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Thomas Mitchell

As we enter another wildfire season — and each one seems to be more devastating than the previous one — the question lingers: Why?

According to The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Geographic it is unquestionably due to climate change.

Pay no heed to the fact that prior to 1980 less than 25,000 acres of wildfires occurred each year in Nevada. In each of the past two years, more than 1 million acres have burned. Coincidentally, since 1980 the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have made massive cuts in the number of cattle and sheep allowed to graze federal land. The number of sheep has fallen 80 percent and the number of cattle has been cut in half.

This past week’s issue of Executive Intelligence Review magazine asks the question: “What Is Causing Massive Wildfires In the U.S. West: The Environment — Or Environmentalism?”

The article focuses on the largest fire in Nevada history — the July 2018 Martin Fire, which burned nearly half a million acres in Northeast Nevada and devastated the Ninety-Six Ranch, which has been run by the Stock and Stewart families for 155 years. The article includes an extensive interview with rancher Kris Stewart, who has been lobbying the federal land agencies and the president to allow historic levels of grazing to prevent such wildfires.

Stewart told the magazine’s editor the vegetative fuel levels on the rangeland that burned in the Martin Fire had been allowed to reach 1,000 percent of normal by the BLM’s own estimates, and, despite this, she said the ranch was denied permission for additional grazing time.

In the 1960s, she reported, “the modern environmental movement began to inform range management studies and policy, and environmental lawsuits caused a shift in grazing policies. Once considered engaged partners, ranchers were viewed as the enemy …”

This was political, not scientific. Stewart noted that range biologists such as Allan Savory have concluded that livestock grazing disturbs the soil in a healthy manner, “allowing rain and snow water, seeds and fertilizer to be absorbed throughout the soil. They obviously also deposit some of those seeds as well as a completely natural and healthy fertilizer to the soil.”

In the 2015 summer edition of Range magazine, under the headline “Cows can save the world,” Savory stated, “Over millions of years such grasslands — soil life, plants, grazing animals and their predators — developed together in an amazing symbiotic relationship. The grasses needed animals grazing, trampling, dunging and urinating just as much as the animals needed plants.”

In fact, livestock have actually transformed Nevada from a barren desert into land habitable by wildlife such as elk, deer and sage grouse — all of which are decimated by massive wildfires.

The late Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber often charged that federal agents are in thrall of the radical environmentalists, whose mantra is that the land should be returned to the pristine state before ranchers ruined it by trampling it with sheep and cattle.

Gerber was fond of quoting from the diary of fur trapper Peter Skene Ogden who crossed Nevada circa 1828: “There were times when we tasted no food, and we were unable to discover water for several days together; without wood, we keenly felt the cold; wanting grass, our horses were reduced to great weakness, so that many of them died, on whose emaciated carcases we were constrained to satisfy the intolerable cravings of our hunger, and as a last resource, to quench our thirst with their blood.”

Only after the sheep and cattle came and trampled the earth and fertilized it, as Savory explained, and ranchers improved access to water, the region blossomed.

Whether that can continue is in jeopardy. Stewart estimates the fire cost the ranch $160,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for such things as hay. And since reseeding efforts have been largely unsuccessful those expenses are likely to occur for at least two or three years, exhausting savings and retirement accounts.

After the ranchers appealed to the White House, Stewart says President Trump responded with an executive order in December titled “Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands To Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk.”

“Whether our family operation will survive this battle is unclear,” Stewart said, “but if we have a part in saving U.S. cattle ranching and our way of life, it will have been worth the time, expense and trouble for the next generation.”

The fires are destroying the one thing that could prevent them.

In fact, livestock have actually transformed Nevada from a barren desert into land habitable by wildlife such as elk, deer and sage grouse — all of which are decimated by massive wildfires.

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Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com.

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