AoR 23: Rick Knight Returns, Rise of the Radical Center

Following "Cattle Free by '93" sentiment of the 80s and 90s has come growth in the middle ground, supported by both increasing recognition of the ecosystem goods and services provided by grazed rangelands as well as improvements in grazing management. Tip and Rick continue their discussion here and transition to Payment for Ecosystem Services programs that incentivize stewardship instead of non-production. 


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>> [Background Music] Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your Host, Tip Hudson, Range and Livestock Specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at We left off our interview last time talking about the disparity between the ratio of tax payments to government services between ranches and ranchettes, and other manifestations of rural sprawl. For those who did not listen last time, I'm visiting today with Dr. Richard Knight from Colorado State University. Rick, welcome back.

>> Thanks, tip. Glad to be here.

>> I'd like to go back to the conservation value of private lands for a moment, which is what we ended up titling, our first episode, kind of on our way to talking a little bit more about the radical center, and programs that support payments for ecosystem services. If I understand it right, the string of logic looks a little bit like this, private land, because it was settled by people who were looking for productive places that had water, arable soil, everything you could want is the most productive and valuable. And that many commercial ranches also depend on the adjacent federal or state grazing lands to make their private commercial ranching operation work. So if federal grazing is restricted, then the economic viability of these private ranches is jeopardized. Sort of separate but related to that is that private landowners are constantly under a significant economic pressure to convert. And many of them do that and many of them may do just that in the near future. So if an inland conversion to what we might call ex-urban or suburban development, or rural sprawl, sets off a cascade of these negative environmental effects, some of which we've talked about, is that is that chain of events too long to be legitimate? Is this a slippery slope argument, a fallacy, you know, where it sounds logical, but the slide isn't actually happening, or is that actually what we see happening?

>> No, no, Tip. I think that as a generalization, I think that's probably the case. I mean, the way we have this incredible in migration so many of the western states and Colorado's just a shining example or a glaring example, depending how you feel about ex-urban development. That's the case. I mean, in most instances when a ranch is known no longer economically feasible, the-- probably the principal alternative use of it. You know, as a generalization is it-- may very well end up in the hands of a developer. And of course, the developer is going to subdivide it at whatever level state law or county zoning allows. And so-- I mean, we have in Colorado for up until the downturn of 2008. And now, it's actually coming back because our economy is growing. We were losing the size of Rocky Mountain National Park, which is over a quarter of a million acres of private farm and ranch land almost exclusively to housing developments each year. And so--

>> Wow.

>> Yeah. And so-- And, you know, and as you alluded to, there is-- there has yet to be a cost of government services study done that shows that property taxes off of the small acre ranchettes actually is covering the costs of county government to provide services from sheriffs to school buses. And in every study has shown that land that stays in farming and ranching is actually generating a surplus because cows don't go to school and corn doesn't need, you know, sheriffs to visit, so. And then you've got the ecological costs because you're having this-- The most biologically productive lands in the American West are then reappearing in houses. And so there-- It's almost kind of like a senseless waste of their capacity to produce food. And someone is living on a 35 or a 20 or a 15, or a 10 or a five, by and large their economy and almost all cases is coming from somewhere else. It's not like they're actually--

>> Right.

>> You know, they may be ranching the view but they're certainly not ranching for livestock or some other crop.

>> So how are those private grazing lands I guess both quantitatively and qualitatively different from the public lands? And why?

>> Well, the reason why is what you refer to even, though the homesteaders-- the vast majority of the homesteaders that appeared on these Western lands after the initial Homestead Act in 1862, and there were probably a good dozen other Homestead Acts at followed at different frequencies. But those-- even though those people were tended to be from the well-watered East could come out, and they could look at land and have a fair guess on whether or not they had a chance of making a living. And so, they tended to not file homestead claim on the least productive lands and they tended to seek out the well-watered lands with the deeper soils at the lower elevations that were less vertical and more level. And so, it just happened, time being, you know, we were giving away 10s of millions of acres through these different Homestead Acts. In fact, Heather and I, part of our place is a tree claim which gave homesteader 80 acres if they planted. They didn't have to leave, but if they planted five acres of trees. So there were obviously an awful lot of problems with the homesteads. A lot of them were dry and they had a hole in water. A lot of them were much too small in acreage to actually support family farming or attempting ranch. But those most productive lands were the ones that ended up in today's private lands. And of course, the least productive lands are the ones as a generalization that have ended up on our public lands. And I think I've mentioned to you once about a paper that came out this year in ecological applications that has actually quantified this now. And as a generalization, it turns out our private rangelands are twice as biologically productive as our public rangelands.

>> Yeah, that's really interesting. On what metrics for example?

>> It was on a variety of things like the amount of soil carbon, the amount of soil depth. So parameters that they could actually have some idea of accurate measurements.

>> Yeah, that's interesting. I think that we, and by we, I guess I mean, people that are somewhat conservation-minded and who were raised in the '80s, '90s, and were prone to think that there's an inverse relationship between the intensity of human use especially economic or what's sometimes called extractive use, and habitat quality, conservation value, production of ecosystem goods and services. And that's more related to management I guess than land type. I can see how land type, you know, somewhat was self-selected by the people who homesteaded. And that makes quite a bit of sense. But I really do think that we have this idea that if people are using it, then it has less conservation value. And, you know, maybe an example there is timber ground where if you have a forest that's been managed for timber, then the management is pushing it only toward, you know, board feet, rather than some of the other ecosystem goods and services that we attach to a forest. But I think you're saying that's not exactly accurate.

>> Well, I mean, the case in a forest, our historical approach to cutting trees was actually to try to maximize the cut. And so, we over time lost sight of the ability to do partial cuts and continue to take trees out of forests for decades and decades and decades. But that-- But capitalism, trying to maximize short term profits and then politics, certainly at least on public lands, got an awful lot of our public forest lands cut in a hurry. So we started cutting white pine in the northeast and moved to the upper Midwest and cuts more white and red pines there, and then we moved to the Pacific Northwest, and we got the Doug fir and the Sitka spruce. And as Jackwerth Thomas ones said when he was grilled-- being grilled by the US Congress, "Congressman, we didn't run into the spotter now. We ran into the Pacific Ocean." So they just cut and cut and cut. The interesting contrast between cutting trees on forest and grazing grass on rangelands is that grass grows on an annual basis. And that I think is just possibly the major reason why livestock grazing as far as Western cultures go has been the longest land use that the American West has yet to see. Juan de Onate who was a Spaniard came north from Mexico City in 1598, in present-day Espanola, and didn't get along very well with two pueblos down there where the Rio Chama and the Rio Grande a met. And so he moved a few years later and created the town of Santa Fe. But-- So for-- Since 1598, these European descendants have been grazing livestock in the American West. And I don't know if we-- Well, I know we don't have a forest actually private or public that people have been cutting trees out of in the American West for 400 years. It's just it is a lot easier to get it right if that grass grows on an annual basis and is harvestable on an annual basis. Trees of course are growing every year but they just-- but you have to wait 40 years or 60 years or 120 years before you can actually count them. So livestock in Western arid rangeland seem to have a relationship that has withstood climate change and different economics and different politics than those days that was Spain in 15-- Let's see. In 1598, it was still Spain. And then on 1821, it became Mexico. And then we took it from them in 1848 and it became the United States, but they still have livestock. They still have sheep and goats and horses and mills and things like that. So, it is sustainable land use, and people can certainly abuse rangelands and there's ample evidence of that. But as a generalization, livestock and cattle ranching have coexisted pretty darn well for over 400 years today in the arid West.

>> Yeah. And I would probably-- This is something that I feel I could back up with, you know, with published science. But I still maintain that there's this hard link between ecology and economy and ranching that is pretty significant. And my forestry friends may disagree with this, but I can see how in a forest you can manage pretty strongly toward one management objective. But in-- on rangelands, for the most part, with the exception of me maybe some true strict shrub lands, in general if you're managing for maximum heterogeneity, maximum biological diversity, that is almost always good for forage production and for animal health. Does that seem like a fair characterization?

>> Yeah. And that graduate students study that was conducted at Colorado State, it was Jeremy Maestas and Wendell Gilgert, and myself where we actually compared neotropical migratory songbirds, carnivores, and planned communities on protected areas without livestock and on working cattle ranches. At the same elevation, the same soil type, the same plant community, we found out that in all those cases, the carnivore and songbird communities as well as the planned communities did better on the cattle ranches. And, you know, part of that is our public lands oftentimes for a variety of sort of socioeconomic reasons don't have an active management stewardship plan on them because they're understaffed. Whereas cattle ranchers have these families that actually live on the land and they're watching the plants, and the soil, and the climate, and the livestock, and the water, and all those things. And so, you actually see them, you know, stewarding the land and taking care of the animals at the same time. So it's not surprising. And I have to say this, I don't mean this in a negative tone, but a lot of our public land managers didn't necessarily grow up in an ecosystem in which they grew up learning from somebody who might have had 40 or 50 or 60 years of experience paying attention to how soil looks during dry times, and how water can fluctuate, and how the climate puts particular pressure on a piece of land at certain times of the year, and indeed might not even know the names or the difference between a cool season grass and a warm season grass, and an annual and a perennial grass. So ranchers know those things, because if they don't, they often go out of business. And so in some ways, it's almost like a near indigenous base of knowledge that you can't learn on a YouTube video. And you can certainly be exposed to it in a good college ranch science program. You can definitely be exposed to that. But it's hard to substitute that for maybe the intergenerational slow knowledge that comes on these family ranches that may have been in the family for over 100 years or 60 years, or even 40 years of time. So I-- Again, I hate talking in these sweeping sort of generalizations but dare I say that our private rangelands maybe are better stewarded than our public rangelands for a variety of reasons that I've touched on.

>> Yeah. And speaking of generalizations, I want to quote from the paper that you published in rangelands from your keynote speech, "Ranchers as a Keystone Species in a West that Works". There's a reference to a study which you referenced in our first episode by Dr. Stohlgren. In the paper, you say that livestock grazing on public lands is believed by some to threaten biodiversity. But is it? One of the most thorough analyses on the ecological effects of grazing on public lands compared 26 long term grazing enclosures with similar ungrazed areas on national forests in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, five states. The exclosures averaged over 30 years without livestock. The scientists found no differences between the grazed and ungrazed areas on a number of factors, plant species diversity covered by grasses, forbs, and shrubs, soil texture, and the percentage of nitrogen and carbon in the soil. The authors concluded that and here you're quoting directly from the Stohlgren study. One, grazing probably has little effect on native plant species richness at landscape scales. Two, grazing probably has little effect on the accelerated spread of most exotic plant species at landscape scales. Three, grazing affects local plant species in life form composition and cover, but spatial variation is considerable. Four, soil characteristics, climate and disturbances may have a greater effect on plant species diversity than do current levels of grazing, which is something that I would say was also backed up by Nathan and Sarah's book which examined a century and a half of literature. And five, few plants species show consistent, directional responses to grazing or cessation of grazing. Cessation of grazing. Those are pretty big findings. But I feel like the growing recognition of that is the reason for the growing-- the rise and the radical center. Is that fair?

>> Yeah. I think Americans-- I think all of us have been going through-- have been trying to find a constructive way through this mythology of the American West and manifest destiny and this whole concept of us Euro Americans coming in West and having this belief that the land was pristine. Ecologists have been gradually increasing the sort of tempo and trying to remind us that almost all ecosystems are disturbance prone. And so, actually, you need to disturb the forest periodically or the forest will turn into something different and you need to disturb a grassland or shrub land, virtually all ecosystems. Even a riparian and ecosystem needs to be flooded periodically or the planned community composition changes. And so these-- So we're starting come-- to come to grips with the fact that most of these iconic Western landscapes are disturbance prone ecosystems, that's the way they co evolved, and that humans now that are were sort of dominant player in most of the West. We have a responsibility to pay careful attention that disturbance does actually periodically happen. We have to find ways to periodically flood our rivers. And I know this is this is causing a little bit of heat and the heads in some of our listeners because they're thinking, "I don't want my home flooded out." And-- But we're also starting to realize our forest need occasionally to be burned. And that's of course causing a little bit of consternation with some of the listeners. And it turns out, our grasslands and shrub lands need to be disturbed with fire as well as grazing. If we can accept these things, it turns out Walt Disney had it wrong. But he did a far better job of educating our American publics than ecologists. It's not the balance of nature. It's nature is in a state of flux. It's actually the flux of nature. And that's just hard for us because we're seeking symmetry and balance and harmony in things. And then all of a sudden, these darn scientists have to tell us, "Well, I'm sorry. We got all these beliefs from the mythology of America and manifest destiny and all these things." And then Walt Disney showed up 60 years ago and started, you know, telling us that fires are bad and Bambi is going to be hurt, and that it's this balance of nature. Nature stays in a balance, and then human shop, and they kick it off the pedestal and it's imbalanced and humans are bad. It turns out, humans can do things poorly, and they can also steward lands. I mean, we can overgraze rangelands and we can graze appropriately rangelands. And I like to tell my students just to be cautious. We can over rest rangelands. If we take away those disturbances for examples such as grazing and fire, you're still going to have an ecosystem out there, but it isn't going to be what you wished it was or what it had been. So this is all-- this is sometimes almost too much to bear to hear all this, that it's really nature is in a constant state of flux. I tell you one thing, though, Tip, it's getting easier for Americans to believe this now because of this onslaught of climatic events. All of us are just witnessing, you know, these catastrophic changes, catastrophic rains and flooding, catastrophic fires, catastrophic droughts. So maybe, you know, we're trying to develop a different conceptual model of how nature works.

>> And I think even if that's-- you know, regardless of what people think about global warming or global climate change, climate uncertainty, we can call it the different things, even if the average fire return interval on Western rangelands was 50 to 100 years, you know, if we had-- That would mean that on average, and I realized you never have an average year, on average, you would have roughly a hundredth of the Western acres on fire every year.

>> Yeah.

>> And, you know, if we've been successfully suppressing that for some time, we shouldn't be surprised if there's a little bit of catch up that is happening right now.

>> Well, there's actually a really interesting paper that just came out in the journal Environmental Research Letters. And what they did was compare for us versus rangelands as carbon sinks for trying to sequester CO2 and minimize the great greenhouse gases accumulating in our atmosphere. And of all things, and this is very counterintuitive until you realize the present state of fires today in the American West, they're finding now that grassland and rangelands in California a more resilient carbon sinks than forest. And this has been a shock because everybody understands that forest. I meant tree is virtually carbon. But what is happening-- Yeah. What is happening now our forest fortunately or otherwise are burning the bigger fires and they're burning more often. And part of that, you know, is putting out fires for 40 to 60 years, and part of it is the changing climates, hotter and it's drier. And then they found out because when you have grass and rangelands fires, most of the carbon in rangelands is sequestered in the soil and in the root of the plants. And so, it's the above ground stuff just like in a forest that burns but most of the carbon in rangelands is now actually below ground. And so, this is something that, you know, I'm sure foresters to say, "No, that's a bogus study." But actually when you look at where the carbon is in a forest, it's-- the majority of course is above ground. And we look where carbon is in rangelands, majority is below ground and the roots and the soil. So it turns out going into the future, rangelands are going to be a more dependable source of sequestering greenhouse gases than forest. And so, I was really surprised when this paper was recently published. I think that's not insignificant. You know, related to carbon, there's a-- there are a growing number of programs, both public and private, that are designed to make payments for ecosystem services, you know, that incentivize good stewardship rather than incentivize nonproduction. And like the Conservation Reserve Program, you know, CRP morphed over time, but the original impetus was taking marginal land out of crops and planning it to something that would stop soil loss. Now, stopping soil loss is a good goal. But I think we can do better than that. And in fact, we do. We do better than that in all healthy range and pastor lands. You know, and these payment frequencies and services programs are set up to reward good management and leaving intact wild lands, pastor lands intact. Are there some examples of PES programs near you that are worth talking about?

>> Well, so ecosystem services came on the scene, oh, gosh, I've been teaching it in my conservation biology class for 33 years. So it's not a new idea. But it's been in the last maybe 10 or 12 years that this concept of ecosystem services, these nature's services that benefit humans. And that's the really most amazing aspect. We're talking about nature services that benefit humans instead of some other species. But in the last 10 or 12 years, they have become extremely-- it's become an extremely popular and appealing concept. The problem is so far we're having real challenges trying to link these things that benefit us, our health and our economies. We're having real hard time trying to link these up with capitalism. And if you can link them up, in other words, if you can put values on them, capitalism will take care of the rest and we'll have these PES, these payments for ecosystem service programs. And then it's going to be an entirely different card game because all of a sudden, all of these things, you know, the breathable oxygen, the recreational opportunities, the flood control, the minimizing soil erosion, the providing food, all those things that I think even our most urbanite populace understands are essential to our happiness and health. These things all of a sudden are going to have these incredible values. Well, we can do these estimates and ag economists and ecological economists are coming up with the values of these things. And globally, you know, they say they're worth trillions of dollars, trillions of dollars a year. But the problem is you've got to somehow or another have that business savvy to take something like the soil and the roots of rangelands that sequester CO2, carbon, green-- really important greenhouse gas. How do you actually turn that into a marketplace? And if we can do that--

>> Right.

>> -- the way we've done with coffee and automobiles and shoes and, you know everything else, then we're going to see this massive shift because it won't be just us tree huggers that are valuing all these wonderful benefits of healthy ecosystems. It's going to be the marketplace. It's going to be capitalism. It's going to be the globe. It's going to be buying and selling credits. And there are some examples. In fact, actually, when you were talking about the CRP program, so that's part of the Farm Bill, every couple of years right now is about 24 million acres in Conservation Reserve Program. And those are-- And that's-- And that-- I mean, that's a payment for ecosystem services. You know, it comes from the US budget. And so, in a sense, all citizens in America with your taxes, which generate the revenue and then they're allocated in these different budget bills. So that is an existing payment for ecosystem services program. And-- But that's one of the few. And I'm not saying there aren't others.

>> Yeah.

>> You see them in different ways manifestations. I don't know how many of the listeners were aware in 2013, the State of California came up with this carbon cap and trade. It's a state law. And what they're basically saying is that people that are emitting greenhouse gas, they have to come up with credits. They have to buy credits from people who are sequestering CO2. And they have to buy those credits from landowners who are sequestering greenhouse gases so they can continue to be allowed to emit CO2 in the atmosphere. So California did that. It's something like I'm just guessing now it's about $1.4 billion a year. The interesting thing about this payment for ecosystem services which was created by a state law in California is close to 40 million people, if not exceeding that now, the interesting thing about that law is I think they can purchase up to half of those credits from outside the State of California. And it's my belief they included that in that state law because they were concerned on whether or not they could find enough people who could measure the sequestration of carbon in their soils and, and on their private lands. So they said, we'll let them-- let these businesses in California buy their credit somewhere else. And so that's up and running. I'm trying to think. I think, what was it-- The State of Oregon tried to pass one this last election cycle and it didn't pass. I think you're going to see more and more of these appear in states. There's some of these other programs. There is thing called a grass bank and you've probably heard of that, Tip. The Nature Conservancy owns--

>> Yeah.

>> -- this ranch up in Montana. It's an old historic ranch, the Matador. And what the Matador does is with a neighboring ranchers, if they will steward their lands, so these are all ranch lands. It's a collection of about 40 ranchers up there. If they'll steward their lands, they get so many AUMs on this Nature Conservancy owned ranch. So that's not like a payment for ecosystem services in cash. It's like a barter for ecosystem services. All the things the ranchers do to improve the health of their private lands, to support wildlife, to minimize soil erosion, to increase water quality, all those types of things. They actually get so many animal unit months grazing on this Nature Conservancy on ranch. So we started one where I live in Northern Colorado. It started off. We called it the Colorado Conservation Exchange. And we did want to make it work on rangelands to support the family-owned ranches that still occur around us. We couldn't make it work. So we actually shifted it to our adjacent forests. And now it's called Peaks to People. And it's mainly focused on water quality, our rivers and creeks that run through the forest just to the west of Fort Collins. There are people trying to do these around the world right now. You know, the Nature Conservancy is developing water funds. In other countries in the world, they're developing these water funds here in the United States. A lot of people, I mean, it's just such a classic American challenge where you've got the energy and the creativity of Americans and say, my gosh, this is an untapped market. So what we have to do is somehow or another put the pieces together and allow that power of capitalism to actually do good things for nature, to put some cogs and wheels into that economic juggernaut called capitalism. So it's now actually conserving the things here to-- for its overdeveloped.

>> Yeah. We've-- That makes me think. We've mentioned quite a long list of things that could be included in this general category, this umbrella of ecosystem goods and services. It a 2011 paper that you wrote--

>> Josh Goldstein.

>> -- with Josh Goldstein, you defined some of these services. You know, you say that ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from nature that support and fulfill human life. I think it's interesting that the paper acknowledges that human life is about more than just meeting our nutritional requirements and having shelter. But it goes on to define ecosystem services based on four general categories that were outlined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

>> Yeah, assessment.

>> One of those is provisioning services. Yeah. One of those is provisioning services. The second one is regulating services such as carbon sequestration, or you know, water quality. The third one is cultural services, things like outdoor recreation, hunting, wildlife viewing, maintenance of traditional lifestyles. And then the fourth category us supporting services, things that support the other three, things like nutrient cycling, soil formation, and net primary production. There's been-- There was for a little while a carbon market on the Chicago Climate Exchange and I don't know whether or not that has come back. But I think these are some of the things that people are being compensated for through conservation, as well.

>> Yeah. Yeah. It's-- Yeah. The Chicago Climate Exchange was selling carbon credits up and leading to President Obama being elected because a lot of speculators were thinking there would be finally a federal law passed. And there was a federal law passed but it was for health care and not greenhouse gases. And so the others-- For a while, a metric ton of carbon I think was going for $14 a metric ton, and you could buy and sell them. And the Chicago Climate Exchange is still there but it's more urban right now. It isn't active. But there is something that is stepping in and this is-- Well, Yeah, I know you're aware of this. So the Farm Foundation has created this program to incentivize conservation agriculture. And this entire initiative, it is multiyear. It's to actually incentivize conservation agriculture. So you're farming, you're holding on to your soil, you're increasing the quality of water, you're maintaining wildlife habitat, you're sequestering greenhouse gases, and all these things. And they're actually-- they're having their first kickoff next week. It's going to be in DC. And they have an agenda which stretches out-- Here, let me just-- I'm checking the actual here on this thing. Well, it's stretching out a number of years. And they've signed up as partners, McDonald's, General Mills, Cargill, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and other sort of big players in what goes on between people and land. And they are-- I mean, it's by far the most serious attempt on a sufficiently large scale to try to come up with protocols. Because that's the other thing, when you think about it, if you're going to develop an economic marketplace, somebody is going to have to be coming up with protocols so you can make sure there isn't fraud going on there and there is quality in the products. So they're taking the long term approach to this and they're going to come up with the protocols, and they'll have different launches at different phases of this thing by 2021, which is not that far off at all. They're going to try to achieve scale in priority areas in America. And time will tell. I actually, I have no doubt knowing Americans and their ability to create and to kind of link into capitalism, this incredible power of capitalism that seems to transcend whatever form of government you have. You could be, you know, Communist Russia or Democratic America and capitalism is still the economic system. I'm absolutely convinced Americans are going to play a leading role in this. And decades from now, you'll probably see these payment for ecosystem services springing up from coast to coast, probably around the world. You'll probably have courses and business schools. They'll probably be an MBA with, you know, a concentration in payment for ecosystem services and things like that. In fact, it'll be-- it may very well sort of track that exponential increase in organic food. And you still remember, Tip, when you could go in any grocery store in America and you couldn't find an organic food item on a shelf. And today you go into to, you know, the most large scale and commercial food chain and there's going to be a lot of organic choices. So it's probably going to mirror that, you know, be one of those things. And with our increasing population, our increasing dynamics of climate, our increasing-- the sort of unintentional side effects of technology, this increasing standards of living and other developing countries, the Earth is finite. And our lives and our economies are dependent 100% directly or indirectly on these nature's services, you know, the quality of our lives and our livelihoods directly or indirectly. And so, I think the urgency is probably going to, you know, fairly soon within 10 years, it's going to around that exponential curve and to skyrocket.

>> Yes, I think you're right. You know, one of the things that we see now is the declining differential between conventionally grown produce or-- and organically grown produce, which helps to make a little more mainstream. And I think the increasing cost of crop inputs is also driving some of that change. You know, there's a major movement toward integrating livestock back into cropping systems largely driven by the increasing cost of synthetic nitrogen. And I think that kind of thing is going to continue.

>> Yeah. Yeah. You know, your podcast is principally about rangelands and ranching as a livelihood. Wallace Stegner, who is one of the most sort of learned people writing about people in the American West, in his essay called "Crow Country", he was talking about ranchers up there and out there on the plains of Montana, and he called them a near indigenous culture. The indigenous people obviously lived in the American West for thousands of years. And they survived until they were partially displaced by the Europeans that came over and spread westward. But since we arrived on the scene, by and large, we have not had a land use that has lasted for over 100 years, let alone two or three or 400 years. And ranching fits well in the arid landscapes. You can overgraze and you can undergraze, of course, and the challenge is to graze appropriately. And it's a dynamic environment. It's not the balance of nature. It's a flux of nature. I mean, all of us that live in the West wonder every year as we go into spring, will this be the year that kicks us back into a 10-year drought or until mega drought? You know, 100 year drought. All of us live with that sort of thing. But I think people that work at the interface of soil and water, and plants and animal and livestock, they probably have a more genuine appreciation and understanding of that. It's, you know, as I said earlier, it's that slow knowledge. It's not stuff that you can go and watch a YouTube video and learn how to do it. It's intergenerationally transmitted, you know, from parents to children. And I think it's got staying power. I think it may be-- In some of the most extremely drought ridden parts of northern Africa, there's still pastoralists in those landscapes and they're finding a way to persist. And I think-- I really do think we probably have a lot we could learn from Western ranchers.

>> Yeah. On that note, I would like to plug your book. You can just put the check in the mail. You wrote a book a decade or so ago called "Ranching West of the 100th Meridian". Am I right--

>> Yeah.

>> -- about the date on that, 2002?

>> Yeah.

>> Island press. In the preface, you say that this book joins the ever widening effort to promote conversations over the role of ranching in the West, because our contributors to the book believe that ranching can be more ecologically sustainable, more economically viable, and more culturally robust. We share a hope that they, the SAS and you the reader, may help speed the transition to a ranching tradition that is better than before. We did not invite writers who have no room for livestock in their New West, nor do we invite those who have no room for public lands because of their private property rights hysteria. Our contributors are from the radical center. They prize a mix of people with long term tenure in the land, healthy grasslands and streams and a public-private blend of lands. The goal of this book is to examine family operations whose thinking and working are linked to the land through husbandry and stewardship. We hope that these poems and essays help to revive a conservation attitude that has been withering for 50 years or more. Environmentalists have been attacking ranching from a perspective detached from the land. Conservatives have been striking out an anger at a new thing that hints of cooperation and collectivism. In response, ranchers have been wondering why no one seems to see that they not only produce food that we need, but also guard open space that we have it. If the conversations offered here are reasonable and address our ecological commitment to the land, our cultural commitment to American society, and the economic role ranching plays in sustainable food production and land conservation, then perhaps this book will contribute usefully to the ongoing debate on the future of the New West. I've become a fan of Wendell Berry and I'd like to think that that he would be a fan of this book. When you talk about the radical center, are you meaning that radical people are moving to the center and that that's-- therefore growing? Or does it mean that people who are already in the center--

>> No. Well--

>> -- are becoming more local?

>> -- kind of. It's-- We call it radical just because it's a radical idea in America for people to actually cooperate. You know, American historians say we-- This amount of polarization that has continued to increase for over 20 years in America is about as bad as it was on the eve of the Civil War. And so the thought of actually working together for a stronger America is very, very sadly a radical thought today. And that's why it was radical in our term. And actually, the interesting thing, this whole food and open space agenda right now in America is evident-- is evidence that the radical center seems to be catching on. I recently was the master of ceremonies out of Colorado Cattlemen Agricultural Land Trust annual barbecue in Salida, Colorado. And we were fundraising. It was after dinner and before we asked people to get their checkbooks out and make a donation to try to conserve more of these productive private ranchlands in Colorado. But I thought-- I was speaking the audience about this concept of working in the middle for a better America. And I asked, it was a big gathering. It was a big old tent on this beautiful ranch and the sun was starting to go down. I asked them how many of them came from urban areas. And it was about half the hands which surprised me. And then, of course, I deduced and was confirmed by asking who came from rural landscapes and it was about the other half of the tent's occupants. And I said this is the radical center. We're all here tonight. There's plenty of red people in this audience and there's probably some blue people in this audience. But we're all here tonight. We're about to write checks to conserve open space so it can stay in its productive capacity. And it's out there. It doesn't get a lot of attention in mainstream media because I guess it doesn't-- you know, it's not sexy or it doesn't bleed to lead the way some journalists speak disparagingly about journalism today. But when you look at, I'm not sure if I ever shared this with you, Tip. It turns out that open space tax initiatives, and these are usually ballot initiatives where people agree to increase their sales tax, and the money goes to conserving open spaces, a lot of it through conservation easements, they pass at higher rates than school bond ballot initiatives. Americans care more about conserving open space than they do seemingly about their kids' educations. And then on top of that, you've got this parallel movement in farmers' markets and community supported agriculture, and this whole food, natural food, organic food, whatever food movements. So I think food and open space, that's what ranchers do. They tie down open space. Those undeveloped stewarded lands are generating ecosystem services that support our health, our happiness, and our economies. And they're keeping the land out of development. So, you know, it's those developed lands that of course that can't produce ecosystem services. It's the stewarded open spaces that actually do. So I think, you know, like you hint at, I think more and more of the red, blue tribes, the rural and the urban people that seem every year to be more in town on one destroying the other. When it comes to ranching as a land use, and food in open space as products, I think there's hope in the radical center in the future of ranching.

>> Yeah, I would agree with you. Relating to something you said a little bit ago, I would agree that the level of polarization over a whole host of political issues is almost at the fever pitch that we saw leading up to the Civil War based on, you know, some of my historical reading of what was going on at the time of the Civil War. The greater likelihood of people passing a bond the supports open space and ecosystem goods and services doesn't surprise me because people know that they're going to get results from open spaces. And I'm a bit of a critic of public schools, not of public education.

>> Yeah.

>> But of the way that we're doing it right now. And that doesn't surprise me. My own community which is not very large, there have been numerous failed school bonds--

>> Yeah.

>> -- because people don't trust that they're going to get a result, that they're getting anything out of that money. And I think that this is really encouraging people agreeing on food, on open space, and on maintaining intact ecological systems that really truly do provision human life in every way that we can think of. You know, when we talk about-- when you start defining and listing other things that we include under ecosystem goods and services--

>> Yeah.

>> -- it really is everything. And that's not a small thing. Just a quick question before we start to wrap up, what was the impetus for writing this book and for collecting some other authors to assist with this book "Ranching West to the 100th Meridian"?

>> So that's-- the listeners won't know this, but a third of the book is devoted to the economics of ranching and a third is devoted to the ecology of ranching, of rangeland science, and a third is devoted to the culture of ranching. And I had this epiphany, I was the typical product of the American natural resource college education system. I have my bachelor's, my masters, and my PhD from the American South, from the American Midwest. from the Pacific Northwest, all in wildlife biology. And the mantra and all those classes, 14 years of college were people were the problems. And we had to draw a line in the sand like we were at the Alamo, you know, and we weren't going to let people cross it and harm our nature and kick nature-- Mother Nature out of her balance. And I guess after sort of decades of being-- still keeping a hand in practicing conservation, I started to realize, and of course continuing to teach at Colorado State, I realized what was missing in our educational system. We were giving them the environmental, the ecological information, but we were leaving out the human dimension and the economic dimension. And I just-- It actually took place at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Gary Knabb [assumed spelling] handed down a book. And I contributed a couple chapters in there on private lands and the audience was really grilling us because they had a bunch of academics up there and so-called probably pointy heads and environmentalists. And all of a sudden, it occurred to me, yeah, we just focused on the environment and we leave out people, how successful is any conservation initiative going to be if it's not economically grounded and if it completely leaves out the culture and livelihoods of people? Well, what you're going to guarantee yourself, you're going to be in constant conflict. There's going to be you on one end of the rope in this tug of war, the ecological dimension, the wildlife biologists, and then at the other end of the rope are going to be all the people and their economies in livelihoods. And that's where it's going to end up, right? It's going to be this tug of war. And that way of looking at conservation with just the environmental or ecological dimension is only half a loaf. I guess it's actually-- it's only one-third of a loaf. And that's just wrong. And so, it dawned on me in this thing that I was pursuing which was trying to understand-- understanding the ecological effects of ranching and realizing we're losing it because, you know, this land is worth so much more an acre to a developer who's going to break it up than it is to a rancher who's grazing livestock. That I realized we've got to start, in the same sentence, have the economic dimension, human dimension and the ecological dimension. And so, that was truly a novel book. No one had done that before. Back in those days, they hadn't blended the three of them together. Conservation that works in Wendell Berry's words is conservation that works for people and for the land. And then Aldo Leopold's words, things that benefit one at the expense of the other are not conservation, there's something else. So if people grow poor and the land grows richer, that's preservation. If the land grows poor and people grow richer, that's exploitation. Neither of those are conservation. So, you know, the genesis of that book was this realization that we've got to stop teaching a single dimension, because it's not enough. And in fact, we're educating all those kids. They're going out there and then becoming conservation practitioners and they're not realizing you've got to find balance between people's livelihoods, people's-- the, you know, families and then communities as well as the ecology that you learn in college. And when you have those things in balance, I will say, doing conservation that way is harder, and it takes longer. But there's that saying, I'm not sure if you've ever heard it, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. And--

>> I have heard that.

>> Yeah. And so that was-- so that book was just an opportunity to blend all three of those equally important dimensions over a topic that I was hoping was going to succeed. I hope ranching continues to survive another 400 years as a land use in the American West.

>> Well said. And I can't think of any better sentiment to close this out. If people want to purchase your book, we're going to put some of the links to the papers on the show notes, both on the website and ion iTunes. But if people want to buy your book, do you have a recommendation for where they should go to purchase it?

>> Well, and so I guess I'm part of the global economy. I just Google and I usually pick Amazon because they've got my credit card number and then I buy the one click thing. But, yeah, you can Google it and it'll come up. The book is sold out. What Island Press is stealing now, it prints copies of it on demand. So it's still available. I still buy copies and give to two ranch families that I meet.

>> That would explain why it took a week and a half for mine to get to me. I have not read the whole thing yet. But the preface and the introduction have the hook. So I'm looking forward to reading that over the next couple of weeks. And--

>> Thanks, Tip.

>> [Background Music] Rick, I really appreciate your time.

>> It's been a pleasure and you're providing a really important service. And thank you very much for that.

>> Thank you. Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an e-mail to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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