All the kinds of environmentalists

Yesterday I convened an event about a controversial topic.

160 people attended our Rainy Season Gathering (after 4 years the title finally makes sense again) to talk about grazing and conservation. We at the Bay Area Open Space Council partnered with UC Cooperative Extension, Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, Central Coast Rangeland Coalition, and California Rangeland Trust to put this event on. In the room were ranchers, ecologists, foresters, rangers, biologists, land managers, watershed managers, general managers, executive directors, board members, and academics.

And they are all environmentalists.

Most people wouldn’t consider ranchers deserve the “environmentalist” label. And there’s probably a rancher or two who don’t want the label. But as Justin Fields, a 5th generation rancher in Santa Clara County, said at the Gathering yesterday, “Ranching in suburbia isn’t easy. I do this work because I want to be outside. I have to make a living. If I abuse the natural resources I’m managing, I will be out of business.”

That sounds like someone who wants to take care of our earth.

Taking care of the earth’s resources — think creeks, hillsides, trees — is complicated. What works in one place won’t necessarily in another. Ranching isn’t appropriate everywhere. Neither are parks, houses, or shopping malls. What works in the Bay Area won’t in Montana or Florida (and that goes for all kinds of things, not just how land is managed). But I really believe that we can’t shut out the people who are out on the land everyday. We can’t shut down the conversation about conservation just because they do it differently.

See our summary of the Gathering here, including pictures, presentations, tweets, and a list of resources on the topic.

We closed the Gathering with a cowboy poet, Clayton Koopman. He’s a 5th generation rancher and land manager at the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. And he read this poem:

Ranching for Newts

Ranchers are struggling, bills they can’t pay,

Vaccines, vet bills, pasture costs and hay.

Fuel cost, insurance and that damn estate tax,

All breakin’ down that old camel’s back.

Calf checks don’t cut it, they can’t get on their feet,

Ranchers grow progressive, lookin’ to make ends meet.

Butterflies, whip snakes, an imaginary fox,

Got today’s ranchers thinking outside the box.

Conservation, mitigation, easements and trusts,

Supplemental funding, ranching for critters is a must.

I’ve grown progressive too; just you take a gander,

Saved my ranch here with a herd of salamanders.

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