Is killing wildlife to make room for cattle acceptable on our public lands?

How do you feel about cattle on public lands?

An article by Erica Gies, published by National Geographic in September 2020 discloses a plan proposed by the National Park Service that would preserve ranching and cull tule elk within the Point Reyes National Park’s boundaries. The article can be accessed via a link provided at the end of this post.

Opponents argue that “… privately held cattle don’t belong on public land and that they cause water pollution, habitat degradation, and wildlife disruption. “

By Erica Geis, “Unique elk in California may be killed under controversial plan”
National Geographic Magazine, September 2020

As an avid outdoorist, I agree. Nevertheless, the management of wildlife such as elk, bison or even wild horses on public land is a compound issue.

Culling wildlife to make room for cattle on public land is wrong. But culling wildlife to maintain their health and well being in a limited area is another challenge altogether.

Bison are auctioned off in South Dakota and Wild Mustangs in the west. This is done in part to maintain the health of these animals in wilderness areas that are limited by surrounding private lands. As the National Geographic article mentions, the predators of the past are no longer present in the numbers required to keep herd size in check (due to the encroachment of suburbia and distraught ranchers killing wolves & mountain lions), so someone has to do it. Unfortunately, their numbers are also managed to make room for private cattle and/or sheep.

Conflict between ranchers and environmentalists is not uncommon in the West, where wildlife and agriculture often collide. Wild horses in Utah compete with cattle for resources; black-tailed prairie dogs in Wyoming are shot and poisoned by ranchers who consider them “pests”; and wolves, reintroduced in Western states in the 1980s, are often blamed by ranchers for killing livestock.”  

by Katelyn Weisbrod, Inside Climate News
“Tule Elk Decision Looms: Pt. Reyes Could Soon Renew Ranch Leases and Thin Elk Herds”, KQED, October 2020

This is an age old conflict in the west, a conflict no longer restricted to the ranchers and environmentalists.

The National Geographic article eludes to agreements made in which ranchers gave land to the government in exchange for grazing rights. Shouldn’t the government live up to its obligations? The U.S, has a poor reputation in this regard when public lands are involved. So, yes legal commitments must be recognized and adhered to. Yet, at some point the overall affect on the common good and adherence to the public lands’ founding principles must be evaluated and addressed.

I would argue that cattle grazing on public lands is an issue for everyone that recreates on or lives near public lands – the rockhound, backpacker, hunter, boondocker and even the off-road enthusiast.  How do we all utilize our public lands in a mutualistic, symbiotic manner? A manner in which we all benefit, especially the public lands that we cherish.  One way is to play by the basic motto and principle of Leave No Trace. I’ll discuss the principles of Leave No Trace in future posts.  But for now – This is a subject near and dear to Mr. Rolling Rockhound and I and I’m sure we’ll be touching on it time and time again.

Ranching in the Point Reyes National Seashore goes back to the 1850’s.  I do not buy into the argument that ranching should prevail because it’s historical. The elk have an older history in the area than ranching does.

What is history anyway? A Winnemem Wintu elder I was speaking with once expressed their frustration with structural detritus left behind to rot and decay due to their “historical” value. History is a critical component of our education and is essential  to the peaceful coexistence of our societies. As George Santayana has said, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But at what cost should we maintain its residue? Should we continue to maintain and support a historical action or belief without addressing its ramifications on society or our environment overall?

I’m afraid I’m getting a bit off track here.  History is a hot topic these days. A topic worthy of a discussion all its own.

Private cattle do not belong on public land. How do we influence change in that direction?

Wildlife management in a world with human populations growing exponentially is a necessary consequence. Wild herds allowed to grow beyond the sustainability of their limited natural environment become unhealthy and pollutive.

Culling may be necessary for the health and well being of the native elk but for the benefit of private cattle, No!

I encourage thoughtful, respectable discussion on the subject of cattle grazing on public lands.  Please comment below and share this article with those you believe may be interested in joining the discussion.

For more information about the Tule Elk at Point Reyes and Cattle Grazing on Public Lands, visit the links below:

I’ve also read a bit here and there on the subject and found this book to be quite informative…

If you purchase something after clicking on the link below I’ll earn some change to support future posts – I thank you if you do 🙂

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