Newspaper column: Want to save the planet? Let the cows out

Grant Gerber, champion of grazing. (photo submitted to Elko Daily Free Press)

Once again the sagacity of cowboy philosopher Will Rogers has been proved: “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Writing in the summer edition of Range magazine longtime ecologist Allan Savory notes that it is universally agreed that strict control on livestock grazing is needed to prevent turning our rangelands into barren deserts. But it ain’t so.

“In more than 60 years of research, neither I nor any collaborating scientists have found any evidence to support the idea that controlling livestock numbers prevents desertification,” writes Savory under the superlative headline, “Cows Can Save the World.”

In fact, Savory reports, complete removal of cattle accelerates desertification for two reasons. “First, most or all aboveground stems and leaves of perennial grasses die back every year,” according to Savory. “Unlike trees that also have leaf turnover, grasses cannot shed dead leaves and stems. Over millions of years such grasslands — soil life, plants, grazing animals and their predators — developed together in an amazing symbiotic relationship. The grasses needed animals grazing, trampling, dunging and urinating just as much as the animals needed plants.”

Land on left was grazed while that on right was not.

Land on left was grazed while that on right was not. (Range magazine photo by Andrea Malmberg)

The writer, who is originally from Rhodesia but now makes his home in New Mexico, notes that most Americans live on the coasts where there is enough moisture for grasses to rapidly oxidize, but in the more arid climes gradual oxidation doesn’t allow adequate sunlight to reach ground level if there is no grazing. This results in grasslands weakening and nature striving to fill the vacuum with taproots plants — weeds or forbs, shrubs and trees if rainfall is high enough.

While this may sound like heresy to federal land managers and those whose experience with grass in limited to a backyard turf, it is something many ranchers have been saying for years.

The late Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber often charged that federal agents are in thrall of the radical environmentalists, whose mantra is that the land should be returned to the pristine state before ranchers ruined it by trampling it with sheep and cattle.

But the truth is quite the opposite. It is those sheep and cattle that helped transform the Great Basin into a land hospitable for wildlife such as elk, deer and sage grouse.

Gerber, who died in October of a head injury after his horse stumbled during a protest ride to Washington on behalf of ranchers being forced off federal public land, was fond of quoting from the diary of fur trapper Peter Skene Ogden who crossed Nevada circa 1828: “There were times when we tasted no food, and we were unable to discover water for several days together; without wood, we keenly felt the cold; wanting grass, our horses were reduced to great weakness, so that many of them died, on whose emaciated carcases we were constrained to satisfy the intolerable cravings of our hunger, and as a last resource, to quench our thirst with their blood.”

Only after the sheep and cattle came and trampled the earth and fertilized it and ranchers improved access to water, the region blossomed, Gerber contends.

Gerber explained in an interview a couple of years ago that this was because: “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.”

This is also explained by Ruby Valley rancher Cliff Gardner, who in an article in the Elko Daily Free Press in November, noted that between 1846 and 1853 an estimated 165,000 people crossed the Great Basin en route to California. They brought with them nearly 1 million cattle, sheep and horses.

“Think of the impact these animals must have had on the environment along the Humboldt and elsewhere during that period,” Gardner recounts. “But did things deteriorate — was the grass abused and depleted? Not according to the logs and diaries that were kept. Almost to a person, it was indicated that grazing conditions were improving — that there was more grass and feed found then, than had been found earlier.”

Grazing has transformed Nevada. Do we wish to see it revert to a pristine but barren state devoid of wildlife and vegetation?

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Perhaps AB408 would get the federal government’s attention

When my father broke the two-by-four across the muzzle of a recalcitrant 2,000-pound black Angus bull, he explained: First, you have to get his attention.

Perhaps that is one way to look at Assembly Bill 408 that would prohibit the federal government owning or regulating land and water rights in state of Nevada without legislative approval.

There was a big rally and a couple of hours of testimony about the bill Tuesday in Carson City.

Looming over all the debate over the bill was an opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau that AB408, under current case law, is unconstitutional. And so it is.

At one time case law stated that “separate but equal” was constitutional, internment of Japanese citizens was constitutional and free speech could be curbed if it challenged military conscription law.

Perhaps it is time to get the federal government’s attention and make its lawyers defend the 150-year control of 87 percent of the land in Nevada by the federal government.

As the Counsel Bureau opinion states, the courts over the years have upheld the federal government’s hegemony over much of the West.

One of those cases out of the liberal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997 ruled against rancher Cliff Gardner of Ruby Valley, who contended the state and not the federal government should have sovereignty over the unappropriated land in Nevada. Gardner was one of those testifying in favor of AB408.

The court ruled that the Equal Footing Doctrine, under which all states admitted to the Union have equal footing with the original 13 states, does not mean what it clearly says.

“The Equal Footing Doctrine, then, applies to political rights and sovereignty, not to economic or physical characteristics of the states, the court ruled.

But in 1828 states from Illinois to Florida successfully argued:

“If these lands are to be withheld from sale, which is the effect of the present system, in vain may the People of these States expect the advantages of well settled neighborhoods, so essential to the education of youth, and to the pleasures of social intercourse, and the advantages of religious instruction. Those States will, for many generations, without some change, be retarded in endeavors to increase their comfort and wealth, by means of works of internal improvements, because they have not the power, incident to all sovereign States, of taxing the soil, to pay for the benefits conferred upon its owner by roads and canals.

“When these States stipulated not to tax the lands of the United States until they were sold, they rested upon the implied engagement of Congress to cause them to be sold, within a reasonable time. No just equivalent has been given those States for a surrender of an attribute of sovereignty so important to their welfare, and to an equal standing with the original States.”

In fact, the Nevada statehood documents include language saying the state would get: “five percentum of the proceeds of the sales of all public lands lying within said state, which shall be sold by the United States subsequent to the admission of said state into the Union …”

That is an implicit promise to sell the federal land.

The year before the Gardner case the voters of Nevada repealed the 1864 Disclaimer Clause that says the state does “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Nearly 20 years later Congress and the courts have failed to act on that vote. So much for the right to redress grievances as promised by the First Amendment.

AB408 might just be the right two-by-four across the federal muzzle to get their attention.

Michele Fiore, main sponsor of AB408 testifies Tuesday

Michele Fiore, main sponsor of AB408 testifies Tuesday

LCB letter

How to save the sage grouse from extinction

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.

Gunnison sage grouse

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.

Cliff Gardner (Range magazine photo by Mary Branscomb)

Fox commentator explains what probably will happen next in the Bundy saga

Cliven Bundy addresses crowd. (R-J photo)

Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox & Friends today explains what the government did wrong in trying to impound Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle and what they should have done.

As I mentioned Monday, the way to handle a civil judgment is not to send in an invading army but to sit down at a computer somewhere in a government cubicle and file a lien against Bundy’s property.

I wonder how many desert tortoises, just coming out of hibernation, got stomped to death in this fiasco. This is the very time of year the BLM told Bundy he could not graze his cattle on the Gold Butte range because they might step on baby tortoises — a contention that has been proven false.

As for why Harry Reid would have any knowledge or say in any of this is another mystery. But he told a Reno television station Monday: “Well, it’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

Federal Judge Lloyd George dismissed out of hand Budy’s states’ rights arguments:

“Bundy principally opposes the United States’ motion for summary judgment on the ground that this court lacks jurisdiction because the United States does not own the public lands in question. As this court previously ruled in United States v. Bundy, Case No. CV-S- 98-531-JBR (RJJ) (D. Nev. Nov. 4, 1998), “the public lands in Nevada are the property of the United States because the United States has held title to those public lands since 1848, when
Mexico ceded the land to the United States.” CV-S-98-531 at 8 (citing United States v. Gardner, 107 F.3d 1314, 1318 (9th Cir. 1997)). Moreover, Bundy is incorrect in claiming that the Disclaimer Clause of the Nevada Constitution carries no legal force, see Gardner, 107 F.3d at 1320; that the Property Clause of the United States Constitution applies only to federal lands outside the borders of states, see id. at 1320; that the United States‘ exercise of ownership over federal lands violates the Equal Footing Doctrine, see id. at 1319; that the United States is basing its authority to sanction Bundy for his unauthorized use of federal lands on the Endangered Species Act as opposed to trespass, see Compl. at ¶¶ 1,3, 26-39; and that Nevada’s “Open Range” statute excuses Bundy’s trespass. See e.g., Gardner, 107 F.3d at 1320 (under Supremacy Clause state statute in conflict with federal law requiring permit to graze would be trumped).”

Instead of ordering a lien on Bundy’s property, George concluded “that the United States is entitled to seize and remove to impound any of Bundy’s cattle for any future trespasses, provided the United States has provided notice to Bundy under the governing regulations of the United States Department of the Interior.”

George cites a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Humboldt rancher Cliff Gardner, who argued that the state Disclaimer Clause violated the Equal Footing Doctrine and cited the 10th Amendment — to no avail.

The court also dismissed his argument about the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.”

Gardner was jailed for a month and fined $5,000.