Ten separate ranchers discover a burrowing owl in their pasture this summer—a hypothetical scenario. How do they react? One or two might call Operation Burrowing Owl’s “Hoot Line” (1-800-667-HOOT (4668)) to report it. Others decide it is best to keep it quiet, worried that an endangered species on their Crown lease land will cause them trouble. They are convinced that government people will come and tell them what they can and can’t do on their land.
On rare occasions, a rancher might reach for a third option—a final solution.
“Shoot, shovel, and shut up,” as rural parlance has it, is not entirely a myth. There are people who would sooner kill a burrowing owl than take a chance that someone from a conservation agency might begin to pay attention to the acre of grass containing its nest site.
And even if the 3-S solution is just coffee-row bravado, it helps to bleed off some of the frustration and alienation ranchers undergo as they hear mounting concerns for prairie creatures in decline (see Greater Sage-Grouse EmergencyProtection Order).
Cattle producers are understandably defensive in a time of industry consolidation, declining beef consumption in
and misguided environmentalists who blame antibiotic resistance and climate change
on ranchers instead of urban demand for cheap, feedlot-produced meat. Canada
This side of “shoot, shovel, and shut up” there is a whole spectrum of standard defensive talking points we hear from people who raise cattle: Ranchers are the best stewards. . . . If it weren’t for us looking after the grass there wouldn’t be any native prairie. . . . I don’t need any bureaucrat coming out here to tell me how to manage this land. . . .Those birds will come back. Everything in nature goes in cycles. . . . My granddad said there were none of those birds here when he first homesteaded—maybe things are just going back to normal. . . .It’s all those hawk nest platforms they put up—that’s what hurting the birds. . . .It’s all those swift foxes they released. . . .It can’t be oil and gas because I know places where there is no oil and gas activity and the birds aren’t there either. . . .Endangered species? Hell, I’ll show you an endangered species—you’re looking at one.
I might sympathize and even agree with one or two of these statements, but they all arise from an embattled perspective that is part of farm life in a time when the marketplace and government policy alienate those who grow our food from those who eat it. Like all of us, cattle producers are motivated by a mix of ethics that is sometimes undermined by self-interest. They are not wildlife managers; they grow meat on the hoof for profit and that profit must necessarily drive their thinking and management decisions.
It is foolish to expect otherwise, but it is easy to forget this truth when you listen to ranchers. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt and sympathize with their predicament. It's hard not to admire their holding onto a self-image of the independent cowboy, confounded though it may be by an opposing desire for the public and its elected representatives to compensate them for their good stewardship.
And that is why it is always refreshing to hear a rural, grassland perspective that is not as compromised by self-interest and the defensive posture of the cattle producer with key position statements on hand.
|Chestnut-collared longspurs were everywhere at Caledonia-Elmsthorpe|
|young burrowing owls down in the wheatgrass|
|like many of the federal community pastures, Caldedonia-Elmsthorpe is a place with |
hidden beauty that most people never see