On the day after the Gunnison sage grouse in Colorado is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a totally unnecessary move, along comes Ruby Valley rancher Cliff Gardner with a lesson in history for those who want to return the West to its pristine state before being despoiled by European settlers and their sheep and cattle.
Gardner, who has waged a heated and protracted court battle with federal land agencies for years, points out that the effort to “save” the natural population of greater sage grouse across Nevada and 10 other Western states is a distortion of facts and history.
He points out that the current healthy number of sage grouse are entirely due to rangeland management and predator control by ranchers, and historically the bird was seldom found in Nevada:
“All seem bent on ignoring the fact that during the first 20 years of exploration into the Great Basin, no one mentioned seeing sage grouse. Jedediah Smith never mentioned seeing sage grouse during his trip across central Nevada in 1827. John Work never mentioned seeing sage grouse while trapping throughout much of the northern portion of today’s Nevada in 1831. Zenas Leonard never mentioned seeing sage grouse in 1833. Nor did Joe Meek, John Bidwell, John Fremont, Charles Preuss, Heinrich Lienhard, or James Clyman mention seeing sage grouse.”
This is something various writers have been pointing out for years, but even the state officials working to “preserve” the sage grouse ignore it.
The late Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber pointed out in an interview three years ago how the land changed with the coming of ranchers.
When the wagon trains started coming through Nevada in the 1840s, they had the same experience as those earlier explorers and trappers who Gardner mentions. In many of their journals they talked about how very little grass there was and how their livestock were doing so poorly as they crossed Nevada.
Then things got to be a little better, according to Gerber:
“Along the Humboldt River it began to get a little better because as these wagon trains would come through the cattle would plow up the soil with their hooves the oxen and the horses and the sheep. They’d fertilize it and they would knock down the sage brush and grind it into soil. Just like you do with your garden. Every year the soil got a little bit better.”
But never let the facts get in the way of “saving” a species from being trampled by humans.