game

Over the last 50 years and more particularly the last 35 years the U.S. government has redefined terms and changed rules through bureaucratic and executive fiat and done severe damage to the constitutionally guaranteed right of private property. Radically reconstructed environmental and government policy is forcing loggers, miners and ranchers out of rural communities and into urban areas. The very resources and related occupations which have made this country rich and powerful are now denigrated and regulated to near extinction.

Small communities whose businesses and county government depend upon agriculture, logging or mining for economic support and taxes are struggling for survival in a largely urbanized United States. Many cowboys have given up ranching and are driving buses in Chicago. According to government statistics the U.S. is losing 32,500 agricultural producers per year. Since 1959 the agricultural producers’ share of national income has gone from 6 percent to .08 percent and is still dropping. The loss of resource-based jobs and with it the demise of the rural way of life have consequences for every single American in several ways. It effects our independence as a self-sufficient nation as well as our pocket book.

The average urbanite, the stereotypical "soccer mom," does not fully understand how the cumulative impacts of environmental propaganda as currently implemented by the federal government affects her life.

Soccer Mom And Joe Logger

Urbanites in Nevada may complain loudly because they must deal with the inflated cost of new homes. They realize that they are buying homes with lower quality construction values and fewer ammenties. However, they may not associate the rise in price and the decrease in quality with certain realities. Since 1989 timber harvests on federal lands have dropped from 5.4 billion board feet to less then 800 million board feet in 1994. Timber production, a renewable resource, has dropped to almost zero levels since 1995.

As these harvests have dropped to a trickle timber prices have gone through the roof. The average cost of a 2,000 square foot home has risen by over $4800. Stud prices alone have risen by 75 percent. According to a recent University of California study, American consumers are paying $4.6 billion more because of increased prices for wood products. A steep decline in timber production has cost the U.S. economy more then $25 billion. According to the Wilderness Society’s own figures, the cost to local governments nationwide is approximately $204 million.

In the Tahoe-Truckee area alone the U.S. Forest Service lost more than $7 million in fiscal 1996 as a consequence of reduced logging. Tahoe National Forest has yearly losses of about $3.9 million which reduces state and local government tax revenues and results in regional job losses and business bankruptcies.

From an urban perspective, soccer moms may not be concerned about the loss of a way of life for Joe Logger or his dying rural town. But she will care about not being able to invest as much money in her child’s education because she is paying more for the house her family lives in and the products they buy. While being influenced by the environmental movements’ warm and fuzzy slogans in slick magazines and TV specials, she loses sight of the fact that current government environmental regulations cost more than $4,200 per family per year—which would certainly buy a lot of tennis shoes, a trip to Disneyland, and a couple of trees and birdfeeders for her back yard.

In another area of parental concern, the soccer mom would be shocked to know that her children are subjected to inadequate and highly propagandized environmental education in both public and private schools. Dr. Michael Sanera of the University of New Mexico, an expert in environmental education, has done exhaustive studies on the subject and found that at least 50 percent of U.S. children believe that trees don’t die unless they are cut. According to Sanera, soccer moms’ "kids are never told that the private sector is responsible for 80 percent of all trees planted in the United States each year."

The faith which urban America places in "environmental science" has dire consequences for the forests and ecosystems environmentalists profess to care about. The soccer mom may not realize there has been a substantial increase in the number of acres destroyed by wildfire over the past 20 years because of "environmental science."

The idea of old-growth forests and endangered species are held up as holy icons by the green movement which uses them as an excuse to "protect" public and private land from responsible harvesting and clearing of undergrowth and dead wood by commercial loggers. The congressionally established National Commission on Wildfire Disasters has warned Americans that " risks of fire over large areas of the West have reached critical mass."

The Commission indicated the country’s "preservation" policies have triggered this destruction and urged "the removal or fuel reduction...through careful salvage logging, thinning, and other means." It also maintained that "[unfortunately] public opposition to logging and other silvicultural actions in federal forests results in greatly increased costs and [devastation of forest and habitat.]" Their suggestion was to change the techniques of land management and allow commodity production in some fashion.

In other words, current environmental dogma which purports to "save" forests does the exact opposite. Millions of acres go up in smoke each year because of a mindset which says letting them burn is better than allowing Joe Logger to cut and clean. Soccer moms and dads would never believe that the environmental education they have received and programs implemented by the federal government result in the destruction of forests and creatures that current environmental policies are supposed to save.

Where have all the cowboys gone?

Since urbanites rely heavily on the mainstream media for information, they are subjected to a vast amount of misinformation and propaganda. No matter how ludicrous or devoid of common sense, the mainstream media presents nearly everything which comes out of the environmental grab bag of pseudo-science as the gospel. Consistently the "scientific" research of environmental groups depends on an incestuous blend of government scientists and its own hired guns looking for facts to fit the environmental theory of the moment.

Philosopher and environmentalist Alston Chase writes in In A Dark Wood, "By 1990 the federal government controlled nearly all environmental research. Its various agencies retained an interest in the outcome of ecological debates. Most wildlife biologists worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Researchers regularly crossed the line between science and partisanship. Many scientists began to rely heavily on computer modeling and less on real-world testing."

From this mix of environmentalism and politics theories developed and repeated thousands of times imply that arid western lands are in such a condition because they have been over-grazed. Often "scientists" leave out crucial facts like drought, disuse and natural cycles that can cause severe damage and the fact that grass reappears when droughts end.

Environmental and government "scientists" would never admit that most rangeland is healthier when it is grazed. Most ranchers with any sense have known and for years practiced rotating cattle from pasture to pasture—monthly, if not weekly or daily. All too often land converted from grazing to "wilderness" ends up being taken over by weeds and scrub and non native species. One outstanding thing which cows do for rangeland is that they reseed it—because what goes in must come out.

In study after study, range management specialists have found that areas which have livestock grazing are also abundant in wildlife. When properly rotated with livestock and rest, grassland private or public is in better condition and attracts more wild life then land simply left wild.

Even rabid environmentalists like Dr. Joy Belsky reluctantly admit that grazing improves plant palatability and nutritive content and reduces decadent tissue. Recently, in an experiment conducted by the University of Nevada, several acres were fenced off , some with cows and some without. Of the two areas the one with cows was healthier and its grass was lush and attractive to wildlife. Typically, grasslands left alone without any grazing end up with an abundance of decadent growth and are subsequently vulnerable to fire and degradation. According to most range management specialists this is not healthy for the land, for wildlife or for human beings.

Unfortunately, in the war for the hearts of urban America the media draws a distorted picture of the ranching community. The average rancher is not the Texas millionaire variety as seen in the much flaunted Oprah Winfrey "beef" with cattleman or as they are portrayed in reruns of Dallas. The average rancher is lucky if he has yearly earnings of $30,000 after costs. Many ranchers have second jobs in addition to the back breaking work required on a typical ranch or farm. Nearly 98 percent are small or middle sized ranchers with less than 500 head of cattle. Twenty-two percent of farm families live at the poverty level.

Wyoming rancher James Spode of Lander says, "It wouldn’t be worth it—not for five cents per pound profit—if I didn’t love this way of life so darn much."

Nevada rancher Wayne Hage, whose battle with the environmental movement and the federal government was covered in Nevada Journal’s April issue, says, "Bureaucrats being driven by the environmental movement use rules and regulations to extinguish private property. They don’t want any place out here in the West to be used for cattle production or much else. This isn’t about grazing on so called ‘public land’ but about who has control—it’s un-American."

Obviously many urbanites have recognized the value of the rural way of life. In the last 10 years, the fastest growing area in the United States is not the South but the American West. Government census and surveys show the intermountain West is being inundated with an influx of ex-urbanites disgusted with life in L.A. and New York.

Research indicates the reason these refugees leave urban areas is that they are fed up with city decay and suburban blandness. They come looking for the values, beauty and character which they find in rural and small town America. What these refugees from urban blight have found in the hinterlands is something America once knew as livable communities.

As rural America loses out to the results of 30 years of environmental propaganda and government regulation, millions of acres are lost yearly to development or "wilderness" designation. The family ranch and farm population declines and rangeland disappears.

Scarlet O’Hara Syndrome:
"I’ll think about it tomorrow"

As trends and projections of future food and arable land needs become known, it should be crystal clear to urban Americans that within 50 to 60 years America will be a net importer of food instead of a net exporter. What this means is that the country will be in the unhappy position of depending on other nations for food. Self-sufficiency requires a more reasonable approach than to depend on current government policy influenced by certain irresponsible factions in the environmental movement to maintain our agricultural independence.

Lest the average person think that environmentalism is concerned only about saving the land for future generations, one merely has to look at what happens when environmentalists leave people out of their equation. Such was the case of Norman Borlaug, the nobel prize winning plant geneticist whose impressive humanitarian efforts in agriculture were brought to an abrupt halt by environmentalists. The green groups put pressure on the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations to take away Borlaug’s funding of crucial agricultural work in Africa. A friend of former President Jimmy Carter, Borlaug’s work had resulted in an exponential increase in food production in Asia—especially in India.

In a recent article in Atlantic Monthy, environmentalist Gregg Easterbrook concludes that too many green groups are so zealous about saving the earth they have relatively little concern for millions of people starving to death. Borlaug’s methods include the use of inorganic pesticides and modern agricultural techniques.

In India and Asia his methods have resulted in more food produced on less land, with fewer forests cut down. By 1968 his efforts in Pakistan had led to self sufficiency in wheat production. His high yield agricultural techniques spared 100 million acres in India from deforestation. Most recently, he intended to do the same for Africa by producing more food on less land which was being depleted by traditional slash and burn agriculture. Interestingly, if Borlaug had been allowed to continue his work, one of the environmentalists’ greatest boogey men—overpopulation—would have been addressed as well.

Along with saving the environment, all available data shows that when more food is available there is a subsequent decrease in population growth. Unfortunately for Africans, environmentalists became obsessed with the fact that inorganic chemicals and pesticides were being used in implementing Borlaug’s technologies. In their opinion, using "manmade" chemicals and pesticides is worse than people starving to death.

Even as environmentalism, government regulation and development—directly and indirectly—take millions of acres of U.S. land out of agricultural production, urban America responds by saying, "We can depend on Canada, Australia or Mexico for our food." London economist Charles Stern writes, "Without its agricultural capability America is just an overgrown technological state dependent on the largess of other countries and good offices and distributive capabilities of the federal government and possibly international agricultural cartels."

To see where such dependence and trust leads, urban America merely has to look at results of trusting in such structures as OPEC, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Post Office, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and our welfare system to see that such dependence leads to abuse of authority, monumental waste and callous inefficiency. If the destruction of American agriculture continues apace, the probability is high that food, like gasoline, will cost 10 times more then it does now. In addition, imported food is not as likely to be carefully monitored for health or safety factors. Several recent incidents of tainted food lead to the conclusion that a preponderance of the contaminated produce and meat was imported.

Privileged and Endangered

Soccer moms and cowboys pretty much want the same things—clean air and water, a better environment, better education, a sensible way of life, a growing economy, safety and security—a decent world for their children and grandchildren. Unlike the farmer and rancher, soccer moms and dads are fortunate enough to have the economic and political clout to keep the government and the environmental movement out of their backyard—for now.

Kathleen Norris makes a touching and perceptive observation in her book Dakota: "I am well aware that ours [farming and ranching] is a privileged and endangered way of life, one that, ironically, only the poor may be able to afford."


In the long run a myopic, pseudo-scientific environmental program administered by a growing and powerful government bureaucracy will cost all Americans dearly—both financially and as independent citizens of a free republic. Are we urban Americans justified in trusting a movement that has outgrown its idealism and is now just another elite group of people seeking power and wealth?

Sadly, in the future it may be possible that children will ask the same sort of question contemporary Americans ask about the American Indian—but the question will be, "Momma, how come there are no more loggers, or miners? And one more thing, momma: Where have all the cowboys gone?" u

Diane Alden is a contributing editor of Nevada Journal.


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