Land Use in the Western USA
Holistic Management and Ranching:
New Hope for the Old West?
In the western United States, land use conflicts are particularly sharp as various government bodies own much of the land.
Here is a new guest article presenting some fresh alternatives.
A note from the author:
Brad VanDyke represents Rural Utahns For Local Solutions (RUFLS), a group of citizens concerned about the proposed federal designation of private lands remaining in their area as a National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area. The designation grants special privileges in the form of subsidies to tourism and "heritage" businesses, as well as a federal management appointment to that lobby.
Opposition to the national heritage area designation comes from across the conventional spectrum, from self-styled conservatives, liberals, moderates, greens, libertarians, Democrats, and Republicans. Support also comes from across the spectrum, and it appears that the dividing line is between populism and privilege.
The national heritage area program is being promoted throughout rural America for economic development. Around 100 areas have been proposed. But the corporate media, left and right, have been quiet about the issue. Government-sponsored tourism has destroyed many rural communities as land values skyrocket and seasonal tourism wages don't. RUFLS is proposing the Georgist property tax shift as well as Holistic Management as local, privilege-free economic development and environmental solutions.
by Brad VanDykeBitter conflict over land use and economic development has divided the American West for decades. A new landscape interpretation and decision-making framework, Holistic Management™, challenges notions on both sides and has made for some unlikely allies amongst ranchers and environmentalists. Proponents of Holistic management claim their method can revitalize both Western ranching and the natural ecosystem.
Spring City, Utah
Steve Rich, a lifelong rancher, biologist, and management consultant, asserts Holistic Management would regenerate the economy and community life of South-Central Utah. Rich manages a family ranch near Kanab and has an office in Salt Lake City. He recently appeared on a Channel 5 news program with John Hollenhorst about the Deseret Ranch in Northern Utah.
The Deseret Ranch is owned by Farm Management Corporation, an enterprise of the LDS Church. Sanpete County has strong ties to the ranch. Will Sorensen of Spring City was sheep foreman at the ranch in the early and mid 1900s, and employed many Sanpete youth there when jobs were scarce.
Some here still remember weeks camped on the ranch's vast holdings on the Utah-Wyoming border or its winter range on the West Desert, and the thousands of sheep herded between the ranges down 21st South in the Salt Lake Valley.
Steve Rich has consulted with the ranch for years on their Holistic Management program and says they have "done it well." That's because they began with a "comprehensive goal," he says. The goal must be built on the quality of life and resource base desired, but must also include viable forms of production.
"Don't do anything that doesn't make money," he warns. It's hard for poor, indebted ranchers to maintain the quality of life they want.
The Deseret Ranch has been highly successful at achieving its goal. Its Western holdings have been designated by the Audobon Society as a Global Important Bird Area, harboring 265 bird species. Deer, elk, pronghorn, and moose roam the landscape in abundance, and provide income for the ranch.
But wildlife provides only one seventh to one sixth of the total income. Ten thousand cattle and two thousand sheep are the main source of economic production.
Defying some environmentalist stereotypes of ranchers as subsidized, dependent destroyers of nature, the ranch is run as a for-profit, tax-paying business recieving no government or church subsidies and paying standard commercial lease rates. By standard economic formulas it contributes well over $10 million to the American economy, says Rich.
He describes large tracts of sagebrush steppes at the ranch that have regenerated to wet meadow land during the worst recorded drought on record. Intensive herding methods mimicking patterns of ancient bison herds have improved soil and runoff such that the water table lies only six inches below the soil surface in places. "What if they held a drought and nobody noticed?", he asks.
One long-time Utah rancher who attended a Holistic Management workshop believes the concept is "a good idea, but we're not set up to implement it here." He points out that much of Utah is federal land, and federal bureaucracies as well as mainstream environmental groups have resisted Holistic management. He also wonders if small ranchers have the resources to implement it as effectively as a large operation like Deseret Land and Livestock.
Rich agrees that dealing with the government is formidable for holistic managers. Many of the concepts challenge long-held anti-grazing dogmas of established bureaucracies. But he also is hopeful of change. The Deseret Ranch grazes over 20,000 acres of BLM land with Holistic Management methods.
Allan Savory, founder of the Holistic Management model, lost his job as a government wildlife manager when he challenged the idea that stocking rates were the main cause of range deterioration. Instead, he claimed, timing and herd density were bigger factors for both wild and domestic grazers. Struggling ranchers and maverick government agents became his biggest supporters.
Ed Schoppe, supervisory range conservationist at the Manti-LaSal National Forest office in Ephraim expresses skepticism of Savory's methods. "I have seen high-intensity use and it doesn't work." But he is interested by data from the Deseret Ranch and proponents of the method.
Rich believes small ranchers could indeed implement Holistic Management to revitalize their way of life. Pooling resources like their ancestors did could cut costs by two thirds, he says. "Anybody practicing Holistic Management well should be able to make 50% profit off of sales," he says.
Many ranchers average less than $1 profit per acre annually. But $4-7 is the average on ranches like the Deseret, and that is improving, according to Rich. However, he believes the basis for Holistic Management goes way beyond money.
"Creating the life you want", "living according to life and truth" and helping every creature "fill the measure of its creation" are phrases that express his feelings on the matter.
Rich is currently working on projects with Senator Bob Bennett and Representative Chris Cannon to convince congress that livestock plays a critical role in Western ecosystems. His number is 801-582-0428. The Allan Savory Center for Holistic Management is located in Albuquerque, NM and has a website at www.holisticmanagement.org.
Rural Utahns For Local Solutions (RUFLS) is a group of citizens along the US 89-Boulder Loop corridor that is proposing Holistic Management as a local economic development alternative to federal mandates, programs, and designations. Currently RUFLS is demanding public hearings and input on the proposed National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area Act (S. 916). Brad VanDyke, author of this article, is a RUFLS representative. His number is 435-462-4575, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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