This entry is part of my journal from Semester in the West. For all SITW journal entries, click here. For all SITW posts, including blog posts I wrote while on the program, click here. To learn more about the program, click here.
camp: Greenfire, Idaho
I think I know Jon Marvel is right, but I still can’t bring myself to agree with him. Subsidies as a matter of something I pay for have stopped bothering me. But Eric is right—a subsidy makes otherwise marginal land profitable, causing it to be ranched when it shouldn’t be. Ranching already has externalities, so theoretically it should be taxed. But taxes and subsidies get more complicated when the government is the one selling AUMs in the first place. And I don’t want to have to tell people their way of live isn’t viable. I’d rather kill a grassland than look Todd Nash in the eye and tell him the truth. What does that make me?
So maybe the solution is a gradual phase-out. Buy out willing ranchers, push for conservation easements, revoke corporate allotments (because who’s going to lose sleep over J.R. Simplot?) And I’ve just proposed the most politically infeasible solution since Carter tried to cut all those dams from the appropriations bill. But the gradual buy-out, maybe? Why is it so hard to get Congress to act when the economics are so clear? Ok, I know why, but I wish we had more fearlessness in Congress. More idealists—a critical mass so they wouldn’t have to sell out and swap favors to get anything done. More people like Alan Grayson. And god, I wish they would overturn Citizens United. But that won’t fix it. The system is inevitably going to work slowly and inefficiently and that’s ok. But not too stupidly. Maybe the 16thamendment was a bad idea. Maybe the people have too much power. But…grazing. I feel like smaller policy changes—fixing the tax incentives for conservation vs. ranching, allowing smaller cattle numbers to be run, retiring willing allotments—would help speed up a seemingly inevitable tide. Ranchers are growing old and getting out. And I don’t want to see the lifestyle go away, but it doesn’t make sense—economically or environmentally—in the West. Cows should stay east of the 100th meridian and all of us should probably eat less beef.