Refuge occupiers don't speak for Western ranchers

By Randy Scholfield

While Ammon Bundy and his cohorts continue to whip up controversy and media attention with their armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon, it’s important to note that most ranchers and farmers in the West don’t buy into Bundy’s radical views and actions on seizure of public lands. 

Bundy doesn’t speak for the West—or even for the locals in Harney County, Oregon, who by an overwhelming show of hands this week asked him to leave, pronto. 

Of course, the government’s management of our nation’s vast public lands isn’t perfect, but armed insurrection and ultimatums aren’t the answer.  As Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood noted in a blog this week, there’s a far more pragmatic model of conservation and public land management emerging in the country—and it’s about cooperation, not conflict.  

“We have seen collaborative stewardship work in negotiating to protect 9 million acres of roadless lands in Idaho; removing dams while maintaining hydropower production in the Penobscot River basin; and working with ranchers and farmers, in the last year alone, to reconnect over 570 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for fish,” wrote Wood. 

Instead of fighting and making threats—and getting nowhere—public lands stakeholders in the West are learning to work together to get things done. No, it’s not easy, but the results are far more lasting. 

What do public lands have to do with trout fishing? Many of our nation’s best fishing waters, especially in the West, are on public lands, including critical headwater streams and native trout strongholds. And sportsmen understand that the nation’s public lands provide incredible outdoor access and opportunity. 

Sportsmen, these lands are our lands. 

That’s why TU and other sportsmen groups are condemning the public lands seizure rhetoric coming from the fringe extremists who’ve decided to turn a local problem into a national travesty. They say they want to take back public land for the people—but the people (you and me and other Americans) already own these lands and don’t want them in private hands, to be sold to the highest bidder.

While Bundy’s confrontational tactics grab media attention, many ranchers are working quietly with TU (and the BLM, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies) on collaborative, win-win projects that improve ranch operations and irrigation systems while preserving watersheds and fisheries. 

By and large, ranchers and farmers are committed conservationists who care deeply about soil and water health. TU recognized years ago that working with them would pay huge conservation dividends. Because all waters are connected, TU’s projects on private ranches have a direct impact on the health of fish populations (and fishing) on public lands, upstream and downstream. 

TU Water Partners at Work — Beyeler Ranch

This cooperative model is the best way to improve land and water management in the West going forward. 

A few examples: 

  • In Delta, Colorado, a group of farmers and ranchers is collaborating with Trout Unlimited, the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and other stakeholders on innovative new irrigation systems that promote water efficiency and delivery while enhancing flows and water quality in the Gunnison River, a world-class trout fishery.
  • On the Pitchfork Ranch in Wyoming, Trout Unlimited worked with the historic ranch on several projects to improve fish habitat and flows on the Greybull River—projects that benefit the entire watershed, including adjacent public fishing areas on nearby national forest land. 

Pitchfork Ranch

And it’s not just in the West. Back East, TU’s Home Rivers Initiative efforts in the Chesapeake headwaters ― the Potomac, Shenandoah and James watersheds, in particular ― are great examples of TU working with farmers to implement habitat improvements that enhance public waters on adjacent U.S. Forest Service lands.

These stories of collaboration aren’t as sexy as a few radicals holding a wildlife refuge hostage and a local community hostage, but they’re far more important for the future of public lands in the West. 

Go home, Bundy. Let real farmers and ranchers continue to work to make their land more productive and our land better for fishing and hunting. 

Randy Scholfield is TU’s director of communications for the Southwest region. 


said on Monday, January 11th, 2016

Amen, Randy. TU has worked with ranchers across the West to protect, reconnect and restore streams and fish habitat. That works really well when people work together. Armed takeovers don't really work for much of anything.


Add Content