Ending a way of life

When I was a kid, I visited Mystic Seaport, on the Connecticut shore. They still had a few old-timers there who could demonstrate 19th-century crafts, creating works of art out of knotted rope or carved whalebone. I remember their calloused hands, working in the shade of tar-scented sail lofts.

They’ll all be gone, now. I wonder if they managed to train any younger souls to carry on those crafts with anywhere near that level of dexterity. Like those who can still craft a mountain dulcimer, I doubt there are many.  

Here in Nevada, within living memory, there were 52 cattle ranchers in Clark County.

The last one, Cliven Bundy, called me Monday to report the federal Bureau of Land Management has warned him they’re going to hire some contract cowboys to round up and seize the remaining 500 head he runs south of Mesquite, some 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, possibly as soon as tomorrow, Wednesday.

The branded stock may be theoretically "returned" to him — though he shakes his head over the injuries the animals may sustain, the mama cows which will be separated from their calves, the unaffordable feed and storage fees he’ll be expected to pay to avoid forfeiting the entire herd.

As for the "slicks" — the yet-unbranded young livestock? He assumes they’ll simply be rustled, stolen, sold out-of-state.

Cliven told me he called the state brand inspector, Monday. That’s the guy who’s supposed to enforce our state laws against cattle rustling. He was told not to expect any help, there.      

The BLM have long insisted Bundy runs his cattle without proper grazing permits. Bundy responds by challenging the BLM’s juridiction over him or the land, which members of his family have been ranching for 100 years, and for which the federals can show no bill of sale approved by the Legislature of the State of Nevada — the only method set forth in the Constitution authorizing the federal government to acquire title to, or plenary authority over, any lands within the several states (excluding the District of Columbia.)

Cliven felt he had no choice but to "fire" the BLM — to stop cooperating them over grazing plans, etc. — years ago. He explains the BLM’s "ecologists," with their college degrees but little or no experience actually running cattle on arid desert lands, sought to limit his "permits" in a way that would allow him to graze cattle on the range only from mid-summer through late winter. They wanted him to pull his cattle off the range in springtime, when they expressed concern the big brutes might trample the precious little baby desert tortoises.

In fact, range biologist Vern Bostic demonstrated decades ago that desert tortoises actually do better on range which is being grazed by cattle — and managed by ranchers who improve the range for wildlife as well as their own stock with water tanks and the like. (Bundy told me Monday the BLM has also ordered him to remove all his "improvements" from the range, which would include water tanks and the lines that feed them from the occasional local spring.)

But what’s real-world, empirical evidence provided by local yokels with calloused hands and funny western drawls, to "experts" who’ve got the proper college degrees?

The only time cattle will fatten on a desert range is in the springtime. Cliven explained to the BLM guys that he had no big feed lot on which to hold his cattle during the spring — even if he could afford to do so, with hay now at $400. The only option they were giving him was to sell his cattle for slaughter in February, and then to buy new stock and put them on the land in July. He says the BLM guys told him that would be fine.

But from mid-summer through February, cattle on a desert range LOSE weight. Besides which, "You can’t bring in cattle from elsewhere and start them in this desert," Bundy explains. "If they’re not raised on this range by their mamas, who show them what to eat, those cattle starve."

But you can’t outlast the federal government, nor beat them with logic, principle, hard work or evidence

Mark my words: Within 30 years, though it’s unlikely either I or Cliven Bundy will be here to say "I told you so," there will be a popular movement to bring back cattle ranching in the West — a rich culture and proud way of life and a source of healthier, more nutritious locally produced food, a culture willfully and spitefully destroyed during our current era, with all the ironies of our supposed celebration of "multiculturism."

Problem is, no one will remember how to do it. And — the generational links broken with the forced retirements of old-timers like Wayne Hage and Cliff Gardner and Cliven Bundy — there will be no one left to ask.

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Meantime, speaking of overregulation and sovereignty, two attorneys from the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice flew into town Monday and visited with the Review-Journal editorial board prior to their scheduled testimony Tuesday morning before an interim legislative committee in the matter of the Clark County Health District raid on the Farm-to-Fork dinner at Quail Hollow Farm in Overton last Fall.

Current regulations, designed to handle (and cater to) industrial food producers, saw farmers Laura and Monte Bledsoe cited for such inanities as serving vegetables without "labels" — without making it clear how food picked a few yards away was supposed to get "labeled" — and for serving meat from livestock raised right there on the farm, which had not been hauled 400 miles to northern Utah to be slaughtered at the closest USDA-inspected slaughterhouse.

Mrs. Bledsoe attended our Monday meeting, explaining the absurd cost of contacting such an industrial slaughterhouse and asking them to clean their facililties and sit waiting for her to arrive with "six rabbits," or "two pigs."

Rabbit meat slaughtered in that manner would cost $60 per pound, assuming the Bledsoes had some way to get it back to Nevada in a proper refrigerated truck, explained IJ Senior Attorney Jeff Rowes, who vows his organization plans to "become more active in food sovereignty issues," obviously a growing field for litigation in an era when Amish farmers are being led away in handcuffs for selling raw milk.

Attorney Rowes planned to testify Tuesday on new legislation he’s been drafting which might serve to "legalize" such dinners in Nevada.

Support Quail Hollow Farm — and qualify to take part in future food-tasting events, there — by arranging for weekly or twice-a-month produce basket pickups right here in las Vegas, at http://quailhollowfarmcsa.com/.

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