Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wild horses and the legal system Part Two


October 22, 12:15 PMLA Equine Policy ExaminerCarrol Abel
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AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
The influence of livestock ranching on the law
Discussion of the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act in part one of this series leads us to a deeper look into the influence of livestock ranching on laws governing the use of our western lands today.
Fortunate homesteaders of the 1800's soon realized that raising livestock was the key to their future.  Prairie "gold" turned many a humble cowboy into a wealthy cattle baron. Livestock ranching soon became a legacy of the west..... a proud heritage even now.  And rightfully so.
The first State Cattlemen's Association was formed in the late 1800's.  Others popped up quickly thereafter.  By World War I their control over the nation's food supply raised a red flag for President Woodrow Wilson.  Wickipedia states, "(he) ordered the FTC to investigate the industry 'from hoof to table'... The FTC reported packers were manipulating markets, restricting flow of foods, controlling the price of dressed meat, defrauding producers and consumers of food and crushing competition."  Concern continued into the Harding Administration and the Packers and Stockyards Act was passed in 1921.  Its purpose was to prohibit packers from engaging in unfair and deceptive practices.
The industry developed strength and authority  that continued to grow throughout the depression.  As concern mounted over deteriorating western ranges and supplying a hungry nation with food, members of these associations were called upon for their expertise. 
In an article titled "Land Held Hostage", Thomas L. Fleischner Ph.D. , professor of environmental studies at Prescott  College inArizona, describes one such instance.  
" Representatives from district advisory boards were organized into a National Advisory Board Council, which wielded tremendous influence nationwide.  A member of that council later recollected that ranchers wrote the entire Federal Range Code at the councils first meeting, with government officials polite enough to offer to leave so as not to interfere."
In 1949 the National Advisory Board Council became part of the Dept. of the Interior which includes BLM and other departments now responsible for managing our wild horses and burros.
Numerous advisory board councils formed and various Bills and Acts became law. Countless County, State, and Federal Laws were passed.   As reputations grew, those in the livestock industry won elected political positions in counties that depended on their experience for financial survival..... then moved on to hold state offices.  Their role in building western economy is undeniable.
An unintended result of our dependence on expertise offered by the industry is well expressed by Fleischner,
"On public lands, federal regulation of livestock grazing was very slow to develop.  The political influence of stock growers has enabled them to largely resist policy shifts that would allow ecological recovery.  Today, increasing scientific knowledge and general appreciation of arid lands may finally effect real grazing reform." 
A trek through the N.Y. Times archives covering this era reveals an intense anti wild horse attitude in the livestock industry.
Wild horses and the legal system is a multi-part commentary.  Part three will be published next week.
It is recommended that part one be read first.

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