A study authored by an Oregon State University forestry professor critical of grazing on public lands has raised a stir in the ranching community, and among academics who specialize in range management.
A report published Nov. 15 by OSU forestry professor Robert Beschta and a team of scientists in the online publication Environmental Management determined grazing on public lands exacerbates the effects of climate change. It recommends that grazing on public lands be reduced dramatically, banned, in fact, from all but a small fraction of available rangeland.
And it's not just cattle and sheep that are targeted by the report. Beschta and his associates also recommend that the "adverse effects of wild ungulates" -- deer, elk, wild horses and burros -- be controlled by the establishment of additional wolf packs throughout the West.
As could be expected, the study was widely criticized by the cattle and sheep producers who depend on public land for their livelihoods. It was also discounted by Beschta's colleagues at the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences who specialize in rangeland management.
Beschta and his associates are veteran critics of federal management of public lands. Nonetheless, Beschta's study -- in reality a study of other researchers' studies -- received wide play in the print and broadcast media because of its provocative recommendations.
By itself, there is little new in the study. But seen in its larger context as the latest salvo in an all-out campaign to discredit and curtail commercial uses of public lands, it is an assault familiar to the farmers, ranchers and timbermen who labor to make a living off the land, their families who depend on them for support and the rural communities wasting away as their traditional economies are destroyed by outside interests.
It is a weary war of attrition being fought in the courts, in academia, in the regulatory bureaucracy and in the media. It is being waged on a front from Canada to Mexico, and from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains, with the occasional sortie in the nation's capital.
The environmental plaintiffs, advocates and critics risk nothing. If they lose, they live another day to attack their battered opponent again, or pick another target of opportunity.
On the range, in the forest and in small towns across the West, the casualties are all too easy to see. The bankrupt farms and ranches, shuttered sawmills and empty store fronts represent livelihoods lost to often questionable objectives.
Everyone who makes a living off the land has an economic, if not moral, obligation to be good stewards, to minimize their footprint and to build and maintain the resources in their care. To that end, the commercial use of public lands should be regulated and monitored. It should not be ended.
Last week a friend of farming and forestry acknowledged the legitimate role environmental advocates can play in ensuring producers keep their end of the bargain. He noted wryly, however, that they always make their case on a full stomach.