Cultural Heritage vs. The Environment

Both are now losers, can they both be winners?

Added 30 January 1997

I dare say that it is impossible to discuss the preservation of the cultural heritage of Western cattle ranching without reaching into the realm of opinion and emotion. I will make no attempt to keep from diving into those realms here. To taint the Western ranching heritage with facts and figures would be useless, not to mention blasphemous.

Author William Perry Pendley stated in his book entitled War on the West: Government Tyranny on America's Great Frontier that environmentalists just want to drive people off the land. Perhaps he is right. Perhaps some, many, or most environmentalists do feel that way. I know that I don't feel that way, nor do many other environmentalists I know feel that way. Keeping the western heritage alive is important. It should be preserved. The past must be nurtured. It is through the past that we gain insight into the future. But there is a difference between preserving and living the lifestyle of the past, and living in the past.

One recognizes that there is a different, older, traditional way of doing things that is meaningful. The other is a way of burying one's head in the sand, refusing to see or accept that things change. 'Because my great granpappy did it that way' is not a good excuse for continuing to degrade the land. We learn new things everyday. Would you only take a shower once a month 'because my great granpappy did it that way'? No! Of course not! We have learned that personal hygiene is important! So is remaining within the sustainable yield of the land.

In many ways, I would love to lead the life that traditional ranchers live. I am lucky to have had research jobs in various wildlands around the Southwest, which have brought me very close to the essence of ranching. I have felt the love for a place that only comes with long, intimate knowledge of it. But, always, I recognize my fleeting position in that place. I am not a permanent part of Rock Trick Canyon, except in spirit. That is the way it should be. If I take something from Rock Trick Canyon, something irreplaceable like it's natural habitat, I will have taken something from everyone who visits the canyon. My impact will be permanent by the taking, and no one else will be able to share what I took. That type of impact is nothing short of greed and childishness. That isn't the type of immortality I want. Nor do I believe that most ranchers want that type of immortality. They want their children to be able to enjoy the land as much as they have.

I like to think that ranchers (generally speaking) have merely lost sight of what it means to be a steward of the land. I certainly do not blame or rebuke them for this. It is all too easy to lose sight of one's vision on this issue, what with all of the fear, mistrust, and name calling. I too, had lost my vision for a time. I believe I have it back now, and I hope that everyone else can regain their vision as well. Anyone who cares, shares the vision. Anyone who cares knows, that we must give our children as much as we can. What we must give our children, is a place where our livelihood isn't self-destructive. It can be done. We just have to recognize that, and move forward without the hate, without the fear and mistrust. And when you greet your 'adversary', instead of calling him a name, call him by his name.

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