Fear of the Federal Government

The Times Magazine ran a feature piece on why people in the west fear the federal government. It is a well written piece that brings the perspective of the rancher into focus. The fears outlined are perfectly logical. Specifically that their livelihood is threatened.

Of course, when read in detail, the article also shows why federal land protections are needed. In one part of the article a rancher notes that he cannot see any damage to a stream that the government wants to protect for trout breading. Since he cannot see any harm, he should be allowed to send his cattle through the stream..In fairness, he did fence off the stream..so he is simply exercising his right to voice an opinion.

In the same discussion, he notes that he could not log areas where Bald Eagles were nesting and that was a waste. There are plenty of eagles as far as he can see.

In another part of the article, ranchers note that Yellowstone has all this wonderful grass that is going to waste and that they should be allowed to take advantage of it for grazing.

All of these statements make a strong point. They point to the fact that when people have a limited view of the world, they tend to reinforce the old economic principal, the tragedy of the commons.

It is true that many of these ranchers have been on the land for more than 100 years. By their logic, the time spend has earned them the right to use it and they would never over use it. History does not side with them.

Indeed, if we base a decision on time on the land, then it should all be given back to the Native Americans from whom it was stolen by, in some cases, the ancestors of the ranchers there today.

A broader perspective is needed.

HOWEVER, it is important that we work with people to help them steward the land and to keep their livelihoods wherever we can. That does not mean giving them unfettered access.

Read the full article:
Fear of the Federal Government in the Ranchlands of Oregon
Limited free access; NY Times subscription may be required.

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