Cattle grazing in the American West is untenable economically


Cattle grazing in the American West is heavily supported by federal subsidies and benefits only a small rural elite, says journalist Susan Zakin in smart comments to my post ‘Bundy Ranch. The underlying issue. Too much federal land.”

People in the East don’t understand, it’s true. But after living in the West for 30 years and spending much of that time researching these issues, both academically and on the ground, I have zero sympathy for privatizing federal land or so-called “local control.” The federal government set up the BLM, Forest Service and Park Service as a response to folks just like these cutting down every tree in sight until the rivers ran dry, and grazing the arid parts of the West into ecological collapse. The only problem with Easterners who don’t “get it” is that they occasionally buy into the bullshit of phonies wearing cowboy hats. Cattle grazing is untenable economically in the arid West, period. These are a rural elite who are protecting their right to rape the land, nothing more. Their tenure in the West is no more than 150 years and in that short span, they have done an incredible amount of damage, including killing native bison around Yellowstone and more wolves than I want to think about. They need to go. The sooner the better.

I asked, ‘then where would our beef come from? I’m not being snarky, just wondering…’

An incredibly small percentage of beef comes from the West. I think the number is 5% of cattle spend some time in the Western range, not even their whole lives. So most of the beef already comes from less arid parts if the US or overseas. It’s a lifestyle issue, and a powerful rural elite trying to hang on at the expense of both taxpayers and the environment. Donald Worster, one of the great historians of the West made this point very well. Check out my friend David Helvarg’s piece on these guys in The Progressive. The ranching biz started when there was no refrigeration, and is heavily supported by federal subsidies or it would already be over. As it is, these guys are quietly selling out. It’s just not tenable economically. And selling off federal land is a terrible idea. Rape and scrape developers would be all over the place, even more than they are now.

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