Ranching: the land’s good friend | AspenTimes.com

Ranching: the land’s good friend

Tony Vagneur

I’m not really a political nut, but I sometimes keep my ear close to the ground. Thus, I found myself watching one of the debates on Burlingame, when, after the moderator had finally declared a cease-fire and the cameraman failed to gracefully call it a day, Mick Ireland could be clearly heard to say, “Ranching is abuse of the land.”I always like those kinds of statements, simply because they have a sense of absolute finality to them, as though God himself had actually handed the thought down to Mick – or whoever else utters such declarations, including yours truly on occasion. This meager column cannot begin to address such a strange rambling, but we’ll throw what we can at it.Whenever anyone uses the word “ranching” or some other variation of the word, it gets my attention as I am a rancher of sorts and have been all my life. Most people use the word without having any idea what it means – they sometimes just use it to fill the void in some thought-process that is lacking in definition. There is a world of difference between a large landowner and a rancher, although they can sometimes be the same. “Ranching,” as it is used by ranchers, is an ability to make a living off the land by growing or otherwise nurturing a product for sale. In my experience, large landowners are more likely to pull some dumb-ass stunt with the land than are genuine ranchers. Of course, a ranch can be very small, as well, if it provides a living for someone.To keep a ranch viable for next year, and for the next generation, requires that a rancher take care of his land, including grazing permits. Some of those less-than-educated cowboys who over-grazed the land and distorted the riparian areas went out of business (as they should have) in the last century and are no longer an accepted lot in the West with today’s media and market savvy agricultural producers. Unfortunately, many of today’s “commentators” on overgrazing, cheap grazing fees and methane rich bovines (ad infinitum) have no idea of what they’re talking about, other than to visit the sins of the fathers upon the producers of today in a blanket of erroneous claims and thoughts that do nothing other than create a divide between two groups who should be working together. Ninety-nine percent of the population wouldn’t know a grazed pasture from an ungrazed one, let alone an overgrazed meadow from anything else, and that includes the group of “commentators” mentioned above. Use of such buzz words as “overgrazing” generally only serves to inflame those who are easily influenced. For good or bad, and it doesn’t matter which at this point ’cause we have it to live with, there is still a lot of undeveloped agricultural land in the valley that needs the nurture of people who love the land and the ranching life. Some people have the naive notion that we should just let the land return to its natural state, and replace active care with some kind of passive admiration of open spaces. This does not take into account the fact that much of the productive land in the valley floor has been planted with non-native grasses to make hay for farm animals and needs to be irrigated. To return to the natural state, we would have to plow up much of the valley and re-plant it with native grasses, almost an impossibility in the world of thistles, leafy spurge and other weeds that would likely doom such an enterprise to failure. To not care for the land would be a travesty, or an abuse, if you will. Besides, such care helps keep our water rights in the Roaring Fork and its tributaries rather than on some Front Range golf course. When Realtors say they’re looking at the “highest and best use” of the land, they clearly mean development. So maybe ranching isn’t your cup of tea, Mick, but it appears to be one of the best friends Pitkin County has. Tony Vagneur thinks being a cowboy ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, some days. Read him here on Saturdays and send comments to ajv@sopris.net

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