Promoting wise use
Many people made fun of my January schedule again this year-traveling to remote areas in the northwest-but after my first week out on the speaking circuit in 2009, I get the last laugh. I have just attended the Winter Grazing Conference sponsored by the Rangeland Resource Executive Committee and hosted by the Teton Conservation District in Choteau, Mont. The theme of the Montana Conservation District is "promoting the wise use of natural resources." I have spent quite a bit of time with different Conservation Districts in the past few years and find them refreshing, forward-thinking solution seekers. The individuals I met here in Choteau, Mont., were no exception, including Choteau's most famous resident (in my book) noted rodeo funny man Flint Rasmussen.
So you are wondering who the other person in contention for this prestigious honor might be? None other than late-night TV host David Letterman. Letterman owns somewhere in the neighborhood of 26,000 acres just west of Choteau. He has also been known to pay two times the going rate to lease neighboring pastures simply to control who is in and around his ranch. Letterman is not the Lone Ranger in respect to wealthy individuals coming into Big Sky country and taking land out of agriculture production but it is a trend that has me tremendously conflicted.
I am as strong on personal property rights as anybody you will ever find. One side of me says and knows that if David Letterman rightfully purchases land, wants to build miles of solid timber three rail fence, put in $250,000 security gates at every entrance and pay the neighbors to remove shacks that he does not like to see when he visits his ranch six times each year, that is his right. That is what makes America great and we must never lose that.
But Letterman's million-dollar fence has nothing to do with livestock. His fancy fence and high dollar gates are all about appearance and privacy. He has taken thousands of acres of prime Montana rangeland out of production. I won't even spend much time emphasizing the hardship to multigenerational ranchers who have suffered because of the inflated land values as a result of this absentee Hollywood owner. At a time when all global experts tell us that we are headed into a period of short food supplies to feed the ever-growing population, the number of cows that have been removed from this Montana land could certainly help prevent such a global crisis.
Let's just take a minute and think about what will happen to the land itself without grazing. Weed species will undoubtedly grow and most likely overtake some of the native grass species that have made Montana the cow-calf paradise. Over the course of the next five, 10 or 20 years that ungrazed rangeland will do nothing other than create a fuel source for the one drought season when conditions are just right for a renewable energy inferno. See, you and I understand that without humans managing this rangeland, Mother Nature will issue a correction and not only will his fancy wood fence simulate a wonderful charcoal starter fluid, the whole place will burn including the precious ranch retreat where he entertains his Hollywood friends.
Once that happens, he and other media sources will all take to the airways and tell the nation how climate change has created an uncontrollable fire here in Montana and poor David Letterman has been the victim. Lawmakers will want to create some legislation that will prevent the greenhouses gases that they claim led to the huge fire which was actually caused solely by human activities. Only one human can cause such an occurrence and that is the person who insisted that the land should serve no purpose other than to grow fuel for a fire. Honestly, I doubt that anyone has ever taken the time to explain to Mr. Letterman how real stewards of land can work in conjunction with Mother Nature to properly care for our natural resources and that is why I am conflicted on the issue. I would be happy to join him on the Late Show to help educate him and his fellow Americans on just that topic.
"Promoting the wise use of natural resources" is the slogan for Conservation Districts and I hope that we can all find a way to explain that to our nation, in particular a new generation of landowners that might think cows are a hindrance to an otherwise beautiful part of the world when, in fact, they are the living beings that help keep it green and beautiful instead of allowing it to become a pile of ashes.
Editor's note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or e-mail Trent at email@example.com.