Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Random thought at election time

I've been reading other people's blogs again. It gets to be kind of a dangerous habit because most of the blogs I've been reading are those of people who hold vastly different political views than I do. Reading about all these other views made me stop and question why I hold the views I do. It didn't make me question my opinions, just the process that leads me to form those opinions.

My hot button issues are public lands use, private property rights, and gun rights. There are lots of other important issues out there that I'm willing to compromise on but these three are the ones that I use to decide who I'm voting for. Why those issues? Well, there were a couple of things that happened back in the 90's that stand out in my mind. The first was when the subject of wolf introduction in Idaho was debated by the environmentalists and politicians in Washington, D.C.

Every elected official in the state of Idaho told the other elected officials from other states that Idaho didn't want wolves introduced here. Wolves may have been here at one time, but our ecosystem was balanced and it isn't wise to introduce more predators at a time when the jackrabbits aren't multiplying at a rate that requires human intervention (that did happen back in the 70's). In a political move that plainly ignored any sort of state's rights wolves were introduced here anyway.

This might seem like a small event. After all wolves are magnificent. They're smart and beautiful. They raise families and play in the snow. How can Idahoans be so ignorant about how beautiful these animals are? It's not like they're going to come after your kids or anything... Is it?

If you're not from Idaho, and even if you are from Idaho but spend most of your time near the larger communities, you don't truly understand why this was upsetting to us. You'd have to travel in the backcountry to really grasp what it feels like to realize that you are foolish (let's not be negative and say stupid) to go out without carrying a gun. We don't worry so much about the human element as a threat. We worry about the predators. Humans may be the top of the food chain, but we're not invincible and our children certainly ARE small enough to count as prey.

It's not just the wolves that are a threat. Certainly I'm not advocating shooting all predators on sight. But it's just ridiculous to think that more predators are a good thing when the prey isn't multiplying in overabundance. In Moscow, where I went to college, the evening news had a 3 day sequence for wildlife programming education. The first day dealt with what to do if you encounter a moose (goofy looking, but can be deadly). The second day dealt with what to do if you encounter a bear. The third day educated you about what to do to scare away mountain lions and how to never leave your children undefended. Every night during hunting season they also ran a segment on hunter safety... you know... don't shoot at movement unless you have a clear view of your target, wear bright colors so other hunters can see you, always leave someone at home who knows where you went and when you should be back, etc. These programming segments would repeat in rotation all year.

Why do you suppose the news stations felt it was important to run these same segments over and over during the course of the year? Could it be because moose, bears, and mountain lions are an ongoing threat to human safety when humans are near their habitat? I still remember the time a mountain lion grabbed a 6 six year old boy by the head and dragged him off (not through personal experience but news coverage of the event). My first roommate recieved a call one afternoon from one of her friends asking if she should leave for class while a moose grazed in her front yard (NO!!!). The animals aren't walled off in some nice park, they're here, living among us. What makes it ok for someone who doesn't live here to tell us we need more predators among us?

There's also the infamous plan to manage the whole area known as the Columbia Basin as one ecosystem. When you look at a map it makes sense. Try traveling through the Columbia Basin and then tell me your opinion. The Columbia Basin encompasses everything from alpine forest, to meadow, to deserts. One proposal in the sage grouse recovery plan stated that the minimal stubble height allowance for grazing would be 9 inches. The majority of the bunch grasses in the Owyhee Desert only grow 6-8 inches tall. This proposal would have ended all cattle and sheep grazing in the Owyhees even though it's the grazing that keeps fire danger minimized and promotes plant diversity and growth there. A 9 inch stubble height on the Camas Prairie makes sense, grass there grows 24 inches or so. Nine inch stubble height requirements in the desert make no sense at all. It's an unattainable goal.

When you live in a city in the east it's easy to make assumptions about how we should manage public lands in the west. It's easy in the same way that it's easy to know all about parenting when you have no children. Amazing how different your solutions become when you actually know something about the issue you're pontificating about.

Quite a few folks are totally opposed to livestock grazing because they think it's hurting the environment. These same folks must have missed the days in class where we learned about the great herds of bison that used to roam here. If you have a view on grazing and have never actually raised an animal on range land I have an experiment for you to try. Section out a parcel of grass in your lawn. Rope it off, fence it, do whatever it takes to separate it from the rest of your grass so that you don't mow it accidentally. Now, let that grass grow for a season without doing anything to it other than watering. I predict that at the end of the season if you mow that section you will find that there are many fewer plants there. The tall grass will shade out the smaller plants. The soil will be packed harder and it will be more difficult for new seeds to take root. Once you finally mow the section you've "conserved" will look considerably sicker than the rest of your lawn. Not only that, if you didn't mow it and the grass died off in the fall (as grass tends to do) you would have a fire hazard. If you leave that old dead grass and let next years grass grow through it, the plants will be even fewer the following season. The build up of old grass will increase each season until it either prevents most new grass growth or the whole thing goes up in flames.

We're used to the flames out here. Every year thousands of acres burn. Usually the burns take root in areas with dead wood (trees that died but are left standing) or in range land that has an overabundance of dead grass. Because of the fires we now live with emissions testing here in the valley. The emissions testing doesn't do a darn thing to improve our air quality (since the majority of bad air quality days are due to forest and range fires around us). Federal regulators believe if we just control the human element the air will miraculously improve. I don't think the federal regulators realize that even if all the humans died and our cars composted the lightning would still rain down, the winds would still blow, and the range lands would still burn. Grazing is the only effective tool we have to slow or prevent wildfires.

For this reason alone I can never support a person running for office that wants federal officials to control Idaho lands instead of Idahoans. We live here. We want the environment to be healthy and productive. It's not in our best interests to abuse our resources. WE LIVE HERE.

No comments:

Jake camping in the living room

Jake camping in the living room