[Cdt-l] Ranchers

Rod Belshee rbelshee at hotmail.com
Thu Nov 5 09:19:24 CST 2009

Perhaps some perspective would be useful. One approach is to ready oneself 
to argue that the land is public and the ranchers do not have the right to 
keep you off of their property. Another is to gain some understanding of the 
ranchers' perspective.

Remember that the history of land ownership in the West was that the 
government would grant you property if you agreed to develop it. That starts 
with the Spanish Land Grants that even predate the founding of the US (and 
are still recognizable on maps because they do not have the familiar 
section/township grid pattern established by the US). It was especially true 
when the US government wanted to expand and populate the west. Land grants 
were the key to getting settlers to move west. The deal was simple:  promise 
to make it productive land and it is yours for free.

Remember as well that in most western states, the federal government still 
owns more than half the land. In some areas they own over 80%. The Bureau of 
Land Management was established to put that land into productive use (hence 
the nickname Bureau of Livestock and Mining). Ranchers were encouraged to 
take what was then considered unproductive land and develop it.

Today we have a different perspective of land stewardship, and BLM policy is 
shifting towards more balanced use of the land. Regardless, it is important 
to understand that part of the culture of the west was based on a very 
strong public policy of exploiting the land to harness it for productive 

Most of these ranches were started several generations ago. They took 
unfertile, unproductive land and dug wells, put in fences and roads, and 
made it useful. They have fulfilled their end of the public bargain for 
generations, and their ancestors are buried on that land.

Keep this in mind when talking with the ranchers. Of course public policy 
has shifted. We now can look at the original land grants as stealing from 
the Native Americans. We can look at the cattle grazing as ecological 
damage. We can look at the ranches as federal subsidies for the beef 
industry. While these views have merit, so to does the point that these 
ranchers have very much loyally served our public policy since long before 
any of us were born.

We need to be careful to not have a negative image of the ranchers. As I 
spoke with ranchers they were more keenly aware of ecological concerns than 
many backpackers. On a simple level, they are the ones who clean up the 
trash and debris from trespassers and illegal migrant workers. But they are 
also the ones whose cattle wells support the finches and other wildlife. 
Many are keenly interested in the trail. At least one even re-ties the 
surveying flagging tape that marks the trail over his ranch after windstorms 
rip it down.

>From the ranchers perspective, this is their land.  Their situation is 
analogous to the land grants, except that the federal government retained 
ownership to the land. Many would buy the land, but it is not for sale. This 
is where they have lived for generations, and they have developed they land 
with no help from anyone else. Now we show up and demand that we have the 
right to trespass on their land.

While you can attempt to "educate" the farmers on the legal status, they 
already know more than you do on the legal status and that approach is 
confrontational rather than productive. Instead, start with understanding 
their perspective and ask their thoughts on how the trail should be managed. 
Starting from there I found several who were actively engaged locally, some 
to help the trail and some to keep the trail off of their property. Either 
way, once engaged they would help with suggestions of routes and water 
sources. And either way, rather than confrontation, we were just people 
coming to understand each other better. In the long run, that will be what 
is best for both the ranchers and the trail.

Steady (07) 

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