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Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American Westby George Wuerthner
Synopses & Reviews
In the American West, the sky is wide and the mountains are grand. Everything is on a big scale - including the debate over livestock production on the nation's public lands.
For more than a century, ranching and its associated activities (such as the growing of irrigated feed crops) has been the major land use over most of the western states. While many Americans think of cowboys as heroes and the "Wild West" as a place for cattle roundups and rodeos, others see livestock as a scourge upon the land. What is most disturbing to some activists is that ranching activities occur not only on private property but also on public lands - more than 300 million acres of federal, state, and other publicly owned lands are used by private ranching operations. For the most part, the ranching operations pay very low fees to run their livestock on these lands, and also receive numerous government subsidies including range improvements, fencing, and predator control.
Welfare Ranching presents one side of the debate over public lands ranching, offering a graphic look at the negative consequences of livestock production in the arid West. The authors highlight changes in the region that they see as being caused by ranching, and examine what they feel are problems associated with using tax dollars to support environmentally questionable activities. Through photographs and essays, the book shows examples of overgrazing along with what the authors argue are more subtle signs that indicate large - scale ecological disruption. The authors also discuss changes that could be made to help solve some of these problems.
Welfare Ranching gives one view of the cultural and historical causes of the current situation and offers a vision of possible renewal.
Book News Annotation:
Cattle and sheep ranching on 3 million acres of public land out West take a beating with this huge club of a book (12x13<">) designed for a cattleman-size coffee table or a library map-table. Wuerthner, a jack-of-many-trades environmentalist, writes several articles, which are interspersed among some 35 penned by Edward Abbey, Terrence Frest, Stephanie Parent, and others (no contributor information provided). The book's large, unvivid pictures do not usually achieve their intended effect (which is, however, made explicit in captions indicating cattle-damaged land), because the content is not as obviously troubling as pictures in, say, DeVall's Clearcut (1994). Compared to the book's ambiguous photographs, however, the prose is unambiguously anti-ranching in the arid West, but not necessarily anti-rancher: "The ranchers' plight is of great concern and must be dealt with in good faith...." Published by the Foundation for Deep Ecology and distributed by Island Press.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Welfare Ranching reveals the deplorable practices that are ripping apart the ecological fabric of the arid West, where subsidized livestock grazing occurs on morethan 300 million acres of publicly owned land. The book offers a graphic look at the consequences of using taxpayer dollars to turn the West into agiant feedlot for cattle and sheep - the slaughter of predators, a growingnumber of endangered species, polluted rivers and streams, an increase in soil erosion, and weed invasion, to name just a few.
Through dramatic photographs and scientifically supported essays, the book shows that wherever cattle are grazing at the public trough, severe and sometimes time, making the changes difficult to discern.
With more than 150 powerful photographs, Welfare Ranching vividly illustrates the difference between lands appropriated for livestock production and the spectacular deserts, grasslands and forests that have been protected from its shattering effects. Essays by leading scientists, historians, and economic and policy experts - including Edward Abbey, Joy Belsky, Carl Bock, John Carter, Thomas Fleischner, Terrence Frest, and T.H. Watkins - document the many costs of ranching on public lands.
Welfare Ranching is testimony to an environmental tragedy but it is also an expression of hope that America's heritage of wild and vibrant western landscapes will be restored and renewed. It offers a clear path toward healing mpre than a century of reckless ranching in the arid West - towards a new West with a healthy and living landscape, the revival of extirpated species, and beautiful testimony to true human values.
With more than 175 powerful photographs, Welfare Ranching vividly illustrates the difference between lands appropriated for livestock production and the spectacular deserts, grasslands, and forests that have been protected from its shattering effects. Essays by leading scientists, historians, and economic and policy experts document the many costs of ranching on public lands. The book is testimony to an environmental tragedy but it is also an expression of hope that America's heritage of wild and vibrant western landscapes will be restored and renewed.
About the Author
George Wuerthner is an ecologist, writer, photographer, wildlands advocate, university instructor, and natural history guide, with 26 titles on natural history and related topics to his credit.
Mollie Matteson is a writer, editor, and environmental activist.
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