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Can America’s West stay wild?

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Given the stakes, why not just play it safe? Mr. Monda turns the question around: What’s the most conservative choice, to remove cows and thereby change conditions, or to keep conditions the same and leave cows on the land? “What’s the right answer? I don’t know,” he says. But “for multiple generations, the area had been grazed. And it was the last place that had rabbits.”

Ranchers are bulwarks to development
Ranchers view themselves as natural stewards of the land. Who knows and cares for the land better than they do? Often abutting public land, working ranches are bulwarks against out-of-control development, say pro-ranchers. Subdivisions – further habitat fragmentation – are worse for endangered species than are cattle, they argue. In recent years, this historically polarized debate has seen what Courtney White, cofounder of the Quivira Coalition in Santa Fe, N.M., calls the emergence of “the radical center.” In an effort toward sustainability, “progressive” ranchers are seeking to apply lessons learned from ecological science.

But, say some, even if better management can diminish livestock’s harmful impact, cows, an exotic species, shouldn’t wander the semiarid western landscape for one simple reason: “There’s only so much biomass out there,” says George Wuerthner, coeditor of “Welfare Ranching.” “If the majority of forage is going into a cow, it’s not there for all the other life forms.”

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