Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don't want the carrot? Care for some stick?

We're written before about the innovative deal between Western Watersheds Project, Oregon Natural Desert Association and El Paso Corporation regarding the Ruby pipeline. Basically, the conservation groups get to help administer a $20M fund to buy out voluntary sellers of grazing permits.

Hooo, boy, did that stir the pot! The cattlegrowers freaked out. El Paso balked* but didn't back out of the deal. The conservation groups caught hell for 'selling out'.

Whatever. The fact remains that there is already a few million dollars to compensate willing sellers of grazing permits on millions of acres in the west. How can anyone deny that this could be win-win?

The ranchers. Completely afraid that a fist-full of bills might make some of their ilk decide that it's more economical to take the money and move to Florida than comply with the Endangered Species Act. Except compliance with the ESA on public lands is not optional, and the land management agencies are supposed to be enforcing that. When they don't, groups like Western Watersheds Project step in and strong arm the agencies with the law:
Ertz said Western Watersheds goes to court to enforce the nation's environmental laws.

"If they are saying they want the stick, we're ready to produce that," he said. "We're holding the threat of enforcement of existing laws over their head. We have no stick unless they're breaking the law."
How very radical a notion, to enforce federal law on federal lands. Don't want to comply? Would you like some money instead?

Seriously. Why isn't this a solution?

The last lines of Mr. Barker's Idaho Statesman article from today suggests that the deal overlooks 'culture.' We suppose they mean 'cowboy culture,' but we take offense. Just because ranchers have had a stranglehold on the West for several generations doesn't mean we need to persist in empowering them forever, does it? The West has changed. Drastically. The frontier mentality is no longer appropriate, and the consolidation of land in the hands of a few privileged (either financially or temporally) ranchers is no longer an equitable way to deal with natural resources. Sure, culture matters. [Ed: As did Native American cultures. Ahem.] We're sure slave owners liked their plantation-style houses. But was the preservation of that culture more worthy than a new culture which valued justice and equity for all?

The new culture of the West is being built on the principles of sustainability and ecological integrity. Livestock operations may have a niche on private lands, but the public lands are the last, best vestiges of habitat for wildlife and ecosystem service provision that we've got. Finding a carrot with which to induce ranchers off public lands that they can then invest and co-create new ways of existing in the arid West seems more than fair. Culture matters, but culture changes.

* UPDATED 9/30: We've had some interest in our characterization of El Paso Corp.'s "balking" at the Ruby deal. To clarify: The deal is on, and to the best of our knowledge, El Paso has not tried to get out of paying the conservation groups. However, in many a news account, El Paso reps have said things like, "We regret..." and they did give an extra $15M to the whining cowboys. From our perspective, it looks like El Paso got more flak than it expected and went a little weak in the knees. Note to El Paso: the whining never stops from that crew, and the grabby hands are always begging for money. It's a traditional lifestyle.


Anonymous said...

Well said!

Southern said...

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, to my mind, Western Watersheds Project's deal with El Paso Corp just stinks - there is no way to make it look good to us or the countless plants and animals, who occupy the pristine landscape that is being compromised by the massive construction project. We've followed the entire EIS process as well as the supplemental filings for the FERC doc. in which FERC allows the multi-national corp variances to waive even the paltry environmental protections the inadequate EIS required. It is beyond words the destruction to key habitats we are seeing. Not to mention future impacts as the construction introduced noxious weeds and animal and insect pests spread into the surrounding landscape over time. Western Watersheds Project obviously had the key to pressure El Paso to move the pipeline to a more approriate route but sold out instead, so they could harass a few puny ranchers. Nobody but El Paso wins this one.