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June 14th dawned a tender blue. Chuck Sylvester and I, the last of the branding help to leave the Circle Bar Ranch, closed up the century-old sod and log home. We carefully checked the lights, water heater, doors, windows and furnace to ensure the old girl's well-being.
Chuck drove slowly past the corrals, irrigation ditches, gates, fences and meadows to make sure the cows were where they were supposed to be, the horses could get water and shade, and the ranch could hum along plenty fine until our return. It was 11 a.m. when we finally trucked over the Rough Hills road to meet with Chuck's foreman Cal Hancock at the N.T. Bar, part of the Circle Bar Ranch.
The graceful stillness of that Sunday was aborted at 1 p.m. by a phone call. Cathy Meyer, wife of Chuck's foreman on the 7D, also part of the Circle Bar, told us: "I was putting mineral out, and when I was coming back from the Circle Bar I noticed the fences were down. At first I thought the yearlings did it. Then I saw there was more damage than yearlings could have done. I found a note, and I saw the cuts."
Jarring our belly buttons into our toes, we raced back over rough roads to the Circle Bar. While Chuck gathered fence fixing stuff, I read the note: "THIS RANGE IMPROVEMENT PROJECT BROUGHT TO YOU BY EXTENDED PALM PROJECTS A DIVISION OF ISLAMIC JIHAD ECOTERRORISTS INC, pc NO ADDRESS--WE'RE EVERYWHERE NO PHONE--WE'LL BE IN TOUCH"
In one hour, they made 50 cuts at the Circle Bar Ranch. That day, eight ranches, zagging from about Waltman down to Muddy Gap, were hit with over 300 cuts. None of us saw any sign of the leaf-sucking-poppy-cocks as they sleazed down the remote Wyoming roads, only to flop out at a fence closest to their air-conditioned wheels and leave their snippy greetings. The budget for this little outing--the payroll, maps, communication equipment, reliable vehicles, gas, bolt cutters, motel rooms, recruiters, training, printing and food--proves that the conflict industry is big business.
While photographing Cathy and Butch Meyer and Chuck stretching barbed wire in the rain, Ben Franklin jumped into my head (Ben persistently does this to me) and asked, "Have you lately observed any encroachment on the liberties of the people?"
"Yes, Ben," I muttered, my mind running three years back to Escalante, Utah. Someone burned down my friends', the Griffins, 100-year-old cabin. Almost immediately following the burning, with no advance warning or consultation with the indigenees, President Clinton and his Robin-Hood-in-reverse gang set up a card table in Bruce Babbitt's Arizona yard and broadcast across the canyons: "Me clan, ME FIRST! want all of Utah. So, I hereby give it to them."
Even the rattlesnake gives a warning before he strikes. If Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Bruce Babbitt were truly provident with our nation, they would do everything to preserve America's ag family. Our agricultural communities maintain some of the strongest, healthiest family reservoirs surviving in America. Yet the powers-that-be aid the leaf-sucking-poppy-cocks in punching holes and draining these family reservoirs. They even obstruct repairs or building of new reservoirs. If they are successful in leveling the ag community, where will we get our daily bread?
Alburn Delane Griffin is a cowboy from Escalante, Utah. He has spent all his 75 years herding sheep, pushing cattle, and surveying every square inch of the desert below the Kaiparowits, the bench, and up on Fifty Mile Mountain. No one in the entire nation knows the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument the way he does. In May of '96, someone burned down Delane's historic cabin where his mother was born. It had provided shelter and respite on the honor system for anyone who needed it. Unseen from the main road that went to the Hole In The Rock, Delane says, "You'd have to know where it was to get to it. They've identified the person who did it. When he left, he passed some cowboys and even waved at them and made derogatory remarks."
On the family's summer range when they drive cattle down Fifty Mile Mountain, it takes all day, especially towards winter. "At that elevation, it was nice to get inside the warm cabin. Now, when we work there, we won't have a place to stay. Can't leave anything of value there any more because they'll probably either steal it or burn it, too."
Val Hawes says his family had a cabin in Moody Canyon that was burned down in the spring of 1995. "Our loss monetarily was about $15,000 in the cabin, but on cold nights it was worth twice that. I heard things like ÔWell, these guys are just doing it for the insurance.' We didn't have insurance on it."
Someone at the state fire marshal's office told the Hawes family that someone broke into their cabin, poured diesel oil on the beds and torched it. "As far as I know," Val says, "no sheriff or police ever visited the site. Sort of surprising to us, because we've been taxpayers in the county for four generations. My great grandfather Hawes came into this country as a cattleman, one of the early settlers."
He feels like the cabin burning was part of the grand plan to set up the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. "I have another job, but my brother in Boulder depends on the ranch for most of his income. I guess we'll have to put up a gas 'n goody place, sell to the tourists. Probably won't be able to pass our ranch down to the next generation."
Since 1987, Louise Liston has been a commissioner for Garfield County. Her district encompasses three national parks, a national recreation area, three state parks, all or portions of 18 wilderness study areas, the Burr Trail road and Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. The area--particularly since four environmentalists filed the Burr Trail lawsuit in February 1987--has seen more ecoterrorist attacks than any other in the U.S., says Louise who, with her husband Robert, continues to work the 200-year-old family ranch.
"One reason we had terrorism on the Burr Trail is that it was the elite playground of some backpackers. When we went down that road with the judge, we passed four topless bicyclers, two of them women. We came to a stream and some were skinny dipping. The judge just couldn't believe it. We've found caches of drugs in several places along the Burr Trail.
"I've felt in danger, but I just decided I couldn't make my life miserable by looking around every corner and over my shoulder every time I went anyplace," Louise admits. "We had threats painted on signs placed in front of our home; the county car vandalized twice; Robert's truck had varnish thrown on it; nails were left in front of all the gates at the ranch, fences cut and threatening notes.
"Our families have been preserving these lands...and that's why it's so beautiful. Now all of a sudden the environmentalists want to save it? And in their saving it, they're the ones who are ravaging the land. It hurts us to see that happening and yet we get the blame. The cows get the blame for what the backpackers are doing.... Lies and deceptions are what gets them where they're going."
Gaynell Park and husband Norm (part owner and ranch manager, Dumbell Ranch in Alcova) counted in the approximately $100,000 damage fence cutters caused in Wyoming's Natrona, Fremont and Carbon counties on June 14, 1998. They have worked and lived on the Dumbell Ranch for 41 years.
"The impact these ecoterrorist actions have had on our family hasn't been just the expense," said Gaynell. "It gives one a feeling of shock, unease and distress to think that these things are going on. These fence cutters preferred to stay on private fences that are on strips of public land that the individual rancher leases from the federal government, BLM lands.... Some people accuse ranchers of being on some kind of subsidy. Heavens, if we're on welfare, I'd like to know why our taxes are so high, and why we work from daylight until dark.
"What's costing the public are some environmentalists and their frivolous lawsuits. Federal agencies aren't even able to administer what they're supposed to because they spend all their time with those lawsuits.
"Ranchers, farmers, commonly work together as a family and neighbors. We volunteer. We contribute to our communities. I wonder what some of these destructive people contribute. It's a distorted way of viewing the world, when people can do this type of thing. It is upsetting and frustrating. They won't come and look you in the eye so you're dealing with an unknown quantity."
Charles Walter Sylvester lives on the Circle Bar Ranch in Alcova. "The fence cutting we had at the Circle Bar was a big disappointment, a disappointment in mankind, who although they've got a complaint, won't sit down at the table with you and discuss it. And the damage they do is on private, not public, land.
"I can appreciate people wanting to come out and enjoy the out-of-doors, fishing, and hunting. We've always made our land available, and readily opened our place to the people to enjoy...without charge. The kind of response we get is people destroying these privileges.
"What they don't understand is that intermingled with the public lands are a lot of private lands. And in most cases, the private land is where the water, trees and vegetation are located. People come out and think all lands are there for them to enjoy and don't recognize the individual property rights. It would be no different than if I went to town and saw a nice shady yard and just decided that's where I should have a picnic; leave some wrappers and cans when I leave...go to the bathroom behind their tree."
George, Velma and son Bobby Pingetzer farm 1,700 acres at the Six Iron Ranch in Shoshoni. Their hay fields are lush, productive, sound, and easy on the eye.
"George and I grew up right here," Velma said. "This farm has been in our family forever. We still work together as a family. The wire cutting is frustrating to us, because what's the reasoning behind it? To me, it's a destruction of property. We had to reshuffle our cattle, and it took two of our hired men over two days to fix the fences. We've been hit twice.... It doesn't seem to follow any particular time of the year. We had a note left in '97: ÔIslamic Jihad ecoterrorists--free the public lands--no more welfare for the cowboys--just in time for the welfare cowboys convention,' but not this time. Somehow...we need to catch them."
Rob Hendry's Clear Creek Cattle Co. in Lysite was cut more than all the others that Sunday in June. Hendry, with wife Leslie and sons J.W., 14, and Jarrod, 9, work their third-generation ranch near Lost Cabin, Wyo. Grandpa Hendry came from Scotland in 1906 and started herding sheep. He homesteaded in 1912 and started building the family corporation.
"It's stressful enough to go out there and make sure the water developments--not only on our land, but on public land, too--are all right, the water's working, tanks aren't overflowing, not causing erosion. We have a lot of things to check. It's hard enough to get everything ready, fixing the fences, before we put cattle in there. Then worrying about some clown coming in and cutting fences just added to the stress level.
"My boys got a lot of experience this summer fixing fence that somebody else destroyed. They learned a lot about ecoterrorists. One thing about agricultural families, they learn and know right from wrong. [That's] something others should learn, also."
"Every environmental issue in the United States involves control of land," says Lois Herbst of the Herbst Lazy TY Cattle Co. in Shoshoni, Wyo. "It has nothing to do with buffalo, cattle, or spotted owls. It's a way to gain land. We've done some of the best work in the country, here in the West, protecting our environment. That's why everyone wants this country now.
"The government is abusing the Endangered Species Act in order to control water and land. I've heard some of the original authors of the act, and they're ashamed of the way it has been carried to an extreme.
"We as ranchers love wildlife and love beautiful country. We're proud of the history, the beauty, the wildlife, and we're doing an excellent job of producing cattle, using all the latest technology. We're learning all the time, yet we've got this old cowboy image. And we're not. We're modern business people, but we still have the heritage of loving the land, our cattle, our work, our families. We have values that are hard to find in other areas, today."
Frank Philip is Wyoming State Representative, House District 34. A rancher and past president of the Wyoming Wool Grower's Association, he was also hit by fence cutters.
"Well, that kind of thing just makes me angry, because it causes a lot of hardship for these ranch families. I can't think of anybody who does more for the environment or for wildlife than farmers and ranchers. They provide habitat, water, and space for wildlife. Then people come out and do these acts of terrorism against ranch families, when they're already struggling to stay in business.
"Of course, this group doesn't have the courage to come forward and say who they are, or what they stand for."
Shoulder deep in boxes and sadness, Ivan Lyman and wife Dorothy try to pack up 77 years of running cattle on Boulder Mountain, Utah. With their seven children, they'd turned gray rocky flat into lush green fields, but the 18 million acre Escalante Grand Staircase took in all the land around them.
"We went through the same thing with Capitol Reef National Monument," Ivan said. "Now it's a park, and they added, seems like, 40,000 acres. That took my winter range, so I ended up selling to the park.
"In 1973 we had a winter permit down along the Escalante River to Lake Powell. We added to it in 1980 and had cattle there from the 15th of October to the 15th of June. Then the BLM kept taking us off earlier in the spring. We had a cabin that we'd bought with the range, another where Silver Falls Canyon came in from the Circle Cliffs. In 1988 somebody decided they wanted the ranchers out of there, so they burned the cabins. They shot about 20 cows and 10 or 15 little calves.
"I followed the perpetrator's tracks. He had walked down from the main road up the end of Silver Falls early in the morning when the frost was just out of the ground, the end of March. He burned the cabins and killed the cows, then walked out up the Harris Wash. He was dropped off at one end and picked up at the other. It made us hurry and sell out part of that range as quick as we could.
"Now we got all these new people coming in. They don't know what a fence is for or how to shut a gate. Because of all the changes, instead of pushing our cattle to different pastures, we have to haul them, and there's no reason for them to come home when they can go through every open gate on either side of the road. So, that's kind of discouraging." Even so, Ivan Lyman's hope remains, "that we could get this all resolved and everybody be interested in the other person, so that everyone would feel like he had a vested interest and no one group or individual would want to have possession of it all."
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Roni Bell is a rancher in Colorado and a dedicated supporter of ag families everywhere.