Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: The predators among us
The Fish and Wildlife Service has released the report of its Conservation Objectives Team (COT). The report listed non-renewable energy exploration as the main cause of the decline of the sage grouse populations in the West. I know they wanted to blame Republicans but settled for a more bi-partisan approach and blamed oil companies instead. If we were liberals we would say that non-renewable energy was a code word. The COT claims that greedy oil companies have been fragmenting the habitat of the grouse and annoying the birds with noisy facilities. If one ignores history then all of this does seem logical. What the Team failed to grasp is that there once was a time when there was much more habitat fragmentation, nearly unregulated uranium and oil exploration, and the grouse not only survived – they thrived. At the height of the homestead era, there were families living throughout the sage grouse’s range. On what’s now my ranch there once were enough people living here to require two country schools and miles of roads graded on the section lines. At the same time as all of this activity, livestock numbers were significantly higher and wild horses were distributed over a much larger area (referred to as free roaming equids in their report). More importantly, there once was a time when predators were controlled.
If the Conservation Objectives Team’s theory was correct, the grouse would not have survived the homestead era, or several subsequent oil and uranium booms. In our area, and yes I recognize that I am simply a peasant making a limited observation, sage grouse have declined since the 1970s. There were a few oil wells being drilled then but not much habitat fragmentation was going on. Around that time we saw the first red fox on the ranch. The COT claims that no predators specialize on sage grouse, while true; it does not stop some from eating sage chickens like popcorn when given the chance. The fox dens that I saw at that time were littered with chicken wings. The COT assures us that predation is not significant range-wide but then suggests we go to the expense of burying our power lines to deny perches to raptors.
The Fish and Wildlife Service objects most to the lack of “sufficient regulatory mechanisms” to protect sage grouse. Their awkward phrase could be better stated as the Service desires more power and control. The Western States are all trying to appease the federal government so that the grouse will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service is also offering Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances to individual ranchers. They promise that the government’s whip hand will be restrained if the ranchers just give up some property rights. This situation makes me think of what Winston Churchill once said, “There are those that would feed a crocodile, hoping to be eaten last.” Any state will gladly feed your ranch to the Federal crocodile to protect its mineral tax revenue. If you decide to feed the federal government with a CCAA, just remember that you are only moving your land from entree to dessert.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News