Subsidized Grazing

  • Ranchers have to pay to let their cows, sheep and goats eat plants on public land. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)

The US Forest Service has
announced it will not increase
fees for ranchers who let their
animals graze on public lands.
Rebecca Williams reports that
makes some environmentalists mad:

Transcript

The US Forest Service has
announced it will not increase
fees for ranchers who let their
animals graze on public lands.
Rebecca Williams reports that
makes some environmentalists mad:

Ranchers have to pay to let their cows, sheep and goats eat plants on public land. This year, that monthly fee is staying put at $1.35 for each so-called “animal unit.” For example, that’s a cow and her calf, or five sheep.

Taylor McKinnon is with the Center for Biological Diversity. He says livestock grazing is one of the reasons species like the desert tortoise and Mexican gray wolf are in trouble. And he says taxpayers are subsidizing livestock grazing, and then paying to fix the damage it creates.

“We have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whose recovery programs are spending tremendous amounts of money to recover species who have been imperiled by livestock grazing.”

McKinnon says raising grazing fees would increase costs for ranchers.

No one at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was available for comment.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Prairie Dog Wars

  • Keith Edwards, a rancher in Kansas, is in favor of poisoning the prairie dogs. (Photo by Devin Browne)

Often we hear stories about
the government trying to get
farmers and ranchers to do
things that are better for
the environment. But Devin
Browne has a story about a
rancher trying to do something
better for the environment
and getting in trouble with
the government:

Transcript

Often we hear stories about
the government trying to get
farmers and ranchers to do
things that are better for
the environment. But Devin
Browne has a story about a
rancher trying to do something
better for the environment
and getting in trouble with
the government:

In western Kansas, there’s a war going on. People are suing each other and threatening each other and there’s poisons and noxious gasses involved. They all call it the ‘prairie dog wars,’ but few of them agree on what it is they’re really fighting about.

Some people say this is about a bad neighbor who’s ruining things for other ranchers. Some say it’s about whether you can let wildlife live on your land. And still, other people say that the conflict in Kansas is about whether the government gets to tell you what you can do on your own land.

(sound of prairie dog barking)

Prairie dogs about a foot tall, in the squirrel family, though technically rodents. Ranchers hate them because they eat grass that’s meant for cows. But biologists love them because where there are prairie dogs there are also all the other animals that need them for food or shelter – hawks, foxes, badgers, owls, and maybe most importantly – the black footed ferret, one of America’s most endangered mammals. We’ll tell you more about the ferret in a moment.

“It’s been said that prairie dogs are the most important animals on the plains and I agree with that.”

At the center of all this controversy is Larry Haverfield He’s a bearded guy in bib overalls, a born and bred Kansas rancher. Four years ago, he stood up at a county meeting and said he liked prairie dogs. And he wasn’t going to kill them anymore.

Ever since then his neighbors have been organizing against him.

Keith Edwards is one of them.

“We’ve had county meetings, we’ve had a petition, we’ve filed the legal complaints that you can go through the county, and we’ve done that several times.”

Second, third, fourth generation ranchers will tell you so in no uncertain terms they’ve been fighting a war against the prairie dogs. But now these ranchers are fighting against one of their own, Larry Haverfield. It’s gotten ugly. Some might even say petty.

Again, Larry Haverfield.

“Well, they’ve threatened to come in on us, and they have, we haven’t paid all the bills yet either.”

When he says come in on us, he means come in onto his property. Exterminators hired by the county to poison the prairie dogs, the one or two days a year when he’s not home – when he and his wife are in court, in Topeka, battling lawsuits. And then, not only the poisoning, but the bill for the poisoning – for thousands of dollars.

This might sound like illegal trespassing, but, in Kansas, there’s nothing illegal about it. An old law, from 1901, says that the government can poison varmints on your land & then bill you if you don’t kill them yourself.

Haverfield says it’s not just the prairie dogs that are affected by the poisoning. The endangered black footed ferrets eat prairie dogs to survive. Since there are so many prairie dogs on the Haverfield’s land, it was decided that they should host one of the first re-introductions of the ferrets. Since it’s endangered, it can’t be legally poisoned.

But the ferrets didn’t stop the county. Haverfield says the state law and the federal Endangered Species Act are working against each other.

“That’s quite a conflict, we think the endangered species act will rule in that argument.”

And an environmental group thinks Haverfield should be able to do what he wants on his land. Ron Klataske is with the Audubon of Kansas.

“Basically, the conflict in western Kansas is: are landowners allowed to have native wildlife on their land?”

Ironically, ranchers such as Keith Edwards say they’re worried about being able to do what they want on their land too.

“Our question is: what will be able to do with our land when the black footed ferret becomes established? And we poison prairie dogs and it accidentally poisons a ferret? Does that leave us open for a lawsuit? Scares us to death.”

Edwards is afraid that this is only the beginning – that if he can’t poison what he wants on his own land, will he have any freedoms as a farmer at all?

Haverfield says he plans to stick to his principles and keep the prairie dogs & the ferrets on his land, no matter what it costs him.

For The Environment Report, I’m Devin Browne.

Related Links

States Seek to Ban Internet Hunting

  • Live-shot.com is a website providing a "Real Time, Online, Hunting and Shooting Experience." Many states are proposing legislation to ban web hunting, saying that it's unsportsmanlike.

A new kind of hunting has already been outlawed in at least one state… and could be in others soon. Hunters, lawmakers, and animal rights activists say the practice is inhumane. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley
reports:

Transcript

A new kind of hunting has already been outlawed in at least one state… and could be in others soon. Hunters, lawmakers, and animal rights activists say it’s inhumane. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:


John Lockwood has created the web site “live shot dot com.” For a fee, users can control a gun from their computer to shoot animals on his Texas ranch. Critics say it doesn’t allow for a fair hunt.


But Lockwood says it closely resembles an “in-person” hunt because someone is on-site. He says that person sits in a blind with the user-operated gun and acts as the user’s guide.


“The animal still has the same chance of detecting you, you know the human scents as he would in any hunting situation. It’s not like all that’s out there is this inanimate object that’s aiming and shooting. It’s just like if somebody was there hunting.”


Lockwood says he created the site to help people who couldn’t get out to hunt, like the disabled. He says the online hunters must have a valid Texas hunting license.


But lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation to ban the practice.


For the GLRC, I’m Christina Shockley.

Related Links

Part 1: Selling the Family Farm to Developers

  • A former farm field in Central Ohio ready for development. It's an increasingly common sight in this area. This land is right next door to a dairy. Worried about his new neighbors, the farmer is planning to sell. (Photo by Tamara Keith)

In the Great Lakes region, farmland is rapidly being developed into homes, office parks and shopping centers. Nationally, farmland is lost at a rate of more than 9-thousand acres a day. But in order for this development to happen, someone has to sell their land. In the first of a two-part series on farmers and the decisions they make about their land, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith introduces us to some farmers who have made the difficult choice to sell:

Transcript

In the Great Lakes region, farmland is rapidly being developed into homes, office parks
and shopping centers. Nationally, farmland is lost at a rate of more than nine-thousand
acres a day. But in order for this development to happen, someone has to sell their
land. Tamara Keith introduces us to some farmers who have made that difficult choice:


At a busy intersection in a newly suburban area, a red barn and white house sit back
off the road. Lush green pasture land hugs the old farm buildings. But the days are
numbered for this bucolic scene.


(sound of construction)


Across the street dozens of condos are under construction… and farmer Roy Jackson has
put this 216-acre farm in Central Ohio under option for development. As soon as the
developer gets approval to build, Jackson’s farm will be no more.


“I’m a third generation farmer and you put your roots down and to see your land be
developed is something I have seen coming, but to actually see it happen across the
road; it’s a sad thing, but it’s progress.”


Sitting on his front porch, Jackson looks our on a neighborhood where once there were farms.


Jackson: “At one point we farmed over 1500 acres and now we’re down to about 300.”


Keith: “What happened?”


Jackson: “We’ve lost a lot of it to development. In the estate of my mom and dad
we had to sell that to settle the estate and that was part of it as well.”


Like many in agriculture, Jackson didn’t own all the land he farmed. He was leasing
it and when the owner decided to sell for development, Jackson was out of luck. Now
he says there’s not enough land left to farm profitably.


“I have a son that wants to farm with me and to do it here, there just isn’t enough
land to sustain two families and make a living for both.”


So, he’s found a big piece of land down in Kentucky, in an area where land is still
plentiful and development pressures are distant. He’s leasing it with an option to buy.
Soon Jackson and his son will have the cattle ranch they’ve been planning for years.
It just won’t be in the state where his family has farmed for three generations.


(sound of heavy machinery)


Workers operate backhoes to grade the ground in an open field that will eventually
be home to some seven-thousand people in a new development. Retired farmer and
agriculture educator Dick Hummel recently sold a portion of this land, allowing
the project to move forward.


“I had some people critical of me because I was going to sell farmland, but on
the other hand, I really didn’t. I traded. You just have to accept that in this
community because that’s what’s going to happen. That’s what has happened. Plus
the fact, it’s been pretty tough farming and this has given a lot of farmers a
chance to sell some land for some excellent prices.”


Hummel sold about 100 acres of farmland and bought some new land – 77 acres –
farther out in the country. His father had bought what Hummel calls the “home farm”
in 1935, and that family history weighed heavily on Hummel when he was deciding what
to do.


“It was harder to decide to sell that land because it had been in my family for many
generations than it was the agricultural part.”


His father bought the land for 100 dollars an acre and Hummel was able to sell it
for a whole lot more. Asked why he sold, Hummel’s answer is simple.


“The offer. I hadn’t thought about selling at all. I didn’t even know that they
would want any of this particular land ’till all at once there were others that
were selling for a price. I heard about that, and first thing I knew, a heck of
a lot of land in this area was selling. So you compare notes as to prices, et
cetera and so forth, and that’s how it happens.”


Hummel says he wasn’t pressured to sell. He’s well past retirement age, and
he says it was the right decision personally. And such is the case for most
farmers who sell their land for development, says Sara Nikolich, Ohio director
with American Farmland Trust.


“You’ve got acres of farmland that can be sold for 20, 30,000 dollars an acre at times.
For a lot of farmers that’s their retirement they’re sitting on, and when you have
development surrounding you and you don’t have any public policy to promote agriculture
and perhaps you don’t have any heirs, you don’t have any options available to you other
than development.”


And so, the personal decisions of individual farmers are transforming some of the
nation’s rural landscape into suburban landscapes.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamara Keith.

Related Links

Do-It-Yourselfers Reuse Scrap Materials

In springtime, many homeowners’ thoughts turn to home improvement projects. That typically means a hit in the wallet, and for some, guilty feelings about consuming too much. Most do-it- yourselfers saw up a lot of trees in the lumber they use. And they use other materials that affect the environment. But there are ways to keep more green in your pocket, and boost your green conscience. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari Noga reports:

Transcript

In springtime, many homeowners’ thoughts turn to home improvement projects. That
typically means a hit in the wallet, and for some, guilty feelings over consuming too
much. Most do-it-yourselfers saw up a lot of trees in the lumber they use. And they use
other materials that affect the environment. But there are ways to keep more green in
your pocket, as well as a green conscience. As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cari
Noga reports:


If you’ve ever sat in a high school gym, you’ll likely get a sense of déjà vu when you
walk into John Patterson’s home. That’s because in its former life, the house’s flooring
was high school bleachers. Cleaning them up was a chore. Patterson says he and his
wife filled up a five-gallon bucket removing the gum wads from the 20-foot yellow pine
planks. But Patterson says the work was worth it…


“What I like about them the best is the wood is so old, because they were in the school
for like 40 years. I hope they stay here for 40 years. You can’t replace them, or regrow
trees this long and tall. It’s something I’m really proud of doing.”


The floor is just one part of the couple’s overhaul of their home. Two summers ago they
stripped the tiny ranch-style home down to the studs. They nearly doubled the square
footage, and added a second floor. The windows, siding and even the 2 by 4s, are reused
or recycled.


A growing number of homeowners are combining a do-it-yourself attitude with an
environmental ethic. Instead of shopping at big box chain stores, they go to auctions and
used building material stores. They buy everything from bathtubs to doors to, yes, even
the kitchen sink. Patterson’s wife Sarah Goss is the scavenger, scouting out the stuff for
him to install. For her, reuse has been a lifelong value.


“I think it’s upbringing. You just grow up feeling a little guilt if you overuse your
resources…any way you can conserve or be a part of that, I feel like it’s an added plus.”


They’re not the only ones who think this way. Kurt Buss is president of the Used
Building Materials Association. He says the reuse movement is spreading as
communities nationwide try to reduce landfill volume. Up to 40 percent of landfill space
is construction debris.


“You don’t throw away newspapers and tin cans. You shouldn’t throw away your house.”


Buss says reused materials can be better quality, too.


“More often than not the wood is old growth lumber, which is certainly preferable to
much of the lumber that you see in lumber stores today which is speed grown on tree
farms… So there’s premium materials that are available with environmental benefits
attached.”


So, reused materials are often higher quality, and go easy on the environment.
They also cost a lot less – typically half of what the same item would cost new.


Still, not everyone’s sold immediately. There’s a lot of sweat equity that offsets the cost
advantage. John Patterson and Sarah Goss worked a long time scraping off all that
bubble gum.


Then there’s getting over the fact that most of the stuff is someone else’s discarded
material… their trash.


Bruce Odom owns the Michigan store where Patterson and Goss found many of their
materials. He says many shoppers walk in skeptics, but become believers.


“You see a lot of one party tugging the other one along, and the other one saying, ‘No,
no, I don’t know about this,’ whether it be the husband or the wife. You see a lot of that.
And yeah, you do need to realize that it’s all done and installed, you probably aren’t
going to recognize the difference except in your checkbook.”


If you’re making a list of things to do around the house, you can find reused materials
stores in at least 30 states. A visit to one might deconstruct the perception that newer is
better.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Cari Noga.

Related Links

“Canned” Hunting Challenged

  • Some Great Lakes states are considering a ban on hunting fenced-in animals. Many of these hunting reserves stock their land with popular game such as elk. (Photo courtesy of the USFWS)

An animal rights group wants to ban so-called “canned hunts” in which animals are hunted in fenced-in areas. In one state… a proposed law might accomplish that… but critics say it goes too far. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Johnson reports:

Transcript

An animal rights group wants to ban so-called “canned hunts” in which animals are
hunted in fenced-in areas. In one state, a proposed law might accomplish that but
critics say it goes too far. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Johnson
reports:


(sound of truck driving over gravel roads)


At the bottom of steep hills covered by a tall canopy of trees, herds of elk gather
around feed troughs on the Pea Ridge Elk Ranch. In the distance, others forage over
dry winter grass in a clearing. Most glance up when the truck driven by ranch
manager Doug Pennock idles by. Pennock’s voice, along with the crackling of his tires
over chunks of gravel, stand out in an area that’s otherwise serene.


Pennock manages about 300 elk on this ranch 80 miles north of St. Louis. Some are
sent out west to rejuvenate elk populations. Others are slaughtered for meat. And each
year, about 10 to 15 are moved from this pasture to an adjacent deer and elk
preserve where they’re killed by hunters. An eight-foot tall fence surrounds that
300-acre preserve. Pennock says that although the animals are confined, their
environment is about as close to wilderness as you can get.


“We’ve had a lot of customers through who have hunted in different settings…
and certainly feel like ours is as challenging as any other.”


But under legislation being proposed in Illinois… preserves like Pennock’s
would be off limits to hunters. That’s because critics say there’s no sport in a
confined hunt… and that in some cases it’s essentially like shooting fish in a barrel.


The measure’s sponsor… Chicago Democratic Senator John Cullerton… says the
hunts also go after animals that are tame.


“What you see is that this is really not hunting. I mean this is these small relatively
confined areas for animals that have been raised by human beings.”


Cullerton’s proposal applies not only to elk but also to animals such as lions or
bears. Don Rolla is the Executive Director for the Illinois Humane Political
Action Committee. He says confined, or canned, hunts of exotic animals are a growing
problem in other Midwest states… including Indiana and Michigan.


But Rollah says eleven states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota, have already
banned confined hunts. He says that could mean the people who used to hunt there
will now come to Illinois for canned hunts. Rolla says that makes it all the more
important for Illinois to pass its own ban. He says everyone, even hunters, should
support this measure.


“It’s not an anti-hunting bill. It’s a bill that promotes ethics and takes a step
toward solving a problem that Illinois is going to have to deal with very shortly
if they’re going to continue to have a viable hunting activity in the
state.”


It’s difficult to determine which animals ought to be protected under a ban on canned
hunting. Rolla says he’d like it to cover all wildlife. But deer hunting is allowed on
about 500 confined hunting operations in Illinois alone. It’s unlikely that a ban on that
many game farms will pass in the state.


As it’s proposed right now, the measure would protect exotic species. but that means
as it’s written, you couldn’t slaughter livestock raised in a confined area. Tim
Schweizer is with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.


“Livestock certainly of some kinds… swine and cattle… are not animals that were
indigenous to Illinois. They were imported here many, many years ago. so they might fall
inappropriately under the definition as it was originally outlined in this bill.”


Other species further complicate the proposal. The elk on Doug Pennock’s ranch,
for example, are no longer found in the wild in Illinois… although they were at one
time indigenous. Also, because elk are considered livestock in Illinois, Pennock can
technically let paying hunters shoot them whenever… and wherever they want.


Pennock says his business never uses that freedom… voluntarily enforcing hunting
rules similar to Illinois deer hunting laws. And he says the fences around his property
serve only to help him manage an effective herd.


“I think that most folks like myself that come from a hunting background obviously want
everything to be as close to what we would term fair chase as possible.”


The question for lawmakers will be whether *close* to a fair chase is good enough.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Shawn Johnson.