It looks like the Federal Government is going to reach out and touch yet another group of cattle ranchers, this time in the Arizona Strip. Their touch is likely to close another 1.7 million acres of grazing land and put a stop to mining in the region.
The Arizona Strip is that small part of Arizona directly north of the Grand Canyon. It’s an area well suited to open range cattle operations, and the same families have owned some of the existing ranches there for more than 100 years. Mostly public lands present are administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The Sierra Club has been pushing to change the land from multiple-use to protected status, and putting nearly the entire Strip under the control of the Park Service by creating the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups say that establishing the monument would protect critical habitat and old-growth forests. It would be created by executive order through the Antiquities Act.
Opponents say the monument would negatively impact grazing, hunting and forest restoration. Supporters say that grazing would continue to be allowed, but typically, when land switches from being administered by the BLM to the Park Service, the ranchers lose. Access and land development is severely restricted and eventually the cattlemen are out of business.
If President Obama creates this National Monument, it would be the 20th such monument his administration has established. He’s also expanded several National Parks, and created new ones such as Pinnacles near Salinas and King City. These changes have put many cattle ranchers in serious jeopardy or even out of business completely. The result is a lot of untended rangeland, which is suffering from benign neglect. The cattle are gone so the brush and low growth are growing extremely well – and creating extreme fire conditions throughout the west. Also, critics say the National Parks are falling apart because the Park Service now has so much land to manage it just can’t do it – that there is a tremendous financial burden and a maintenance backlog that it may never clear.
While preserving land for the future and saving us from the sight of cattle on the open range may be worthy goals, the law of unintended consequences comes into play here. That law says the actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and social scientists have heeded its power for about as long; politicians and popular opinion have ignored it.
Pay attention this time, Washington. Quit feeding the fires of the Sagebrush Rebellion.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.