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
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.
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