When (and why) would you need a “real” environmentalist?

That’s easy — When there are people who call themselves environmentalists” who turn places like this (which is home to a “threatened” species)…

A sedge meadow on the Verde River in Arizona—a true desert oasis: a source of stability and habitat in a land of extremes.

Click for the rest of the story

Into something like this and extirpate the species in the process… I guess you’d call them “unreal” environmentalists

Protected Verde River riparian

Protected Verde River riparian

How about when they get a chance to turn this…

Kaho'olawe Barren

Click for the rest of the story

into this…

Ulupalakua Ranch.001

and they turn it down, and come up with this instead… For $51 million!

Kaho'olawe 2

Or when they call this healed…

8. Big Erosion 1 upload


And this “in need of healing.”

Road Eraser Lush

In need of healing?

More coming. This is a work in progress.

Posted in Conservative Environmentalism, Conservative environmentalist, Natural Conservatism, Protect the environment, Real Environmentalists, Uncategorized | 1 Comment


I’ve presented a lot of evidence here on The Right Way To Be Green (and in plenty of other places) that grazing livestock on grasslands here in the West, especially when that grazing is done in a way that mimics natural herds of bison, bighorns, or other hoofed critters, can be beneficial to those ecosystem.

I’ve also given literally hundreds of presentations on that topic to environmentalists and others, and when I give those presentations a majority of people in the audience are usually surprised and impressed by the photos comparing the positive effects of grazing versus the negative effects of protection.

“ I had no idea.” Some comment. “I changed my mind tonight,” said another at a recent presentation.

The problem is, although plenty of enviros appear to get the message, the connection doesn’t seem to last very long nor does it go much of anywhere.

“That’s nice. So what? Now what?”

A few are impressed in an even less connected way.

“What about overgrazing!?” They sputter. “You can’t convince me there isn’t overgrazing! Those ranchers are in it to make money not to help the environment! Your information is anecdotal! It’s not science!”

That is usually followed by some form of…

“Those places grazed by livestock might look healthy, but they’re not natural. They would be just as healthy, actually healthier, if they were protected and, therefore, truly natural.”

Recently, when my wife, Trish, heard me wondering out loud about this two-sided response, the lack of connection it made clear, and how to deal with it, she offered…

“You’ve got to remember, those people think of themselves as environmentalists. You’ve got to give them some way to make sense of, and to make use of, the information you’re giving them. You’ve got to give them the right frame of reference.”

Frame of reference, I wondered? What is the “frame of reference” of people who call themselves “environmentalists,”

The first thing that came to mind was the definition of “nature.” Environmentalism, of course, is about “nature,” specifically about protecting it and restoring it.

Cambridge Dictionaries defines “nature” as:  all the ​animals and ​plants in the ​world and all the ​features, ​forces, and ​processes that ​exist or ​happen ​independently of ​people.

From the Merriam Webster definition “nature”  is (T)he physical world and everything in it (such as plants, animals, mountains, oceans, stars, etc.) that is not made by people.

All of my presentations are about humans having a positive impact on the ecosystem, about making it more natural, more healthy, more functional.

Could it be that all the problems people have with the positive examples of humans effecting the environment I present and, beyond that, the endless list of contemporary environmental issues that have to do with protecting the land from humans, are nothing more than this — merely a matter of semantics? Merely about definitions?!

In a very significant way it seems to me the answer is, “Yes.” What we call “environmentalism” maintains that the health of any collection of living things and their surroundings is determined by the degree to which that “ecosystem” conforms to the above definition — to the degree to which it “​exists or ​happens ​independently of ​people.”

I’ve had a number of experiences that verify that conclusion. One of the most notable was an encounter in one of the “collaborative” groups in which I have participated over the last 30 years. At a gathering of environmentalists, ranchers, agency people and neighbors on a cattle ranch in the grasslands southeast of Tucson, Arizona, the rancher who was our host made an offer to a number of people who had expressed their opposition to cattle ranching in the “desert Southwest” several times during the day.

“Tell me what you would like for this place to be,” he said, “and I’ll set that as my goal and work toward it. Then we can be allies instead of adversaries.”

“There’s only one thing you can do to make this place better,” replied one fellow who had identified himself as a “radical environmentalist.”

“You can leave.”

“Because if you stay, no matter what you do to the land, no matter how good you make it look, it will be unnatural and, therefore, bad. And if you leave, whatever happens to this place, even if it ends up being as bare as a parking lot, will be natural and, therefore, good.”

In other words, if a piece of the planet conforms to the definition of “nature” it is healthy and good no matter what its condition.

A statement like that deserves an illustration (or two).

Here’s an illustration that will be familiar to visitors of this website or readers of one or both of my two books Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, Toward a West That Works and Gardeners of Eden, Rediscovering Our Importance to Nature


This is the Drake Exclosure, a U. S. Forest Service study plot near Prescott, Arizona. It is very nearly as bare as a parking lot. However, since it is protected from human use (and has been since 1946) it conforms to the definition of “natural.” For that reason, according to the contemporary environmental frame of reference, it is healthy and good.

The land in the picture below is just outside the Drake Exclosure. (See the sign on the fence.) It has been grazed by livestock since the 1800s. For that reason, it is does not conform the the contemporary environmentalist definition of “natural” and, therefore, in need of healing (removing the impacts of humans). Does that mean the goal of contemporary environmentaism is to make it look like the land in the previous picture?Drake_Outside_2014

Here’s more…


This land, along the Verde River in Arizona, had been protected for 9 years when this photo was taken. During those 9 years it had existed as “independently of human activities” as possible. According to the contemporary environmentalist frame of reference that means it is “natural” and “healed” or at least on its way to being so. One environmental group involved in the protection of this land states: “We’ve protected more than 119 million acres of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide,” That, the group claims, qualifies as a “tremendous record of success” The land in the photo is a portion of those “thousands of miles of rivers” part of that “tremendous record of success” because it conforms to a definition.


On the other hand… This land, also along the Verde River in Arizona, is grazed by livestock. (Photos taken roughly at the same time. Yes, most of those plants are natives.) Within the contemporary environmentalist frame of reference that means it is “unnatural” and in need of being “restored to nature” or “healed,” The only way to achieve that, according to the definition of “nature” is to protect the land from human activity, turning this “failure” into the “success” illustrated above.

Fortunately for all of us, including environmentalists, there is a much better, much more functional, more accurate and realistic way of interpreting the concept “nature” that can provide a basis for our relationship to the world in which we live. This more functional view of what is “nature” fortunately doesn’t lead to absurdities like the ones just described. It is derived from science and experience rather than from definitions. It is a basis that we can learn about and confirm “on the ground” rather than merely by indulging in word games.

First of all this functional way of relating to our environment resolves one of the main problems with defining nature as: ​existing or ​happening “​independently of ​people.” Humans have been a part of nature for as long as any other plant or animal, i. e. for as long as we have lived on this planet. And while we’ve been here, we’ve lived and participated in nature in the same way as those other life forms. We’ve provided input and we’ve harvested output. We’ve been predators and prey; herders and harvesters; cultivators, pollinators, and seed spreaders. We’ve dunged and urinated, lived and reproduced, died, and decomposed just the same as all those other “natural” living things.

From that it seems obvious: an environmentalism based on a dividing line that separates us from everything else on the planet is mistaken and useless. So, If we’re going to come up with a way to understand and practice an effective way of living on planet Earth, whether we call it, “environmentalism” or not, it has to be inclusive. It has to effectively increase our understanding of all those ecological processes we’ve been a part of and continue to be a part of today.

Oddly enough, the best candidate for such an understanding comes to us from the space program and our efforts to visit other planets. In the 1960s, in advance of sending a probe to Mars, NASA decided it might be good idea to know in advance if there is life up there, so they enlisted a number of scientists to come up with a way to tell if there is life on a planet without (or before) visiting it. Among those scientists was James Lovelock, an English chemist known for thinking out of the box,.

Lovelock noted that there are a number of characteristics of our own planet that cannot exist without being sustained in some way (or, in other words, by some thing). For example, there is no way our planet’s atmosphere could stably consist of 20+% oxygen (which it does) if left purely to the vagaries of chemistry. Oxygen is a very reactive gas. That means it would quickly react itself into compounds with other chemicals and trend to zero or nearly so if something wasn’t replacing and sustaining it in its pure or free form. (Venus and Mars, for instance, contain 0.00 percent and 0.13 percent, respectively, of free oxygen.) Here on Earth, plants, both on land and sea, produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. In other words, they produce one of the main components of a habitat that will sustain life for life by the process of living.

Something similar happens in the case of the salinity of the oceans. In spite of the fact that every year roughly 500 million tons of mineral salts are eroded and dissolved from the Earth’s dirt and rocks and carried by streams and rivers into the planet’s oceans, the salinity of those waters remains a surprisingly stable 3.4% and has for a very, very long time (millions of years). Lovelock considered it no accident that this is exactly the level of salinity required for the continuing existence of the forms of life that inhabit the seas. (And we’re supposed to worry about a little more carbon dioxide.

To make a long story short (you can read more on your own.) Lovelock hypothesized that living things have developed the conditions that make life possible here on Earth, and they sustain those conditions in a relatively stable form. That means the life forms of Earth (including us) haven’t lucked out by being placed on or happening onto a planet with a series of geologic or interplanetary processes that inadvertently make life possible. The living things on Earth have evolved or been created in a way such that they sustain the conditions for life by the very natural act of living. Example? — Bees pollinate flowers as they feed on their nectar, which creates seeds, which create more plants, which create food for bees (and other creatures) along with the oxygen that bees and other creatures breathe, which creates more bees and more other creatures, and more flowers…

And while we’re at it, think about those ranchers and cowboys, and cows and grasses, or Indians and bison, and The Great Plains, etc.

Lovelock attached the name “Gaia” (the Greek name for the Earth Goddess) to his hypothesis at the suggestion of an author friend. The name has the unfortunate (in my opinion) effect of making his conclusions susceptible to being co-opted by mystics (for pantheistic purposes) and feminists (for political purposes). In spite of that, the most notable implications of Lovelock’s hypothesis are decidedly practical.

Consider those photos we looked at a few paragraphs back. If we interpret them in terms of Lovelock’s hypothesis, what seemed like an absurdity at the time (That’s healthy?! And that’s not?!!) now makes perfectly good sense. The green photo is green because living things, including cattle and humans, have developed the conditions for life and are sustaining them by the act of simply living. Humans are acting as predators, cows are prey, humans are moving and circulating cattle, who are harvesting, recycling, seeding, tilling, and fertilizing. The result is a prosperity that benefits more than cows and humans. It benefits deer, rabbits, mice, fish, birds, bugs, plants, microbes, the list is longer than I have room to include here.

In the other photo, the most significant predators, prey, circulators, harvesters, recyclers, seeders, tillers, and fertilizers have been removed, and where the interaction of living things has been reduced, so have the conditions to support life and, thus, so has life itself.

Translation: protecting the environment from humans performing the functions Lovelock identified as sustaining the conditions for life does no favor for the environment, nor for us, nor for anything, really.

Unless, of course, you live in a world where semantics matter more than results… or more than sustaining the conditions for life.

Posted in Conservative Environmentalism, Protect the environment | Leave a comment


The argument over “climate change” has created an untold bonanza for Barack Obama and his liberal peers.

Pitching this “Vote Democrat or cause the end of the world” issue has given Obama and liberals here and abroad the means to blame literally everything bad that happens anywhere on their political opponents.

As you might suspect, the path that led me to that conclusion winds through some interesting awakenings. Among those awakenings is the realization that contemporary liberal political campaigning on the issue of Climate Change…
• is a form of hate speech
• functions as a dog whistle (for Pavlovian Democrat voters).
• serves as a marketing tool in the manner of what has been called the “protection racket.”


President Barack Obama tells us climate change is a greater threat to our nation and the world than ISIS (or “ISIL” as he says it). In fact, he says it’s the greatest threat to humanity period.

Taken in a political sense, what Obama is actually telling us is that conservatives, by obstructing the liberal policies, which he claims are the only means to halt or solve climate change, are actually enabling a catastrophe that poses a greater threat to human life and safety than radical, suicidal, mass murdering terrorists.

Other liberal politicians, such as Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the U. N. repeat this same narrative. Sanders claims that not enacting liberal policies that would halt climate change causes “droughts, floods, and other natural disasters,” making people uncomfortable or hungry or angry enough to “be subject to the types of propaganda that al Qaeda and ISIS are using right now”

Moon internationalizes the matter saying that when we do not “address climate change properly” (i. e. implement the U. N. policies claimed to counter it) … “young people who are jobless and frustrated (as a result of the impacts of climate change) may join these foreign terrorist fighters,”

What both Sanders and Moon are saying is that when a terrorist act happens, it isn’t the terrorists who are guilty, The guilty party is really the Republicans and Conservatives who have opposed liberal policies and thus caused climate change which turned the terrorists into terrorists.

Making climate change a matter of race and “white privilege,” Dominique Hazzard, a member of the Black Youth Project 100, states: ““The Black Lives Matter and the Climate and Justice movements are totally connected because, ‘round the world, climate change is disproportionately impacting people of color and the working class.”

An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times states, “Climate change is indeed a cause of social conflict,… including sports violence, murder, gang violence, riots and civil wars.

Follow this thread and you will find that climate change (allegedly caused by not implementing liberal policies) has been blamed, not only for causing terrorism, but for causing drought, floods, hurricanes, tornados, abnormal heat, abnormal cold, “other natural disturbances,” crop failure, species extinction, increased disease, sexism, racial discrimination, etc, all of which incite terrorism, race riots, floods of immigrants fleeing to the U. S. and other developed countries and more.

In other words, not implementing liberal policies is causing everything bad that happens on the planet.


An online legal dictionary definition of “hate speech” includes…

“An incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.”


“A communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred.”

If blaming a definable group — Republicans, conservative voters, “climate change deniers” — for causing everything bad isn’t “an incitement to hatred,” I don’t know what is.

As for those who say “real hate speech” must be directed against “a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like,” There’s plenty of every one of those categories in the climate change villifications being slung around by liberals today.

“Racism?” Dominique Hazzard’s statement about climate change “disproportionately impacting people of color” categorizes the matter as an example of “white privilege.”

So does the fact that the main topic of discussion at a “White Privilege Conference,” held by a liberal consulting group in Loiusville, Kentucky was “courageously act(ing) in response to climate change.”

As for “ethnicity” and “national origin?” The nation cited as the origin of climate change, of course, is, of course, the U. S,. Confirming this, climate change crusaders demand that Americans redistribute the wealth we have accumulated creating and exploiting the fossil fuel economy by paying reparations to third world nations to make amends for our ill-gotten gains.

What about, “gender, religion, sexual orientation?” The America being blamed for climate change was the domain of old, white, gray-haired, American heterosexual Christian men.


All of this is merely the tip of the political bonanza “Climate Change” yields for Democrats/liberals. Attributing everything bad that happens in the world to climate change and thus to conservatives, private enterprisers, and traditional Americans turns every hurricane, every tornado, every earthquake, every tsunami, every act of terrorism, every riot of any sort, every crop failure, every wildlife species deemed to be in danger of extinction, every bit of negativity on the nightly news into a political Dog Whistle to mobilize Pavlovian liberal voters against the Democrats’ opposition.

(Ever wonder why Republicans and conservatives get blamed for everything? Ever wonder why so many Republicans are reluctant to oppose liberal policies? Now you know.)

Even having climate change naysayers around is alleged by some to be a serious liability. The fact that the U. S. stands as an obstacle to “climate change responsibility” because its large number of conservative voters successfully oppose such measures on occasion means we deserve whatever acts of terrorism we suffer. Remember the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s “chickens coming home to roost” comments?

Cranking the value of this blame bonanza even higher, climate change has proved to be immune to debunking. (“It might not be happening now, but it’s gonna happen.”) In fact, if you even try to discredit this orgy of villainization, you are labeled a “denier” and liberals begin calling for you to be jailed or worse.

As a result, those of us who obstruct liberal policies and thus allegedly enable climate change ( i. e. Republicans, conservatives, anti-big government activists) are accused of being the enemy of everyone on Earth, including ourselves…

So, who’s going to protect everyone from us Climate Change Causers? You got it — Democrats! Which brings us to the real reason they created the Climate Change issue in the first place.


Why have liberals created Climate Change? To serve as a sales pitch for their policies that otherwise have very serious marketing problems. Consider the left’s energy policies: I remember reading a book in the early 1970s advocating that, if we were to subsidize solar power and other renewable energy forms a little bit for a little while, they would take off and replace fossil fuels as our major energy source. That, the sales pitch continued, would solve our climate change problem, which, at the time, was alleged to be global cooling. Today, even though we‘ve spent trillions subsidizing solar and wind power and other renewables, the idea of those energy sources actually replacing carbon-based energy has been described as a “fantasy” the costs of which would be “astronomical,” by no less than the liberal Bill Gates.

Failure, of course, is no stranger to liberal policies. The “War on Poverty” has cost trillions and increased rather than decreased poverty. Obamacare has made health care more expensive rather than less. Electing Obama was supposed to reduce racial divisiveness. His policies and presence have heightened it to arguably unprecedented levels. Obama’s liberal foreign policy was supposed to improve America’s image around the world. Instead it has seriously diminished the degree to which we are valued by our allies and feared, or at least respected, by our enemies.

So, how do you sell policies that have such a long history of failure?

That’s easy! You invent an amorphous threat like climate change. Pitch it via hate speech and dog whistle! And apply the Ol’ Lib Protection Racket by tweeting to whoever will listen, if they don’t do absolutely everything they can to make sure all liberal policies are enacted, not only on climate change, but on every issue, it’s all over, the end is here, we’re all gonna die, and the Apocalypse is Now.

Having said that, I can’t help but ask: If climate change is really going to be all that bad, are we sure we want to face it with liberal policies that are guaranteed to fail? Conservative policies, on the other hand, have a pretty reliable record of success. After all, it was conservative policies that facilitated the creation of the fossil fuel economy that made us as prosperous and comfortable as we all have become. Come to think of it, what’s left of that approach is still working pretty well.


Posted in Conservative Environmentalism, Liberalism Doesn't Work | Tagged | Leave a comment


Why do we need a new environmentalism?

Because the old one doesn’t work.

Says who?

Says Nature.

OK, how does Nature tell us environmentalism, old, new, or otherwise, doesn’t work?

She tells us in terms of results, because Nature doesn’t communicate with words. She communicates by means of results — the language that enables Nature to give us the most important message she can give us…

“That works.”
“That doesn’t work.”

That ‘s how we can check what Nature has to say about what we’re doing, by checking the results.

Are they good or bad?

Are they what we expected or not?

Are they what we’ve been promised or not?

Do they make things better or worse?

That’s the purpose of the comparative photos shown in this post. They communicate Nature’s verdict regarding which of the the various techniques by means of which we interact with (actually, play a role in) our natural environment work and which ones don’t work. They communicate Nature’s verdict by showing the results created by those techniques.


Click for a closer look.


Click for a closer look.

Consider the first comparison. These two very different photos present Nature’s works/doesn’t work verdict regarding two very different ways in which humans use or relate to the land. One of those “ways” involves using the land to produce food in the form of animals. The specific form of that use whose results are pictured here is cattle grazing or ranching. This could be characterized as a “new” use of the land — one that has happened only since western European peoples have come to the North America; however, it should be noted that for thousands of years before ranching came to the Western Hemisphere Native Americans herded and hunted animals such as deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and others in this same landscape, using some of the same techniques as modern ranchers.

The other manner of relating to the land included in this comparison is the technique of environmental protection . It is one the way we relate to Nature that we consider to be the most beneficial, sustainable, restorative, and, well… natural, so we don’t even really consider it to be a “use.” Some of us even refer to it as “non-use.”

Both of the above photos were shot on a piece of arid rangeland in central, Arizona. One is a photo of a U. S.D. A. Forest Service study plot that has been protected from all human use (predominantly grazing by cattle) for 66 years.

The other photo shows an area directly adjacent to that study plot which has continued to be grazed for that same 66 years plus as much as a hundred years prior.

Which is which?

The photo on the left illustrates the results of  66 years of protection on this location under these circumstances.

The photo on the right illustrates the results of humans using this same piece of land for at least the same amount of time for an activity that is widely considered to be environmentally destructive — livestock grazing.

What is nature trying to tell us here?

Let’s look at a few more comparisons.

LHP 1957 cropped 2.2 Little Horse Park 2013

The photo on the left shows a piece of rangeland near Sedona in 1957. It is being grazed as it has been for, probably, more than a hundred years (See the cows?). Soon after this photo was taken cattle were removed and the land became protected (in the 1960s). The photo on the right shows the very same piece of land in 2013 after more than 50 years of protection. Notice you can’t see Courthouse Butte on the right side of the “after” photo on the right. That’s because 3 feet of soil have been removed by erosion that has happened since the land has been protected. This lowered the photo point, shifting the angle of the perspective, and, combined with the fact that the trees have grown, caused the butte to be obscured in the latter photo.

What’s Nature trying to tell us here?

Here’s another message from Nature.

3. Dry Creek Allotment C5T1.19635

U. S. Forest Service monitoring site on the left — grazed for more than a hundred years. (Grass is short — recently grazed, very little bare dirt, no erosion.) On the right, same place  in 2013 after roughly 25 years of protection. (Cattle were removed around 1990.)

Nature’s verdict?

If Nature keeps telling us this, when are we going to listen?

The photo on the left, looking toward Bell Rock, was taken in 1921. Again, at this point, the land has been grazed for more than a hundred years. And again, the grass is short has been recently grazed and is short. There is very little bare dirt and no erosion. (You can click on the photo for a closer look. — I’m just learning how to make these photos close-up able, so some of them work better than others.)

And then look at the photo on the right. This photo was taken in 2012 in the same area as the location of the photo on the right. There’s Bell Rock again. This photo shows the results that have been achieved by a mere 22 years of protection.    Nature’s verdict?

BigPark.cropped Bell Rock Erosion wi man2

Come back again soon, the next post will deal with a new basis for environmentalism — one that works.

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On Rush Limbaugh’s program on 11/4/2015 he took issue, as he does almost every day, with the fact that “Republicans, RINOs, moderates, establishment types” refuse to campaign on social issues because they believe those issues offend and drive away moderates and are therefore a sure way to lose elections. Rush pointed out that the results of the off-year elections that were held yesterday across the country, and termed by the Washington Post: “Huge Victories for Conservatives… Coast to Coast ” serve as convincing evidence the above assumption is fatally mistaken.

To make his point Limbaugh revisited something he said on this program 27 years ago: “My contention is that the social issues are a giant winning opportunity… for somebody who knows how to do it.”

Well, the people who know how to do it are finally showing up in Kentucky and elsewhere.

To echo Rush’s insight and confidence and add to the turning tide on a different but related issue, I’d like to republish a couple of quotes from TheRightWayToBeGreen.com:


One downside to this conservative concession to liberals in environmental politics is that it amounts to an abandonment of the many conservatives who are concerned about the environment and would love to have a way to address those concerns without having to join an environmental (i. e., liberal) group…

Taking this missed opportunity to the height of irony is the fact that liberal environmentalism has suffered so many spectacular failures that it is vulnerable to the argument that has served conservatives so well on so many other issues, i. e., —

Liberalism doesn’t work to solve environmental problems in the same way it doesn’t work to solve problems of poverty, the economy, health care, race relations, you name it.

Add to this the fact that there are plenty of conservatives who have a better track record in solving environmental problems and achieving environmental goals than their much more well-publicized liberal competitors, and it makes perfectly good sense to say conservatives are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by not engaging liberals in a serious debate and competition for the environmental constituency.


From The Right Way To Be Green – published by Writers On The Range 2006

The main reason for my change of mind and heart (from an eco-radical to a conservative environmentalist) is the fact that I’ve become convinced the private-sector really is more effective than government at producing just about anything, healthy ecosystems included… More important, however, was the fact that, in thirty years of activism, the most impressive environmental successes I have encountered were achieved by private individuals operating according to principles that make up the conservative playbook. In each of those cases individual initiative, personal accountability, the free market, and rewards for results were more effective at saving endangered species, healing damaged ecosystems, even combating global warming than the government alternative—regulation and protection.

To complete the Limbaugh Echo: “My contention is that environmental issues are a giant winning opportunity for conservatives… for somebody who knows how to do it.”

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Most of the people who support designating 160,000 acres of the red rock landscape around Sedona, Arizona, as a national monument do so because they are convinced it is the best way to protect the amazing, beautiful, unique, naturally diverse character of this ecological wonder.

Here’s a big problem with that. Plenty of evidence suggests that, while this action would enhance the political fortunes of a number of politicians (local and otherwise), it would have an effect on the environment that is the exact opposite of what its supporters want.

What’s that?… It would devastate the very values those supporters claim they want to protect.

At this point, I want to make it clear that I don’t make this claim lightly, nor without background and experience to back it up. I’ve been active in environmental issues in Northern Arizona since I moved to this area in 1980. Shortly after arriving here I played a significant role in getting several roadless areas near Sedona designated as federally protected wilderness by serving as co-coordinator for the Sierra Club’s adopt-a-wilderness campaign for northern Arizona. That campaign helped put together legislation that was adopted by Congress as The Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984. In 1993, I received an award from the Sierra Club on the occasion of the club’s John Muir Centennial Celebration for my work protecting mountain lions and black bears here in Arizona. Around the same time, I joined with other environmentalists and a number of Arizona ranchers to form one of the first successful collaborative groups in the West. That group, known as 6-6 (for 6 of us and 6 of them), created an association within which people who usually consider ourselves adversaries worked together to solve issues that typically descend into endless contention.

The most significant part of all that is not that it adds to my credentials or gives me something to brag about, but that it taught me a very important lesson, a lesson that is quite the opposite of what I expected. It taught me that increasing the amount of government involvement, control, regulation, protection in an area usually increases its environmental problems rather than decreases them.

How did I make that discovery? By going back to areas that have been protected, in some cases for more than three quarters of a century, and observing (and photographing) the results of that assumedly beneficial action. Needless to say, when I relocated those areas, and saw the damage protection had caused, I was blown away, so blown away that I wrote two books about it (One was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.), and I’ve been traveling the West ever since, giving talks and showing “before and after” photos demonstrating the downside of what most of us consider the panacea for all that ails planet Earth — protection.

Most of you will be surprised to learn that some of the most mind-blowing of these “before and after” come from around Sedona because Red Rock Country, as far as I can tell, is one of the places within in the American West most radically impacted, in a negative way, by protection. Why? One of the processes by which protection negatively impacts an area is by causing desertification and erosion, and Sedona is obviously very susceptible to erosion.

For example, look at these “before and after” photographs: (Click on the photo for a closer view.)

3. Dry Creek Allotment C5T1.1963

1963 “multiple use”


Same place after 30+ years of “protection”

7. Left for Upload

30+ years of “protection:” Looking to the left over the same stake

8. Big Erosion 1 upload

Nearby: 30+ years of “protection”

Making this case — that protection can harm the environment — isn’t easy (even with photos such as the above). It isn’t easy because it flies in the face of an almost universal assumption within our society — that whatever is wrong with the environment has invariably been caused by humans (everything else is natural, right?). According to that assumption all we have to do to “right” virtually any environmental wrong is reduce or remove the impacts of humans and everything will be “restored to nature” or at least started on a healing journey in that direction.

This widely-held assumption traces back to environmental guiding lights such as John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. Muir was a committed religious fundamentalist who believed that the way to make an environment right or natural or healthy was to re-enact the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. That is essentially what we do, to varying degrees, when we create a wilderness area, or a preserve… or a national monument.

Fortunately, there is another way of looking at the environment, one that works and doesn’t suffer the problems I’ve just described. In fact, it explains them. This way traces back to the space program and our dream of visiting other planets (Talk about an oddball way of learning about how the Earth works!) In the 1960s, in advance of sending a probe to Mars, NASA decided it might be good idea to know if there is any life there. So, they enlisted a number of scientists, including James Lovelock, an English chemist known for thinking out of the box, to come up with a way to tell if there is life on a planet without (or before) visiting it.

Lovelock noted that there are a number of characteristics of our own planet that cannot exist without being sustained in some way (or, in other words, by some thing). For example, there is no way our planet’s atmosphere could consist of 21% oxygen if left purely to the vagaries of chemistry. Oxygen is a very active gas which would quickly react itself into compounds with other chemicals if something wasn’t replacing and sustaining it. (Venus and Mars, for instance, contain 0.00 percent and 0.13 percent, respectively, of free oxygen.) Here on Earth, plants, both on land and sea, produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis, in other words, as a byproduct of living.

There are a number of other aspects of our planet that exemplify this same point. Consider the salinity of the oceans. In spite of the fact that every year millions of tons of mineral salts are eroded and dissolved from the Earth’s crust and carried by streams and rivers into the planet’s oceans, the salinity of those waters remains a surprisingly stable 3.4% and has for a very, very long time. Lovelock considered it no accident that this is exactly the salinity required for the continuing existence of the forms of life that inhabit the seas.

To make a long story short (you can read more on your own.) Lovelock hypothesized that living things on Earth create and sustain the conditions that make life possible, and they (we) do it by the mere act of living. Example? — Bees pollinate flowers as they feed on their nectar, which creates seeds, which create more plants, which create food for bees (and other creatures) along with the oxygen that bees and other creatures breath, which creates more bees and more other creatures, and more flowers, and…

Lovelock attached the name “Gaia” (the Greek name for the Earth Goddess) to this synergy, of which we have been a part for as long as we have existed. And as we hunted and herded and harvested and gathered as part of that system, we played an important role in sustaining the conditions that make life possible not only for us, but for everything else. Protecting the environment from humans performing those functions, therefore, does no favor for the environment, nor for us, nor for anything, really.

What does it do? Let’s go back to those photos a few paragraphs back…

What this tells me (and I hope it tells you, too) is that those of us who truly value the environmental health of this exceptional land in which we live should be opposing national monument designation for Sedona Red Rocks rather than supporting it.

And, as an alternative we might want to start asking ourselves a very important question…

Rather than asking what we can do to protect the Sedona eco-synergy from us, we might start asking what we can do to resume our role of sustaining Gaia?

Posted in Conservative Environmentalism, Conservative environmentalist, Green Conservatism, Holding Liberals Accountable, Liberalism Doesn't Work, Natural Conservatism | Leave a comment

Climate Change – Pope Francis Needs To Re-Discover America (So Does Barry The Bummer)

During Pope Francis’ recent visit to the U. S., he made a big deal about climate change. He wasn’t the first pope to do so.

Way back in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull (the Summis Desiderante), that dealt with “Climate Change.” Innocent’s “bull” proclaimed that witches were, among other things, responsible for the “Little Ice Age” that caused crop failures and food shortages in Europe from the 15th to the 19th century. Historians tell us Innocent’s “Witch Bull” gave indirect sanction to the holocaust of witchhunts that engulfed much of “the old world” for 4 centuries.

That’s right, the infamous “witch trials,” that wracked Europe from the 1400’s to 1800’s and even extended into the New World in Salem, in what is now Massachusetts, were, to a significant degree, about climate change. “Global cooling” was one of the main “crimes” for which a number of humans from 60,000 to estimates as high as millions (mostly women but a significant number of men, also) were hanged, burned at the stake, and tortured by a variety of other means.

There were plenty of similarities between those ancient witch-hunts and the 21st century version. One of the most instructive is the fact that “Climate Change Crusaders,” both then and now, seem more offended by people who deny the existence of their claimed crisis than by those they accuse of actually causing it. (oil frackers and coal miners, these days.) The reason is obvious. If your campaign strategy is “Never waste a serious crisis,” as it is for modern liberals (thanks, Rahm Emanuel), and was for 15th century witchhunters, the last thing you want is for someone to debunk your ticket to power. During the 15th and 16 th century, confessing guilt and admitting that witchcraft was responsible for altering the weather could get you a reprieve and forgiveness.  Denying it could get you burned at the stake.

No wonder Republicans are so reluctant to mount an open opposition to this campaign.

How well are conservatives countering this rerun of those 15th century “witch hunts?” So far, not so well.  One reason might be that it isn’t the usual business of free market enterprise to counter crises trumped up to provide a means to political power. For another, the inconclusive nature of evidence that the Earth is actually warming works to the advantage of Climate Change Crusaders more than deniers.

How’s that?

If the Earth was truly getting warmer, oceans would be rising, cities would be flooding, crops would be failing, and, the realization that the best way to deal with any real problem is with individual initiative, private enterprise, and the free market would be popping into too many minds to deny.

Actually, that is exactly what happened during that earlier “climate change” fiasco, the Little Ice Age. Not surprisingly, back then there were people (as there are now) who know that the functional way to deal with a crisis is to solve it rather than use it to scam their way into power. These enterprising individuals could plainly see that burning witches wasn’t providing much of a remedy to those long cold winters with their crop failures and food shortages, so they started building ships and kicked off the maritime expansion of Europe. That created a boom in seaborne trading and colonial economies the benefits of which we enjoy even today — even while some of us are still trying to use witch hunts to campaign our way into power.

REDISCOVERING AMERICA: I didn’t realize this until the day after Columbus Day: Notice the date of Columbus’ “discovery” of America – 1492 – four years after Pope Innocent VIII’s “Witch Bull.” Columbus’ journey was part of the boom in seaborne trading that developed as a functional alternative to the witch hunts of the Little Ice Age. In other words the existence of America as we now know it, and the prosperity, private enterprise and free market it embodies, is evidence of what can happen if you skip the witch hunts and deal with the problem on a realistic, problem-solving, conservative basis.

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CONSERVATIVE ENVIRONMENTALISM : You Can’t Have Your Cake Unless You Eat it Too

Recently (10/14/2015), I registered the domain name “ConservativeEnvironmentalism.com.”
(Actually, I’ve been describing the content of  “theRightWayToBeGreen” as “conservative environmentalism” since its inception, and any web search for that category would have turned up this site as one of the top hits.)

In celebration of this event (registering “Conservative Environmentalism.com) I’m posting the introduction to one of my books — Gardeners of Eden, Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature because it describes the principles of this alternative to left-wing environmentalism so well.

If you’re wondering what that means, read on (and read some of the other posts as well.)

On Duel-ism; Living Like Bees, Beavers, and Wolves; Applying Alien Solutions to Earthly Problems; and Becoming Native Again 

The argument over how we should live in relation to the rural and remote lands of the American West hasn’t changed much in more than a century. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and father of the modern environmental movement, said in the late nineteenth century that we should reduce our impact on those lands as much as possible and preserve and protect all that we can. Most certainly, Muir and his followers insist, we should protect as much as possible of that which has remained relatively untainted by human alteration—the wilderness, the wildlands.

Others have maintained, on the other hand, that it is our right to use whatever we choose because God created it for us or merely because there is no good reason not to. Still others, the middle-of-the-roaders, say, “It would be nice if we could protect everything, but we’ve got to be realists….” They concede the high road to the preservationists but turn the dispute into a struggle of idealism versus realism, the moral versus the practical, small is beautiful versus more is better.

This fits right into our duelistic society of liberals versus conservatives, Republicans versus Democrats, and tree-huggers versus wise-users, and plays to our prejudice that the solution to all environmental problems is “victory for our side.” Within this us-versus-them scenario, a few try to achieve compromise or find a middle ground, but no one, or almost no one, asks if these are really the only two alternatives.

They aren’t. There is another alternative, one that is much less divisive and much more hopeful. There is a way to enrich the land as we use it; a way we can benefit the plants, animals, and ecosystems with which we share this planet as we benefit ourselves.

If this sounds too good to be true, or too close to violating the maxim that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” the message detailed within this book is more radical than that. The message you’ll read here is, “You can’t have your cake unless you eat it too.”

This is not news. Bees, beavers, wolves, and more plants and animals than there is time or room to list have been operating under this maxim for millennia. Bees pollinate flowers as they consume nectar and, in the process, create more plants and more flowers and, therefore, more food for more bees. Beavers eat willows and use them to construct dams which create ponds and enlarge meadows. That creates more habitat for more willows and more beavers. Wolves cull the sick and slow among the deer, keeping the herds genetically healthy so they prosper and continue to feed more wolves.

Until recently (for the first 99 percent of our existence), humans fit into nature in this same mutually beneficial way. As hunters and gatherers, as pastoralists, and even as small-scale farmers and gardeners we benefited the ecosystems of which we were a part in much the way beavers, bees and wolves do. Some of us still live in this naturally interdependent way.

A much larger and faster-growing percentage of us, however, get our food, fiber, and other products from nature via a system of extractive technologies more characteristic of aliens than of a mutually interdependent community of natives. We have developed this extractive technology for good reason, of course—it produces food, fiber, and other things we need in prodigious amounts, insulating us from the effects of drought and the other vagaries of less technological agriculture. But living as an alien has its downside, too. It threatens the breakdown of important ecological functions via global warming and the endangering of species. It erodes the connection between humans and nature as we turn our communities into a series of urban and suburban space stations surrounded by an “exploitosphere” from which we extract everything from food to recreation.

Some of us have become aware of the downside our alienation creates and have begun to try various means to counter it. Ironically, those countermeasures have been, for the most part, just as alien as the situation they were created to correct. Rather than restoring our old relationships with the ecos of which we were once an important part, these countermeasures have removed us even farther from it. To try to counter the effects of our alien technology, we have created ever larger preserves and protected areas, and removed ourselves and our impacts from them. Acting as if we’re trying to fool nature into thinking that we’re not here, we have behaved as aliens would. We treat this land outside our exploitosphere as if it were a combination art exhibit, zoo, cathedral, and adventure park. There we limit ourselves to roles as sightseers, worshipers, caretakers, and joyriders. Exacerbating the situation, we make our technological system ever more extractive, efficient, and detached in the mistaken belief that the way to heal the damage we do is to create less connection rather than more.

The problem with all this is that we humans were once a part, in some cases a very important part, of the very ecosystems we’re trying to restore by removing ourselves from them. This dooms us to trying to put back together an extremely complex puzzle with a very important piece missing—us. And, when we discover that this alien-style solution doesn’t work, we don’t relent, we just do it harder. We remove ourselves from ever larger pieces of nature (or at least we pretend to), and we create more and more stringent limits on our involvement in those areas from which we can’t remove ourselves.

And as we do all of this, we neglect the obvious truth that, if removing wolves or some other predator does harm to an ecosystem, if causing a species such as the red-legged frog or the tiger salamander to become extinct threatens the security of all other species, as some of us claim, then it stands to reason that removing humans who have played a more widespread, more impactive role must cause even greater problems.

In spite of this, hardly anyone, to my knowledge, is expressing concern about the removal of humans from the roles within the ecosystem that we have evolved to play, and that Nature has evolved to have us play. Nor is anyone conducting studies to determine what those roles were or what changes have occurred because we no longer fulfill them. Most important, perhaps, no one is trying to reintroduce humans into the environment to have us resume our duties as hunters, herders, gatherers, and whatever else, even though we’re going to great ends to restore animals that have played much less significant roles.

Sometimes I wonder what Earth’s ecosystems think has happened to the two-leggeds who once served them so well. Where did those beings go who once played such an important role as predators, foragers and cultivators? Have they vanished? Been abducted? Gone extinct? And then I wonder what those same ecosystems think of this new being which walks in their midst, which resembles the one that has disappeared in every way except that the new one keeps none of the old responsibilities, the old agreements. Is it an impostor? An alien body snatcher who has removed the old ones and taken their place? In a way, it is. Or rather, we are.

In fact, most of us know about as much about restoring a Martian ecosystem as we do an earthly one.

This book offers an alternative to living on Earth as aliens. It offers a way to become native once again, to reassume some of the responsibilities we evolved to uphold, at least as much as is possible in the context of a modern technological world. The stories that follow are about reintroducing humans into the environment in the same way that we might reintroduce an endangered subspecies of caribou or flycatcher or cactus. They make the point that this is as important in the case of humans as it is in the case of those other living things, and for the same reason—because, as we remove ourselves from those old mutualisms by acting as aliens, we leave as big a hole, if not a bigger one, than those other life forms have left.

That may set off your alarms in a couple of ways. “Ecosystems got along just fine before there were humans!” you may say. Or you might ask, “How could it be possible that humans are abandoning the planet when there are so many of us, and it’s so obvious that we’re overwhelming it?”

As for the first of those questions, it’s true that the earthly community got along fine before there were humans, just as it got along fine before there were bees and beavers and plenty of other things. But those pre-human communities were made up of different species than the one we evolved to be a part of. Those old communities and many of the species that comprised them are gone. The community of which humans evolved to be an important part is still here.

As for how I could say that humans are abandoning the planet while it seems so obvious that we are overrunning it, that brings us back to the alien/native distinction. It’s the people who are living as aliens who are overrunning the planet. Those who are living as natives are few and getting fewer. Some remain as holdouts from traditional ways of being. Others are the products of their own do-it-yourself reintroduction program.  Examples of both are the subject of this book.

Last, but not least, others have expressed concern that the claim that humans have been an essential part of nature, and can once again become so, is just a restatement of the old arrogance that our species has been granted dominion over nature. This arrogance, critics say, has been used to excuse all sorts of environmental profligacies. Humans have certainly done things to harm the environment, and the claim that we have dominion over nature has certainly been used as a means to excuse such harms, but the examples that follow in this book are not examples of domination, they are examples of mutualism and synergy. And while it may be accurate to level the charge of arrogance when humans are blinded by our claims of domination and do harm, that charge makes no sense when it is directed at humans playing roles we have evolved to play and that nature relies on us to play. We don’t call beavers arrogant when they create ponds that water meadows that grow cottonwoods that feed more beavers. Nor do we call bees greedy or exploitative when they consume nectar while they pollinate flowers to make more flowers to support more bees.

The purpose of this book is to dispel smoke rather than to create it. One way in which it achieves this purpose is by revealing an environmental smokescreen of which most of us are unaware, and behind which a whole class of environmental wrongs goes undetected. It also clears our environmental view by showing us how to restore feedback loops between humans and nature that have shriveled and ceased to function as a result of our adoption of an alien agriculture and a just as alien environmentalism.

Why should you listen to what I have to say about these things? I’m not a scientist, but I have been an environmental activist for thirty-one years. I started my activist journey fighting coal strip mines in southeastern Ohio. From there I moved west to Arizona where I worked to designate remote public lands as wilderness, fought to tighten the restrictions that governed what ranchers could do to protect their livestock from mountain lions and black bears, and helped initiate a campaign to ban uranium mining in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon. My involvement in that latter campaign included helping to put together some of the first demonstrations organized by Earth First!, one of the most radical of environmental groups. During this part of my environmental career I was designated one of the 100 top grass roots activists in the United States by the Sierra Club (in 1992).

More recently, I have been involved in putting together a collaborative, conflict resolution group involving ranchers and environmentalists that has been used as a model for other groups. I wrote a Pulitzer Prize-nominated book (Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, Toward a West That Works) about this experience and have been called on to give well over a hundred presentations about it around the West. Lately, I created an environmental organization named EcoResults! that secures grants to fund efforts by rural people to restore damaged lands and bring them back to environmental function. As part of my involvement in EcoResults! I’ve done my share of spreading seed and mulch, piling rocks in gullies, reading monitoring transects, and acting like a predator by herding animals.

My methods, in other words, have changed, but my values haven’t. I still value open country, wild land, wildlife, predators, and healthy ecosystems as much as I ever did, maybe more. Now, however, instead of trying to serve those values by demonstration, regulation, and litigation, I work with people who live on the land and ask it what it needs and respond when it answers.

Posted in Conservative Environmentalism, environmental politics, Green Conservatism, Holding Liberals Accountable, Natural Conservatism, Nature is Conservative, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Kaho'olawe 2

I don’t remember how I talked them into it, but about ten years ago a couple of government and non-government agencies helicoptered me to a remote island named Kaho’olawe off the coast of Maui, Hawaii. For 70+ years had been used as a bombing and shelling target by the U. S. military for training exercises, so much of it has become so barren I’ve compare photos of it to Mars in my presentations. Also, there remains a considerable amount of unexploded bombs and shells among the barren-ness. I was flown to the island because I had communicated to the U. S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) that I was familiar with an ecological restoration method that could re-vegetate Kaho’olawe’s barren, bombed-out expanse to a condition appropriate for its intended future — restoration to the sovereign ownership of the native Hawaiian people. At the time the agencies and NGOs involved were in the initial stages of undertaking that project.

To make a long story short, we visited the island, I took a look at the challenge and some of the attempts made to deal with them, and returned home in Arizona to enlist the help of a man accomplished in the technique of using animals – cattle, sheep, goats – to transform huge toxic piles of mine tailings and other devastated areas into green and growing ecosystems. He put together a proposal to revegetate the island. We submitted it, and they turned it down.

Recently, a related topic came up in a conversation that inspired me to google “Kaho’olawe restoration” 12 years after my visit to see how well the project had worked out. The story and photos I encountered were so mind-blowing I had to share them.

The best way to tell you what I discovered is to show you. What follows was taken from Google “hits,” mostly from a series of articles published in a Hawaiian news source – “Honolulu Civil Beat.” I’ve condensed the most relevant quotes to make my re-report much shorter, but I’ve provided the URLs so you can visit the posts on your own and read the whole story. Most importantly, I’ve included two of the main photos from those articles. Wait till you see them…

The first article, dated October 20, 2014 by Anita Hofschneider, says the project is in trouble for a number of reasons.

Kahoolawe Civil Beat1

“(T)he Navy left unfinished its task of removing unexploded ordnance, the state agency’s trust fund for restoration work is running out of money. By next July, KIRC (Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission) will only have $1.2 million left, less than half of its current annual budget.

A scathing audit last year criticized the agency for spending $51 million but only completing 13 percent of its restoration project. The audit also drew attention to the fact that KIRC doesn’t know how much it will cost to completely restore Kahoolawe or how much time it will take.” (You can say that again.)

Scrolling down the page I ran into the photo at the top of this post which was used to illustrate what the government has achieved with its $51 million. This photo also served as the headliner for a second “Honolulu Civil Beat” article by Hofschneider dated: May 28, 2015. I’ve included that headline, photo, and caption below.

Kaho'olawe Civil Beat 2

$51 Million!! And this is what they show for it?!!

If you think that’s outrageous, a short distance down the “Google” page I found this item:

US Military Should Spend $1 Billion to Restore KahoolaweCivil Beatwww.civilbeat.com/…/scientists-say-u-s-military-should-spend-1-billion-to- restore-kahoolawe/‎
Jul 19, 2015

That recommendation, according to Hofschneider dated: May 28, 2015, was made by “Over 500 scientists from the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation in Honolulu (who) signed a declaration calling for “the full remediation and biocultural restoration of the island… urging the U.S. military to spend $1 billion to remove unexploded ordnance on Kahoolawe and restore its environment.”

$1 billion! That’s a lot of pallets!

Now that you’ve seen all that, I couldn’t resist adding a few photos of what the method I proposed to KIRC and the NRCS has achieved against conditions arguably as difficult.

First of all here is the result of using the same methods I proposed to KIRC and the NRCS around 7 miles away on Maui on the Ulupalakua Ranch. (That’s Kaho’olawe in the distance.)

Ulupalakua Ranch.001

Next, here’s how we have done it in Arizona, for instance…

First, we spread seeds and hay. (These can be spread by airplane.)

UnitedMetro before, spreading seeds

Then we add cows to till in the seeds and mulch. (Click on the photo you’ll see the cows.)


Below… Cows at work.





Results… all native grasses.

UnitedMetro After

Cost measured in thousands of dollars rather than $millions or billions.


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Dawa Both Hands Up

In 1980  when I first moved to the West, to Flagstaff, Arizona, one of the first things I did was become involved as an environmentalist and join the Sierra Club and, shortly thereafter, Earth First!. I was excited about my new home, about the mountains, canyons, rivers, and wide open spaces, and wanted to keep those things as spectacular, healthy, open and free as possible. At the time I arrived, one of the hottest environmental issues was grazing private livestock on public lands. Grazing livestock on land both public and private was claimed to be the most damaging activity humans had brought to the West. As one environmental group put it:

“The ecological costs of livestock grazing exceed that of any other western land use.”

Livestock grazing was blamed for endangering species, destroying vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats, disrupting natural processes, and wreaking ecological havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike.

What most caught my attention about this campaign against public lands grazing were the photos of denuded, eroded, cowturd-littered landscapes. Those photos served as one of the most effective tools for communicating the damage described above to those, like me, who were most likely to be concerned and recruited.

Here are a couple:

11. Public Lands Grazing Damage Hudak best 1











Entrenched sharp


To make a long story short, I got involved, wrote a couple of books about the topic (actually about environmentalists and ranchers working together), and ended up enjoying a fairly rewarding speaking career about the topic.

Over time, the furor over public lands grazing has lost much of its intensity. Although grazing continues on public lands, it is highly regulated and significantly reduced. In fact, it has been totally removed from many areas where it had been standard operating procedure for more than a century. Also, Global Warming/Climate Change has replaced it (as well as a number of other issues) at the top of the eco-issues hit parade.

Living in Arizona, and remaining just as concerned about the mountains, canyons, rivers, and wide open spaces that have been my home now for 34 years, I have continued to keep track of the areas I made such a big deal about as a wilderness advocate and crusader for “healthy ecosystems.” As a result, I have something to report that may surprise you. It certainly surprised me.

The surprise is, the problems purportedly caused by grazing haven’t gone away even where grazing has. In fact, they have become worse, so much worse that a significant portion of Western rangelands may be in worse shape today than they were when the campaign to protect them was at its hottest. What is different, however, is that the responsibility for the deteriorated condition of the western range has shifted — reversed, in fact. Now it is protection and regulation and the advocates of those policies that are wreaking havoc on our natural heritage.

This is something you have to see to understand — and to believe.

Having noticed the poor and deteriorating condition of the rangelands near my home in Sedona and on trips as far afield as Big Bend National Park in Texas and Jasper National Park in Canada, I started taking photographs to confirm my concern. First, I took photos of the most eye-catching (and mind-blowing) examples of degradation on lands that are now “protected” but were grazed in the past. That ignited my curiosity, and inspired me to start ferreting out old photographs of those exact same places while they were being grazed. These I located via local U.S. Forest Service offices, museums, books, and the internet. I even copied some from old movies (An old Elvis movie — “Stay Away Joe” was one of my sources).

One of the first “before and after” comparisons that caught my eye is illustrated by the following pair of photos from along a favorite hiking trail near Sedona. The first photo (courtesy of the Sedona Heritage Museum) was taken on 12/29/1957. Grazing was ended on this site shortly after this photo was taken.

1.Little Horse Park 1957

The next photo shows the exact same place in 2012 after 55 years of protection from grazing. The mountain on the upper right in the first photo (Courthouse Butte) doesn’t show above the trees in the second photo because the trees are bigger, and the point where I took the re-photo is lower than the original photo point, according to my rough calculations, due to 3 to 4 feet of soil erosion.

Little Horse Park 2013

Next, I located some old U. S. Forest Service photos of old rangeland monitoring sites used to evaluate the effects of management (in this case grazing) on Forest Service lands. Here’s an example — a photo taken in 1963, also near Sedona, of an area that had been grazed for more than 50 years.

3. Dry Creek Allotment C5T1.1963

In 1963 the grass was short (most likely it had recently been grazed), but you can see the plants were close together, the coverage was fairy complete, and there was little evidence of erosion.


I even located a photo of a 3 foot square frame by means of which the plants in a certain part of the transect were identified, recorded, and mapped to enable the USFS to accurately read and record any change that happened.

Forty-nine years later (2012) I took a photo of that exact same site. I even relocated (and re-photoed) the frame. According to the best information I can find, grazing was removed from this area “before 1981,” so, at the time of the re-photo, the area had been protected for 30+ years. To shed a little more light on what is happening here, I included a photo of the land just to the left of the monitoring site. (That’s the same location stake.)

56. JPG

Interestingly, a U. S Forest Service Range staffer, upon visiting this site with me in 2013, and comparing what she saw with the 1963 photographs said, “Well, The grass looks healthier now than it did back then, except where there isn’t any.”

”Where there isn’t any” is just about everywhere. Here’s a photo showing a little broader perspective on the matter.

7. Left for Upload

To give a bigger picture of what’s happening here I’ve included three photos from nearby on the same grazing allotment.

8. Big Erosion 1 upload

That’s me. I’m 6’3”, and I can reach to 8 feet.

From the look of the exposed tree roots and freshly toppled trees it appears safe to say that erosion continues in this area in spite of the fact that it is being protected and has been for 30+ years. (I would also add it’s just as obvious that protection isn’t doing much to heal the area.)

Seeing devastation of this degree I couldn’t help but wonder: Were the effects of “overgrazing” anywhere near as bad as the effects of protection? To answer that question, I started searching the Web for those denuded, eroded, cowturd-littered images that were used to make the case against public lands grazing. I wanted to compare the effects of the activity whose “ecological costs exceed that of any other western land use” with the impacts of the remedy that was supposed to return the West to conditions the protectionists described as “pristine nature.”

This is where things really got surprising — the great majority of those “cows destroy the West” photos were mild, ho-hum, no big deal in comparison. Some even looked like positive impact photos.

Here’s the collection of images that resulted from one of those Google searches. 

11. Public Lands Grazing Damage Upload11. Public Lands Grazing Damage

When that collection of photos showed up on my computer screen I couldn’t help but wonder: Is this what so outraged me and recruited me thirty years ago? Is this the best they’ve got?

It must be, I concluded. These are the images that were published in books like Welfare Ranching, and Waste of the West, These are the photos that are on the websites of the groups still making the case to remove grazing from public lands.

So, If environmental groups were so concerned about the effects of grazing on public lands in this photo, for instance:

12. Hudak 1

From Mike Hudak’s Photo Gallery of Ranching on Western Public Lands “This drainage in a heavily grazed field has eroded to a width of five feet.”

Why do we not hear a peep from them about the apparently much more damaging effects of protection on public lands in, for instance, this photo?

13. Looking up Through Roots Upload

This drainage, in an area that has been protected from grazing for more than 30 years, has eroded to a depth of more than ten feet.

Another comparison — same question:

If environmental groups are concerned about the effects of grazing on public lands in this photo:

Entrenched sharp

From Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West — LIFEBLOOD OF THE WEST Riparian Zones, Biodiversity, and Degradation by Livestock, by J. Boone Kauffman, Ph.D “This stream in northern New Mexico has become “entrenched.” Over time, grazing and trampling of the soils and banks by livestock have caused the stream to widen and cut downward.”

What about this?

15. 2013Spring_WheatfieldExclosureUpload

Talk about entrenched!!! This is the Coconino National Forest White Hills Erosion Control Study Plot protected since 1935 (78 years and counting). (Photo courtesy of the Coconino National Forest)


What do these comparisons tell us? Well, one thing they seem to make clear is that, for those of us who are truly concerned about restoring and sustaining the ecological health of the rangelands of the American West, we’re spending our money and our energy in the wrong place. Instead of campaigning to protect the public lands of the West from grazing, we ought to be protecting them from, well, “protection,” which may qualify as the real “most damaging activity humans have brought to the West”

One thing that qualifies protection for this distinction is that the damage it causes is not only more severe, it is more permanent — more permanent because it is a one way street. Ask protectionist groups what they can or will do to heal the damage shown in the photo of me looking up through those protected tree roots or that fellow peering out from that huge eroded gully in the White Hills Study Plot, and the great majority of them will tell you, “Protect it longer.” One activist has told me, “It might take more than a lifetime.” The White Hills Study Plot has been protected for 78 years. That sounds like a lifetime to me.

I’ve written books (and articles for this magazine) about ranchers who have healed damage greater than anything shown among the “grazing destroys the West” photos by using their management practices and their animals as the means to perform that healing. In fact, I’ve done some of those restorations myself (I have some dynamite photos). Those restorations took days instead of lifetimes.


To their credit a few environmental groups and collaborative associations are using those grazing-to-heal techniques today. I suspect that, in some cases, they’re even using them to heal the effects of protection.

But to heal damage, you have to be able to see it, be aware that it is there, and you have to want to heal it.

Environmentalists have trouble seeing the damage they cause because they suffer from a type of blindness of which they have accused ranchers for as long as I’ve been involved in this issue.

Environmentalists accuse ranchers of being blind to the damage they cause to the land because they (ranchers) consider what they do (raise food for people by using resources they believe God gave us just for that purpose) so valuable and so righteous that they refuse to see, just plain ignore, or consider irrelevant the damage it causes.

This phenomenon — being rendered blind to the damage you cause by your own feelings of righteousness — is a more accurate description of an affliction that plagues the green side of the aisle. When environmentalists say, “We all want to protect the environment,” they use the word “protect” in its vague general sense: “to protect from hurt, injury, overuse, or whatever may cause or inflict harm.”

The idea that “protecting” in this sense could cause harm to anything doesn’t make any sense. How could saving something from harm cause it harm?

If you peel away this blindfold of righteous semantics, however, as the photographs in this article have done, it becomes evident that the ecological impacts of “protection” may actually “exceed that of any other western land use” including grazing.

The implications of this are clear… If environmental groups and government agencies truly want to achieve their stated mission — to protect the environment from whatever may cause or inflict harm — they’ll have to open their eyes to the damage caused by what they call “protection.”

And hold this environmentalist panacea as accountable as any other land management method.





Here’s an alternative final paragraph that is less functional but more fun:


The idea that “protecting” in this sense could cause harm doesn’t make any sense. How could saving something from harm cause it harm?

If you peel away this blindfold of righteous semantics, however, and consider the comparisons included in this article, it becomes apparent that the ecological impacts of “protection” may actually “exceed that of any other western land use” including grazing.

The implications of this are clear… If elements of the protection industry, (environmental groups and government agencies) want to truly achieve their stated mission — to protect the environment from whatever may cause or inflict harm — they’ll have to protect it from themselves.




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