Newspaper column: How to save the West from devastating wildfires

As we enter another wildfire season — and each one seems to be more devastating than the previous one — the question lingers: Why?

According to The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Geographic it is unquestionably due to climate change.

Pay no heed to the fact that prior to 1980 less than 25,000 acres of wildfires occurred each year in Nevada. In each of the past two years, more than 1 million acres have burned. Coincidentally, since 1980 the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have made massive cuts in the number of cattle and sheep allowed to graze federal land. The number of sheep has fallen 80 percent and the number of cattle has been cut in half.

This past week’s issue of Executive Intelligence Review magazine asks the question: “What Is Causing Massive Wildfires In the U.S. West: The Environment — Or Environmentalism?”

The article focuses on the largest fire in Nevada history — the July 2018 Martin Fire, which burned nearly half a million acres in Northeast Nevada and devastated the Ninety-Six Ranch, which has been run by the Stock and Stewart families for 155 years. The article includes an extensive interview with rancher Kris Stewart, who has been lobbying the federal land agencies and the president to allow historic levels of grazing to prevent such wildfires.

Stewart told the magazine’s editor the vegetative fuel levels on the rangeland that burned in the Martin Fire had been allowed to reach 1,000 percent of normal by the BLM’s own estimates, and, despite this, she said the ranch was denied permission for additional grazing time.

In the 1960s, she reported, “the modern environmental movement began to inform range management studies and policy, and environmental lawsuits caused a shift in grazing policies. Once considered engaged partners, ranchers were viewed as the enemy …”

This was political, not scientific. Stewart noted that range biologists such as Allan Savory have concluded that livestock grazing disturbs the soil in a healthy manner, “allowing rain and snow water, seeds and fertilizer to be absorbed throughout the soil. They obviously also deposit some of those seeds as well as a completely natural and healthy fertilizer to the soil.”

In the 2015 summer edition of Range magazine, under the headline “Cows can save the world,” Savory stated, “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.”

Grant Gerber leaves a legacy of ever questing for liberty

Travis and Grant Gerber on the Grass March in May. (Cris Voss photo via Elko Daily Free Press)

Grant Gerber was the consummate Nevadan.

Gerber, 72, died of head injuries sustained when his horse fell during the coast-to-coast Grass March Cowboy Express to protest BLM mismanagement of federal public land in Nevada. His memorial service was, appropriately, on Nevada Day.

He never stopped fighting for the land and people he loved.

Gerber, before he was elected to the Elko County Commission, introduced me to the writings of explorer Peter Skene Ogden, who traversed Nevada about 1828. Gerber noted that Ogden’s diary illustrates — contrary to what the so-called environmentalists would try to tell you — that the people did not just occupy and use the land, but transformed it.

Ogden observed:

“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.”

Before the sheep and cattle came and trampled the earth and fertilized it, there was nothing to burn and no game to eat. There was no sage grouse to declare endangered, nor many desert tortoises. There were few wildfires, because there was nothing to burn.

Humans and their domestic animals are part and parcel of the rural Nevada environment, but don’t waste your breath trying to explain that to the federal bureaucrats and the so-called environmentalists.

Unaccountable federal bureaucrats were the bane of attorney Gerber’s existence and he often represented ranchers in their battles with the federal land agencies, too often pro bono.

Gerber had a way with logic and a way with words to illustrate that logic.

He told the Deseret News in Salt Lake City before he headed out on the coast-to-coast protest ride:

“There is absolutely no civil disobedience here in any way. The BLM manager is unelected and unaccountable, and everyone wants him removed, but they can’t do it. He is sitting in a position of total control and it is tyranny. That is why our message is ‘regulation without representation is tyranny.'”

May others take up his legacy and continue the fight for liberty.

Elko Daily Free Press obituary for A. Grant Gerber.

Commentary by fellow Commissioner Jeff Williams.

Commentary by Sherman Frederick.

Friends remember Gerber.

Gerber’s Smoked Bear website.