The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics

Source:  Counterpunch.org

“Wild horses are a rare sight, so for the overwhelming majority of lands that are in poor condition, the domestic livestock are the cause when land health and wildlife suffer.”

Photo Source DieselDemon | CC BY 2.0

 

Public lands managed by the federal government loom large in western politics, a defining topic dictating the political debate. Corporate interests – logging, grazing, and mineral extraction most prominently – have often succeeded in dominating that debate through their good-old-boy network of legislators, county commissioners, lobby groups, and captive agencies. This powerful group largely controls the imaginary “custom and culture” of the West, a myth which reflects an attitude of dominion over nature, an anti-regulation mindset, and an obsession with economic profit regardless of social or ecological consequences. But in reality, westerners in large numbers don’t actually share these values. With the influx of tech companies and professional workers from other regions, this extraction-centric worldview is becoming a tinier and tinier minority viewpoint in a West that increasingly prizes unspoiled scenery, abundant wildlife, and recreational values above extractive uses of public lands.

As they sense their deathgrip on the public debate slipping, those seeking to maximize exploitation and marginalize conservation on western public lands are becoming increasingly strident in their insistence on a variety of fictional assertions about the West. Here is a list of some of the most outrageous misinformation being peddled through the media and via political channels.

1) Industrial oil and gas drilling is compatible with healthy wildlife populations

Big Oil has been trying for decades to sell America on the idea that it is not a dirty industry, and that whatever its latest environmental disaster happened to be, it was a rare occurrence that will never happen again. Drilling rigs, pipelines, and the spiderweb of dusty access roads can exist side-by-side with abundant native wildlife, they assert. But we know better. An onslaught of scientific studies demonstrates conclusively that converting undeveloped habitats into industrial oil and gas fields decimates sage grouse and mule deer populations, interferes with pronghorn migrations, and harms native wildlife from the tiny sage sparrow to the majestic golden eagle. It no longer matters how many slick paid television ads show pumpjacks against the backdrop of purple mountains’ majesty, the public – from hunters to wildlife viewers to local westerners worried about their deteriorating quality of life – just aren’t buying it anymore. And this spatial incompatibility doesn’t even begin to address the broader problems of burning those fossil fuels and adding to climate change’s impacts on native wildlife species.

2) Nobody wants to see the sage grouse (or anything else) listed under the ESA

The Endangered Species Act is one of the nation’s most popular laws, enjoying 90% support from American voters, but that doesn’t seem to deter anti-environmental interests from claiming that nobody wants to see it used. Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) is currently pushing legislation to gut the ESA by turning over key decisions to states that don’t want the law enforced, while the Trump administration is trying to change the regulations to loosen protections for our rarest wildlife.

It just isn’t true that, “No one wants to see the sage grouse listed under the Endangered Species Act,” no matter how many politicians or bureaucrats say it. While it’s true that most sentient beings are opposed to extinction and don’t want to see species plummet to the level of ESA listing, the majority of westerners do want to see highly-imperiled species like sage-grouse gain federal protection under the law. A 2004 Central Colorado College survey found that on the conservative West Slope of Colorado, 68% thought the Gunnison sage grouse ought to be listed under the ESA. The Gunnison sage grouse was listed as a ‘threatened species’ in 2014, and a 2016 poll of West Slope voters found that 66% thought the bird should continue to be listed under the ESA until they are fully recovered. A 2014 poll commissioned by Defenders of Wildlife found that 67% of westerners supported listing the related greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, including 57% in Wyoming, traditionally considered an anti-ESA state. So, when western good-old-boys say that nobody want to see endangered species listings, they’re speaking for themselves, not for westerners.

3) Logging, grazing, or fuelbreaks can stop big fires

This Big Lie started with Smokey the Bear and his Forest Service admonition, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” This myth, assuming all fires are human caused and unnatural, has been spreading from forests to deserts to grasslands ever since. The reality is that fire is often a natural event, and most western conifer forests naturally burn as hot, uncontrollable conflagrations every 200 to 700 years. Lodgepole pine – a colonizer forest type that the timber industry deliberately re-establishes for through clearcutting – is actually fire-dependent and burns even more frequently.

Out in the western deserts, overgrazing has created vast monocultures of cheatgrass, an invasive weed that destroys habitat values for wildlife and burns as often as every 5 years, and this is unnatural. In both forests and deserts, the really big fires happen during the driest, windiest weather, when wind can carry burning embers a quarter mile or more, and even interstate highways and the mighty Columbia River have been jumped by advancing flames. For both fires within their natural range of size and intensity, and those that are unnaturally large or frequent, it is foolish to think we can “control” them.

On arid rangelands, federal agencies and local conservation districts propose “greenstrips” a few hundred yards wide in the face of flying brands that carry for a quarter mile or more to start spot fires ahead of the flame front, in full knowledge that the “greenstrips” will be brown and combustible by the late-August peak of fire season. Federal and state agencies are fond of funneling millions in taxpayer dollars into fuel breaks in the backcountry despite science showing serious environmental impacts and a complete absence of reliable evidence that they work, for the political purpose of saying “we did all we could” and securing plausible deniability when uncontrolled fire inevitably burns into residential communities. The same is true for logging in forested backcountry – it just doesn’t work to stop or slow fires. Once a fire gets started and local topography and wind direction are understood, fuel breaks can be a very useful tactic. Instead of pretending they can control fire on the open range or in fire-adapted forests, officials would be better off focusing prevention efforts on defensible space immediately next to homes and communities, and educating the public on fire-wise methods to make homes as flame-resistant as possible.

4) Wild horses are the real threat to western rangeland health

Western public lands are so uniformly overgrazed that the degradation seems normal. The livestock industry likes to blame this abuse on wild horses. But in reality, most of the West has no wild horses at all. For example, only 12% of sage grouse habitats have any wild horses. Wild horses are a rare sight, so for the overwhelming majority of lands that are in poor condition, the domestic livestock are the cause when land health and wildlife suffer. Even where wild horses do occur, the impacts of horses are vastly outweighed by the damage caused by the domestic livestock that graze on public lands, which outnumber wild horses on the range by more than 36 to 1. Like any herbivore, wild horses can damage their habitats when overpopulated, but given the aggressive program of federal roundups, horses rarely reach these densities.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

Erik Molvar is a wildlife biologist and is the Laramie, Wyoming-based Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting and restoring watersheds and wildlife on western public lands.

8 comments

  1. Deconstructing the Big Lies

    It would be easy to conclude that if you catch a politician, a community leader, or anyone else repeating one of these Big Lies, that makes them a liar. While that’s often true, it’s not always so simple. There are plenty of people out there who aren’t in a position to know any better, but are vocal with their opinions nonetheless. Repetition is the way the big lies are adopted as truths: Tell the same falsehood 26 times, according to advertising industry research, and the audience will accept it as common knowledge. Beware the Big Lie in western political discourse. Everyone in the West – and every owner of western public lands (in effect, each American citizen) – should do their part to bring daylight to these falsehoods and to ensure that political decisions that affect us all are driven by realities rather than distortions.
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/10/18/the-ten-big-lies-of-traditional-western-politics/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This excellent article needs to go viral. We can put it on D.C. legislators’ Facebooks and those who are able please send it to media . Hopefully the AP will print it..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great to see Western Watersheds debunking wild horse lies to their work. I support them and hope you will, too. Our wild ones need us all to face the wind together, and NOW.

    VOTE AS IF THEIR LIVES DEPEND ON IT, BECAUSE THEY DO

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dan Flores talks about the decimation of wildlife, including wild horses…VERY compelling discussion:

    C-SPAN

    AUGUST 17, 2018

    Conservation in the West
    Western and environmental history professors discussed the impact of economic growth and industrialization on the West during the 19th century and the beginning of the western conservation movement. This was part of a conference hosted by the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado.

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?449631-2/conservation-west

    Liked by 1 person

  5. C-SPAN

    Conservation in the West

    Dan Flores

    “THE AMERICAN WEST, WHAT IN EFFECT IT PRODUCED WAS THE LARGEST SINGLE DESTRUCTION OF WILDLIFE THAT IS DISCOVERABLE IN MODERN HISTORY. I MEAN WE LOST SOME SPECIES ENTIRELY. THE MOST NUMEROUS BIRD IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, THE PASSENGER PIGEON BECAME EXTINCT. THE MOST BRIGHTLY COLORED LARGE BIRD OF NORTH AMERICA, THE CAROLINA PARAKEET BECAME EXTINCT. WE NEARLY LOST BISON, AS I MENTIONED THE ONLY DAY DOWN TO ONLY 8000 ANIMALS. WE NEARLY LOST ELK, WE LOST PRONGHORN DOWN TO 13,000. WE DREW 50,000 GRIZZLY BEARS DOWN TO A FEW HUNDRED. WE DON’T KNOW HOW MANY. ONE SPECIES AFTER ANOTHER, GRAY WALLS WHICH ARE EXTIRPATED IN THE LOWER 48 BY THE 1920S WE BUSINESS — BASICALLY LOOSE.
    3 MILLION WILD HORSES WE SEND OFF TO DOG FOOD PLANTS IN ILLINOIS. WHEN THE COMPANY STARTS MAKING DOG FOOD AND BASING IT ON WILD HORSES IN THE WEST. SO IT’S THIS AMAZING, MIND- BOGGLING DESTRUCTION OF ANIMALS.”
    https://www.c-span.org/video/?449631-2/conservation-west

    Liked by 1 person

  6. C-SPAN

    Conservation in the West

    Dan Flores

    “THE OTHER DAY I TOLD YOU I WOULD READ YOU TWO QUOTES WHICH WERE ONLY 26 YEARS APART IN THE WEST.
    I READ YOU THE FIRST WHEN FROM JOHN JAMES AUDUBON. HE IS ABSOLUTELY GOB SMACKED BY THIS TREMENDOUS ABUNDANCE OF ANIMALS. HE SAYS NO ONE CAN IMAGINE THE DIVERSITY AND THE ABUNDANCE OF THE WILDLIFE ALONG THE MISSOURI RIVER.\
    26 YEARS LATER THE EARL OF DUNN RAVEN WOULD BUY UP ESTES PARK PRIOR TO CREATION OF ROCKY MOUNT NATIONAL PARK. HE WAS ONE OF A HOST OF ELITE EUROPEANS WHO WENT ON SAFARI IN THE AMERICAN WEST IN THE 19 CENTURY. THE EARL ALONG WITH THE DUKE OF LECTURE — RUSSIA. WHERE THE LAST TWO TO DO SO. ON THE HUNT OUT OF THE GREAT PLAINS EAST OF DENVER, NORTHEAST OF DENVER ACTUALLY. FINISHED UP A RUN THROUGH A HERD OF ELK OUT ON THE PLAINS FROM WHICH HE AND HIS PARTNER SHOT DOWN MORE THAN 60 ANIMALS. THEY SHOT PRONGHORN’S AS THEY WERE FLEEING, THEY SHOT IT BUFFALO. THEY WERE SURROUNDED BY ANIMALS. IT WAS THIS WILD ADVENTURE FOR ABOUT FIVE OR SIX MINUTES. THAT’S ALL IT LASTED. AND THEN HE WENT TO THE CAMP LOT — THAT NIGHT AND SAT DOWN TO HIS JOURNAL AND THIS IS WHAT HE WROTE. AND I THINK WHAT HE WAS CONVEYING TO US, HE WAS A SENSITIVE SORT OF SAFARI HUNTER WHO SPENT A LOT OF TIME IN EUROPE WITH PAINTERS AND POETS AND ACTORS AND SO HE WAS MORE SENSITIVE THAN A LOT OF THESE WESTERNERS I THINK. HE WROTE THIS. AND A SECOND IT WAS ALL GONE. THERE WAS NOT A LIVING CREATURE TO BE SEEN. THE OPPRESSIVE SILENCE WAS UNBROKEN BY THE FAINTEST SOUNDS. I LOOKED ALL AROUND THE HORIZON, NOT ONE SIGN OF LIFE. EVERYTHING THEN BECAME DULL, DEAD, QUIET, AND UTTERLY SAD AND MELANCHOLY. WITH THE EARL WAS CONVEYING THROUGH HIS JOURNAL, INTO THE WORLD, WAS REALLY WHAT THIS UNTRAMMELED FREEDOM ON THE FRONTIER HAD WROUGHT.”
    https://www.c-span.org/video/?449631-2/conservation-west

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Something I’ve learned (along with lots of other fun facts) is that At the Grand Staircase-Escalante’s monument – 1.7 million acres – one million acres in 2005 was being grazed by cattle! ONE MILLION ACRES OF A NATIONAL MONUMENT. I’m betting nothing has changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve belonged to WWP for years. Katie Fite helped with wild horses some and Jon Marvel made the BLM return the wild horses it rounded up after chasing them off the WWP sanctuary. Katie is with another organization now and Jon is semi-retired I think. Erik is doing a fine job now. I’m sure WWP could usessome more members. It has documented the damage cattle do to the range and waterways.

    Liked by 2 people

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