Doug Cooper: Good conservation might not involve government
Whenever I see a press release looking for nominations for for a conservation award I notice that they want individuals who have cooperated with various governmental agencies and advocacy groups. While I think these awards are a good thing they miss one group of ranchers that never get any recognition. There is a small group of ranchers hiding out in the hills that don’t cooperate with anybody and still do good things. I would like to see an award for the efforts of these rugged individuals that have never gotten a cost share, a loan deficiency payment or an EQUIP project.
As an industry we have convinced ourselves that conservation is only done by the people enrolled in government programs. The local conservation district here gives an award for the outstanding cooperator. The uncooperative ranchers get nothing. Maybe the world always works in this fashion but somewhere we ought to promote the people that are not dependent on the Farm Bill or a land trust. These quiet people just work hard and pay for their own improvements. They are not usually people with outside money. Their fences are fixed, their water wells are in good repair, and with a little rain their pastures show the care and attention of their stewardship. Chances are there will not be a fancy gate or a big house on their places.
The difficult part about honoring independent ranchers would be that they are hard to identify. Only rarely does one of them slip up and mention that they don’t participate in government programs. The local water well driller might know who they are because they do things a little different than the government regulations. About every level of government hates these folks. You might find their names on an NRCS enemies list somewhere. The government has labeled people with a strong independent streak as having mountain mentality. Referring, I suppose to the hill-billies that wouldn’t come down off the mountain for government cheese. The bureaucrats know instinctively that these rogues threaten their good jobs.
Percy Shallenberger, who was my grandfather’s partner in the early days used to compare the ranchers of that era to fisherman who went out on the sea. The ranchers then went out with their livestock on the range and took the risks to harvest what they could. It was their work, luck and skill that would be repaid with a load of steers or a wool clip. Nobody helped them. With a national debt of 18 trillion we may see these conservation programs dry up. I hope we can keep at least one mean tough uncompromising rancher around to show the way when the money is all gone.