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My escape from Englands industrial pollution was a stroke of luck
and parents who, during a pub crawl, read a sign with a picture
of a handsome, red-coated mountie in the Rocky Mountains. Canada,
it stated boldly, is the Land of Opportunity.
They believed that sign. Within three weeks I was clutching a
passport, boarding a vessel named Carinthia, and steaming out
of Liverpool in a drizzling rain. I was in my teens, and carried
a tiny cardboard suitcase with a one-way ticket to the promised
I thought the U.S. and Canada were pretty much one big place.
What I found was inspiringboth countries with distinct personality,
each expansive and magnificent. I saw my first real blue sky.
I could see through the river water and catch trout instead of
oily river eels. Snowcapped jagged mountains stood in for the
rolling, muddy hills of Warwickshire.
I was particularly drawn to the U.S.because of convertibles,
wash-and-wear, plastic kitchen tables, and tall friendly people.
(My tastes have changed.) Everyone had a phone and a fridge and
I became an instant believer that all folks in America were rich.
After visiting every state and working in many, reality eventually
set in. But I liked the rural West best because it was the place
I felt at home. I admired the diligence of its people, open spaces,
and the ethics of its workforce.
I liked to hear chainsaws and songbirds, and see snowmobilers
and cross-country skiers enjoy the back woods. I have gained affection
for Americas producersfarmers, ranchers, loggers and minersand
I felt safe in America, comforted by her strength and the enormous
wealth of her natural resources.
But America is changing. A short while back, a writer from Truckee,
Calif., was wandering in the Sierra Nevada. She found a perfect
meadow filled with dew-covered grass and sweetly-scented wild
flowers. It was so spectacular that on the following weekend she
took a group of friends there for a picnic.
What she discovered was a meadow metamorphosed. No flowers, not
much grass. A sheepherder and his flock of a thousand mothers
with their lambs had traipsed that ground, then slept, eaten lunch
and, between them, relieved themselves several thousand times.
Then they moved on. Horrified, that writer vowed to remove sheep
from the land.
That outfit had been using those mountains and meadows for more
than a century, making a living and assuring plant vigor while
preventing decadence in a renewable resource. Even so, within
a short time, that writer helped steal the rights of a hard-working
family because livestock momentarily spoiled her personal pleasures.
Had she come back another spring, she would have found another
perfect meadow, because of nature and the action of those hooved
and gentle, soft-mouthed sheep.
Most permittees in the Sierra Nevada are being systematically
removed, denied access, their grazing rights revoked or limited
by federal employees and environmentalists who are far removed
from agriculture. They use the Endangered Species Act to eliminate
livestock. They form coalitions of like-minded souls who want
their mountains, forests and deserts without cows and sheep. (See Battle Cry by Tim Findley.)
These lands have been shared for generations. What the zealots
deny is that the meadow was perfect, not before sheep and cows,
but often because of them.... In late January a young rep from
North Dakota Farm Bureau named Tom Bodine squired me around part
of that state. We covered more than 800 miles, talking to groups
in Bismarck, Bowman, Medora, Dickinson, Watford City and Minot.
North Dakota is beautiful and it piqued my interest. And thats
tough because the intermountain West, particularly Nevada, definitely
has my heart. As we eased our way out of the capital in a gentle
fog, cottonwoods covered with hoar frost stood sentinel at perfect
and isolated farms and ranches. The land started to roll. Love
of land was apparent.
This is open prairie, badlands, natural grasslands and cropland, home to millions of pheasant, mule deer and white tails. In winter, the north wind is cruel.
Its pretty warm today, said Tom, checking the thermometer
at 2 degrees. Should get to the 20s by lunch.
There are an abundance of ear flaps and overalls in the Dakotas.
A matter of survival. Pickups are often left outside country stores
with engines running. If an engine block isnt plugged into a
heat source at night or kept indoors, that truck is not going
Dakota rancherslike Sierra shepherdsdont have life easy but
they are being hit by much worse than weather. The Forest Service,
Sierra Club and other groups, using misinformation and intimidation,
want cattle off the National Grasslands to be replaced with birds,
prairie dogs and tourists. Its funny, one rancher remarked,
if we hadnt taken such good care of this place for generations,
why would they want to take it from us?
President George W. Bush cares about Americans and natural resources. In his inaugural speech last January 20, he talked about civility, courage, compassion, and character. Ranchers and farmers have all of those qualities. Now the president should encourage the rest of us to develop the same.
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